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Source: University of Waikato

A University of Waikato PhD student is on a mission to discover the psychology of the perpetrators of family violence.

Apriel Jolliffe Simpson has been awarded a William Georgetti Scholarship from Universities New Zealand to assist her doctoral research, studying the records of 2000 people who have a record of family violence extending over two years. It’s a timely investigation as New Zealand has the highest rates of reported domestic violence in the OECD.

Apriel is working with police and other agencies involved in the Integrated Safety Response (ISR), using data from Waikato and Canterbury regions, both pilots in ISR.

“I’m looking for risk factors and examining event characteristics to find patterns of behaviour,” Apriel says. “This information will assist people involved in family violence prevention to prioritise and target strategies, and let them know where to put resources for the best results.”

The research Apriel is doing is a far cry from her early days at Waikato University. She came to study geography, but then found herself drawn to forensic psychology and made the switch. In the third year of her Bachelor of Social Sciences she did an internship with Waikato District Police, a small project that focussed on family harm and she extended that for her honours project.

“The police are very receptive and supportive of my research,” she says. “And when I find myself getting a bit down with the subject, I just have to remember that what I’m doing is relevant and important and that motivates me to keep on. My supervisors and my family are also very supportive.”

Apriel, from Waiuku south of Auckland, is the first in her family to have finished school, let alone go to university. “I was lucky my family realised that I was drawn to reading and learning and encouraged me right through school to take an academic path.”

Her chief doctoral supervisor is Professor Devon Polaschek, clinical psychologist, professor of psychology and joint director of the Institute of Security and Crime Science at the University of Waikato. Her other supervisor is statistician Dr Chaitanya Joshi from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Waikato.

Apriel will work with Dr Joshi to apply Bayesian statistics to her research results, a mathematical approach that applies probabilities to statistical problems and which allow Apriel to do complex statistical modelling in addition to the written information she gleans from the data. “It provides opportunity for extra analysis and will complement the written information. It will help us to identify patterns and trends over time,” she says.

Her William Georgetti Scholarship is worth $10,000 a year for three years. It will mean Apriel can focus solely on her PhD and not have to do full-time work.

William Georgetti scholarships are awarded each year to postgraduate students who are undertaking research important to the social, cultural or economic development of New Zealand. They are administered by Te Pōkai Universities New Zealand.