Domestic violence: Stopping the hurt

Perpetrators of domestic violence are being helped to challenge and change their behaviour, as Phil Price explains.

For all the evidence linking domestic violence with drug and alcohol misuse, there’s little shared knowledge of how we can best collaborate to promote safe and effective solutions. This is a shame, as our experience of working with perpetrators highlights the very real benefits for everyone involved – when the right approach is used.

The Domestic Violence Intervention Project, which takes referrals from around 30 London boroughs, worked with Cranstoun Drug Services to develop the Men and Masculinities programme to help men in recovery challenge and change the behaviour that has caused distress and damage in their relationships.

Four in every ten men attending treatment for substance use have been physically or sexually violent towards their intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Our programme works with men who use physically and sexually violent behaviours, as well emotional abuse and coercive control (we define coercive control in its broadest sense).

Working with drug and alcohol professionals, we use a special screening tool to identify these perpetrators within their cohorts. The tool is a positive mechanism to help perpetrators start taking responsibility for their actions, make sense of the worst of themselves and their experiences, and understand how they ended up in treatment and how they came to be hurting their families.

Using group discussions, perpetrators share their experiences.

Sessions are specifically designed to address intimate partner violence and draw on a wide range of approaches including cognitive-behavioural, social learning theory, psychodrama, psychotherapeutic and relationship skills teaching. Using group discussions, perpetrators share their own stories and experiences and are then encouraged to apply insights they have gained to their own behaviours and attitudes.

We use exercises to explicitly name the substance use and its effects on the partner and children – the perpetrator’s use, what they gain from this in the short and long term, how a partner may use substances as a coping strategy for the abusive man’s behaviour, and how it may be used instrumentally by the man to control the woman and children further.

By the later sessions we expect perpetrators to have stopped their physical and sexual violence and stopped, or significantly reduced, their use of alcohol and/or drugs in a way that instrumentally harms, scares or controls their partner.

None of this is about anger management or counselling groups. Sessions instead create a challenging environment while offering support for personal change by addressing issues of masculinity, sexual respect, the instrumental and systematic nature of intimate partner violence, and intimacy.

They also include specific modules around the impact of domestic violence and substance use on children, considering post-violence parenting, fear and shame-based parenting, attachment, post-separation abuse, and letting go.

Survivor safety is the programme’s most important priority.

The programme makes survivor safety its single most important priority, as do other Respect-accredited programmes. This stamp of approval from Respect (the accreditation body for domestic violence perpetrator programmes in the UK) is very important to us and provides a mark of good practice for referrers, partner agencies and service users.

As part of this safety commitment, any man accessing treatment for his use of violence and abuse must provide contact details for the people at risk from his violence so we can provide support, safety and confidentiality for the victims of his violence.

The Men and Masculinities programme works from a drug and alcohol perspective because it deals with some of the greatest triggers for relapse by encouraging perpetrators to think through fundamental aspects of their life – relationships, conflict and contact with their children.

Working in Islington, we have now run two full programmes and, so far, worked with 30 men in total. Of the 27 men who started treatment in the Men and Masculinities group programme, 77 per cent completed at least 30 hours of intervention relating to their use of coercive control and violence.

Men on the programme recorded (via TOPS) reducing their drug and alcohol use by 29 per cent and recorded a 40 per cent improvement in their quality of life. Active, supportive contact was established with more than half of the attendees’ partners/ex-partners.

At the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, we’re used to saying that no single agency, sector or service can solve DV simply because it is such a complex problem – but the same is true of drug and alcohol misuse. Implementation of the forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill and responses to Ofsted’s recent call for a greater focus on perpetrators and DV prevention strategies put an onus on those working in both fields to recognise their mutual need and benefit.

More of us now need to share what we know and build new understandings to fill the current gap in service provision for integrated DV and substance misuse support, while making sure that the survivor’s safety is always at the centre and is the focus of all our work.

Phil Price is development manager at the Domestic Violence Intervention Project (DVIP)

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