An in-depth guide for Community Care Inform Children and Adults provides information and guidance about working with perpetrators, how perpetrator programmes work and techniques to engage perpetrators. The guides are written by Professor Nicole Westmarland, director of Durham university’s Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse. Community Care Inform subscribers can read the guide on Inform Adults and Inform Children. Here, we present a few key points from the piece.
Domestic abuse was a feature of more than half of serious case reviews carried out between 2011 and 2014. It is an issue that social workers in any service area may encounter, from pre-birth assessments to work with older people. But much practice and research is focused on working with the victims and survivors of domestic abuse, not the perpetrators. This was also highlighted in a recent report by inspectorates including Ofsted, which found that social services and partner agencies are not focusing enough on perpetrators.
Identifying the perpetrator
To identify who is doing what to whom, with what consequences and in what context, in order to understand who is the perpetrator and who is the victim and tailor responses appropriately, practitioners need to look at as many of the following as possible:
- injuries and whether they could have been caused in self-defence;
- fear and coercive control;
- a history of violence and threats;
- the context in which incidents took place.
Useful questions to ask to find out this sort of information include:
- Are you afraid of what your partner will do to you or the children if you take certain decisions or do certain things?
- Do you feel free to live your life in the way you choose?
- Do you feel like you are frequently ‘walking on eggshells’?
- Do you change what you do because you are fearful of your partner’s reactions to you?
- Do you have equal access to finances?
- Have you been injured? Can you tell me more about this?
- Have you ever felt you had to use violence to defend yourself or your children? Can you tell me more about this?
Seeing the larger picture, not just ‘the incident’
Research with men who have used violence and abuse against a partner shows that they often talk about domestic abuse as though it was ‘a one off’, or that a single act of physical violence is disconnected to the use of power, coercion and control within their relationships more generally. Domestic abuse is never a single, one-off ‘incident’ and practitioners shouldn’t use this language because it can have a reinforcing message. Remember that the ‘incident’ which has made them come to your attention is likely to be one of many. Simply remembering this and not focusing solely on ‘the incident’ can help you contextualise any assessments, interventions and/or support. Questions that might be asked of victims and/or children to piece this larger picture together include: What was happening before this happened? Is this the worst thing he’s done or has there been worse? How often do you feel afraid?
When talking to men, it is important to remember that they may try to minimise their actions by focusing only on the ‘incident’ for which they have come to social services’ attention. Hearn (1998) notes that men seek to represent themselves as ‘not violent men’, their actions as being ‘out of character’: the violence is presented as ‘incidental’ to their lives.
Understanding coercive control
It is linked to this larger picture and not just ‘the incident’ where a more nuanced understanding of domestic abuse is important. The concept of ‘coercive control’ – now a criminal offence – can be useful in getting a deeper understanding of partner violence. Stark’s (2009) concept of ‘coercive control’ emerged out of accounts from female victims and how their day-to-day lives were controlled by their partners. It was the ‘everydayness’ that was the most restrictive and impactful on their lives – their freedom to be who they wanted to be and live their lives in the way they wanted to that was narrowed because of the potential for violence and abuse.
Following this, Kelly and Westmarland (2016) argue that ‘seeing a survivor as someone who is being controlled, rather than abused, may enable practitioners and informal network members to better understand the dynamics of intimate partner violence, to not expect that they “should just leave”.’
For information and support about working with perpetrators and referring to perpetrator programmes, contact the Respect Phoneline.
Hearn, J (1998)
The Violences of Men
Kelly, L and Westmarland, N (2016)
‘Naming and defining ‘Domestic Violence’ – lessons from research with violent men’
Feminist Review, Volume 112, Issue 1, pp113-27
Stark, E (2009)
Coercive Control – How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life
Oxford University Press