Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes: Do they work? Factsheet for Frontline Workers
This factsheet is for anyone who wants to know whether Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes are effective at changing violent and abusive behaviours.
Since 1989, the UK has seen a steady growth of Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DVPPs/ DAPPs).
Initially, these offered behaviour-change interventions in a groupwork setting to male perpetrators of violence towards female partners and/or ex-partners (survivors).
As work with perpetrators evolved, practitioners developed interventions for delivery in a 1-2-1 setting, as well as behaviour-change interventions for female perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.
Referring agencies and, most crucially, those experiencing domestic violence, have always been anxious about the effectiveness of these interventions:
There is a growing body of UK and international research that shows such programmes have positive outcomes for both perpetrators and survivors. The information in this factsheet is not a comprehensive review, but an indicative summary of key research, evidencing the effectiveness of interventions with domestic abuse perpetrators.
Programme evaluations have been a critical part in the development of Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes. These studies have employed a range of research methods to examine programme effectiveness in enhancing victim/survivor and children’s safety and holding perpetrators accountable for their behaviour, whilst supporting them to stop using violence and abuse.
The most common way of deciding whether perpetrator programmes are successful is to look at whether perpetrators are less likely to use physical and sexual violence after completing the programme.
Over the last 30 years, various evaluations from across the globe have offered evidence that perpetrator programmes do reduce physical and sexual violence.
In 2004, he reported that “at the 30-month follow-up, less than 20% of the men had re-assaulted their partner in the previous year; at the 48-month follow-up, approximately 10% had re-assaulted in the previous year. Moreover, over two-thirds of the women said their quality of life had improved and 85% felt very safe at both these follow-up points.” Heckert D and Gondolf E, (2004) Predicting Abuse and Reassault Among Batterer Program Participants. NCJ 199730. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/199730.pdf
Measured outcomes were largely positive: physical and sexual violence was ‘not just reduced but ended for the majority of women’ (Kelly and Westmarland, 2015: 45):
The evaluators concluded that: DVPPs ‘extend men’s understandings of violence and abuse, with clear shifts from talking about stand-alone incidents of physical violence to beginning to recognise ongoing coercive control’ (Kelly and Westmarland, 2015:45).
Outcomes for the other key indicators were more mixed, though still tending towards a positive improvement for most participants.
Project Mirabal also found that fewer children were scared of the perpetrator, or were worried about the safety of their mother, and men were less likely to make excuses for their behaviour. This kind of behaviour, however, did continue for a significant proportion of men.
The findings from Mirabal are consistent with those from multi-site evaluations of DVPPs in the US. The combined results of this body of non-experimental research indicates the potential for largely positive outcomes for women/ partners and their children (improvements in well-being, quality of life and resilience to repeat victimisation) supporting the argument for a more wider definition of intervention ‘success’ and for the use of women/partner reports in evaluation, which has long been proposed as a valid and reliable measure of change or ‘success’. Kelly L and Westmarland N (2015) Domestic violence perpetrator programmes: Steps towards change. Project Mirabal Final Report.
Providing a service to perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse brings with it a considerable responsibility: to ensure that this work is safe and effective and that it does not inadvertently further contribute to the harm experienced by victim/survivors or escalate the risk from a perpetrator to a victim/survivor.
Where interventions with perpetrators are delivered in a professional and competent manner, they have proved effective in creating change and reducing harm. However, poorly run services can raise the risk and add to survivor vulnerability. Therefore, no organisation should provide perpetrator services without full regard of the Respect Standard, the nationally agreed principles and standards, and without sufficient resources to ensure compliance.
Respect accreditation is a quality assurance certification for organisations working with perpetrators. It was developed so that everyone, including perpetrators, survivors, funders, commissioners and practitioners can be assured that a service is of a high-quality standard, regularly monitored and supported to frequently reflect and improve on best working practices.