UNSW Canberra postdoctoral researcher Dr Sophie Yates’ PhD thesis received one of the top honours at the 2019 UNSW Arts & Social Sciences Dean’s Research Awards last week. 

Dr Yates joined UNSW Canberra after completing her PhD at the University’s Sydney campus this year.

Her research, A critical frame analysis of Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence, was named Best HDR Doctoral Thesis.

With a background in the field of public administration and a strong interest in gender equality, Dr Yates chose to research family violence as a policy problem as it represented an ideal intersection between the two.

“I was very lucky that the Commission was gearing up to do its work just as I was deciding on my topic, because I knew it would provide me with an amazing dataset for researching how gender and family violence were understood and talked about in Victoria,” Dr Yates said.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence was a one-year royal commission aimed at improving Victoria’s family violence system in relation to prevention, early intervention, support for victims and perpetrator accountability.

Completed in 2016, it was the first royal commission on the subject and from the outset, the Victorian Government committed to implementing all recommendations.

“This means that the Commission has had an enormous impact on family violence policy and practice in Victoria, and will do for years to come,” Dr Yates said.

“They did an extraordinary amount of work in just one year. The Commission really shone a light on neglected areas of family violence, particularly the needs of marginalised groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and women with disabilities.”

Dr Yates’ thesis addressed the role of gender in family violence and focused on themes that complicated the traditional narrative of men abusing their female partners as a result of gender inequality.

“I knew that in Victoria, a gendered analysis of men’s violence against women was pretty strong in a mainstream sense, but what about the role of alcohol and mental health? What about family violence in Aboriginal communities? What about the involvement of children?

“For each of these themes there are complex arguments about the role of gender and other factors in the causes of family violence and the solution to the problem.”

Dr Yates looked at four of these sub-themes and analysed what expert witnesses and the Commission’s report had to say about each of them.

“I found that the Commission’s work had a very clear gendered narrative overall with some robust arguments about structural gender inequality, but the gender equality framing was weaker in relation to my four sub-themes,” Dr Yates said.

“I proposed an intersectional model of gender, power and family violence that acknowledges and captures many different factors and how they interact with gender to influence family violence.”

As a post-doctoral researcher, Dr Yates is continuing to address these issues, while working on other themes and topics.

“I’ve had a longstanding interest in the political skills needed by public managers to navigate their complex operating environments, so I’ve been able to pick some of that work up after my PhD,” Dr Yates said.

Dr Yates is also part of a team of UNSW researchers investigating why women are underrepresented in the NDIS, despite being about half the population with disability in Australia.

Follow @DrSophieYates on Twitter for updates on her research.

More information about the UNSW Arts & Social Sciences Dean’s Research Award and a full list of winners can be found here.