Do domestic abuse prevention programmes really work?

Updated: Feb 9

This post will explain what domestic abuse prevention (perpetrator) programmes are and their effectiveness at reducing domestic violence and abuse.



Domestic abuse practice in the UK has primarily focused on the protection and support of women and children, with domestic abuse prevention/perpetrator programmes (known as DAPPs in the UK) working quietly in the background.


Domestic abuse differs from other crimes, there is rarely just one incident of abuse, usually, abuse is ongoing and often repeated with the average victim living with abuse for three years. Research also shows us that high-risk perpetrators are repeat offenders with some having up to six different victims. As with most other crimes, it makes sense that instead of focusing solely on the victim we turn our attention to the source of the risk, the perpetrator, who will often continue to be abusive to multiple victims. These statistics drive the logic behind the need for perpetrator interventions.

What are domestic abuse prevention programmes?


Programmes in the UK are heavily influenced by the Duluth model of power and control with many programmes designed to be part of a coordinated community response that includes an integrated support service providing support to ex/current partners.


Referrals come from a variety of sources depending upon the programme provider but the main referrers tend to be CAFCASS, social workers and self-referrers. Programmes including topics such as:

  • techniques for de-escalation

  • understanding the cycle of violence and abuse

  • emotional abuse

  • building empathy

  • examining past and current abusive behaviour

  • attitudes to women

  • respectful relationships

  • sexual respect

  • understanding the effects of abuse on children

  • exploring parenting

It is important to note that these programmes are not therapy sessions, couples counselling, anger management or parenting programmes, although the DAPP will use these types of interventions within it, a DAPP is something unique to domestic abuse. They are challenging courses aimed at changing behaviour that may have been present for many years, for that reason they are demanding and lengthy, and includes challenging past and present behaviour. Short untested programmes that do not address domestic abuse dynamics are unlikely to address the deeper issues that relate to the risk posed by a perpetrator of domestic abuse.


Programmes should not be attended as a 'tick box exercise' to gain contact with children, satisfy the courts, repair a relationship or for any other reason except a genuine motivation to change. Community DAPPs will only accept those that take responsibility for at least some of their behaviour and be willing to work on them. Behaviour that did not happen cannot be changed so those that heavily deny or minimise their abusive behaviour will not be suitable for this intervention.


How do programmes support victims?


Programmes should have an integrated victim support service that will contact current and ex-partners to offer support. The service will offer support options depending upon availability but usually aim to provide the ex/partner with information about the programme and how it is progressing, listen to their hopes and fears about the programme and give them realistic advice about the ability of the programme to change behaviour.


It is up to the ex/current partner to choose how much support they would prefer and whether they want to engage in support at all. The support is usually voluntary, free of charge and confidential. Support is available for the time the attendee is on the programme and for some months following completion. An integrated service should ensure that the ex/current partners views, fears and concerns about ongoing abuse are listened to and acted upon.


How effective are programmes?


Perhaps the biggest problem that programmes face is doubt over whether they actually work. Previous research and experiments have not helped, with mixed results and debates over how success should be measured. However, more recent research has shown to be more helpful with measures of a successful programme based not just on how many finish the programme or reductions in physical violence, but looking at all forms of abuse and taking evidence of change not from perpetrators or further criminal convictions but from partners, children and MARAC reports.


In 2015, Project Mirabal was published with the results of a 5-year investigation into the effectiveness of perpetrator programmes in the UK. Programme data was taken from 11 different DAPPs and included surveys and interviews with male perpetrators, ex/partners and children. Measures of success were not focused on just physical violence but considered whether programmes had caused; an increase in respectful communications; reduction in physical and sexual violence; increased freedoms for women; increase in safe, positive and shared parenting; change in perpetrators understanding of the impact of their behaviour and improved childhoods.


Results for the impact of the programmes on physical and sexual violence were impressive, with positive changes in all 7 categories of physical and sexual abuse reported by women 12 months after the programme started.


  • those injured as a result of violence fell from 61% to just 2%

  • two forms of abuse, use of a weapon (30%) and pressure to unwanted sexual activity (29%) stopped completely

  • potentially lethal behaviours (strangle, choke, drown, smother) dropped from 50% to 2%

  • lower risk violence (punch, kick, burn, beaten) also dropped to 2% from 54%

  • the effects of abuse on children were also reduced with those seeing/overhearing violence dropping from 80% to 8%

  • harassment and other abusive acts continued for over a quarter of women, but this did reduce for the majority of women with over half, 51%, indicating they felt very safe by the 12-month point compared to just 8% at the start.


However, the report also showed that in the areas where women most wanted to see change, including; financial control, sexual jealousy, positive parenting and restrictions on day-to-day activities, the behaviour did not change as much as women hoped for, with only small positive changes observed.


Further evaluations of DAPPs continue to show that programmes can be an effective tool for domestic abuse work within the community (for example the Drive Project evaluation). However, dropout rates continue to remain high and programmes are often unable to meet the needs of those perpetrators that do not fit into the typical mould, with few programmes able to provide interventions for female, same-sex and high-risk perpetrators, or those who require an interpreter. Patchy service across the UK also means some must travel long distances or wait for many months to start.


Can DAPPs reduce the risk to victims?


A common difficulty for providers of DAPPs is that there is a misunderstanding by many professionals and the courts, that the programmes alone can be used to manage risk. This is incorrect and programmes should be thought of only as an opportunity for a perpetrator to demonstrate that they can take steps towards positive changes in behaviour. These changes will only be possible if the perpetrator approaches the work openly with goodwill and honest motivation to change.


Completion of a programme does not necessarily reduce the risk towards victims and child/ren and can even increase the risks in the case, particularly if professionals and the courts consider that the risks are being managed by a programme and so de-escalate the case without first making sure the intervention has been effective. It is for this reason that programmes have suitability assessments to ensure that the perpetrator referred wants to attend a programme for the right reasons and recommend that no decisions are made regarding child contact until a final report is provided.


Many programmes provide final reports that lack objectivity, cannot be used in court and are unable to comment on the level of risk or give risk management recommendations. Reports are usually completed by the worker delivering the programme, not expert witnesses who are able to attend court.



Where does the DV-ACTION programme fit in?


The DV-ACTION DAPP also follows the Duluth model and includes an integrated support service for ex/partners, suitability assessment and full final assessment report when the programme is completed. The programme is also intensive with a focus on challenging abusive behaviour, however, innovative changes have been made to the traditional delivery of a DAPP, this is how DV-ACTION is different:

  • the programme can be delivered to those unable to attend a group work programme including; those that need a translator; have mental health needs or learning difficulties; female, same-sex and high-risk perpetrators; registered sex offenders and those that have no service in their area

  • the programme is bespoke, delivered on a one to one basis with sessions can be tailored for each client to address the concerns of the court/local authority

  • it is accessible anywhere in the world with sessions attended remotely using video calling

  • only experienced domestic abuse programme facilitators deliver the programme

  • a full final report that is suitable for court is completed by an expert risk assessor who is independent of the treatment work and is able to attend court as an expert witness.


DV-ACTION has also developed a motivational programme for those who are unsuitable for a programme due to minimisation and denial.


With only 1% of perpetrators receiving an intervention in the UK, it is important that we do more to engage perpetrators and give them an opportunity to start making changes to their behaviour and help keep their ex/partners and children safe.


Resources


For more information on perpetrator programmes you can visit the following sites:


A Call To Action A Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy for England And Wales - http://driveproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Call-to-Action-Final.pdf

Respect - http://respect.uk.net/

The Drive Project - http://driveproject.org.uk/about/research-evaluation/

Mirabal Report - https://www.nr-foundation.org.uk/downloads/Project_Mirabal-Final_report.pdf

Cafcass information on perpetrator programmes - https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-perpetrator-programme/


Helplines


Helplines are available in the UK as follows:

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247

The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327

Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040

Childline - 0800 1111

Call the UK police non-emergency number, 101, if you need support or advice from the police and it's not an emergency. Always call 999 in an emergency.

Further questions

If you have any further questions about DV-ACTION programmes or wish to make a referral please contact the programmes team at programmes@dvact.org or call on 0203 9678368. If you would like to discuss a specific case a call back can be arranged with one of our clinical managers. About us

DV-ACT Programmes are a division of DV-ACT Ltd. DV-ACT comprises a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, consultancy training and treatment programmes to local authorities and the family courts.



DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. You can find out more about us by visiting out blog post Who runs DV-ACTION Bespoke Programmes? or visit our main company website at dvact.org.

55 views