Professor Erica Bowen, from the Centre of Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement at Coventry University, has been working closely with Fry Housing Trust, part of the Accord Group, to implement an innovative intervention to help combat domestic violence. The initiative will help men and women in both Coventry and Sandwell who are identified as using domestic violence to stop their violent and abusive behaviour. Professor Bowen writes for CURB about the intervention, and what effect it will have on those suffering from domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse has a significant impact on the physical and mental health of adult victims. It also has a serious impact on the safety and welfare of children. Children who witness violence and abuse or who live in households where there is domestic abuse can suffer a wide range of physical and emotional problems.
I was originally commissioned by Coventry City Council to develop an intervention to meet the un-met needs of the many known perpetrators of domestic violence in the City, the majority of which have not been convicted. Domestic violence accounts for 29% of all violence in Coventry city. In 2011, police responded to 4,717 calls relating to domestic violence of which 1,666 were crimes, and 3,182 victims were identified from these calls.
The resulting ‘Brighter Futures’ intervention is offered to men and women who have been identified as using or being at risk of using violence or abuse in their intimate relationships, and has been used in Coventry since October 2014. Data compiled by Fry Housing Trust who deliver the programme show that all individuals who complete it (approximately 80% of those who start it), have a reduced level of risk at the end. In addition, nearly 90% of the partners of those who attend the intervention have reported feeling safer.
Due to the successful delivery of the intervention in Coventry, Fry Housing Trust will be delivering Brighter Futures across Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council from August 2015, in partnership with Sandwell Council and Sandwell’s Domestic Abuse Strategic Partnership.
Approximately 5,000 calls are made annually to the police in Sandwell to report domestic violence and abuse incidents. During 2011-2013, one in five victims were repeat victims (with more than one incident being reported). At least eight in 10 victims are female and 85% of perpetrators are male. The majority of domestic violence incidents involve families with children.
The intervention will run in Sandwell over the next two years. Men and women who are referred will undergo a series of ten sessions, delivered either on a group (men or women-only) or one-to-one basis. Each session will support individuals to recognise the impact of their actions on themselves and others, empower them to set goals and change their behaviour in the future.
Rob Donath, Chief Executive of Fry Housing Trust, said: “If we are going to reduce repeat incidents of domestic violence in Sandwell then it’s vital that we break the cycle of offending and place a focus on getting these people into perpetrator programmes.
“Our implementation of Coventry University’s ‘Brighter Futures’ initiative will aim to do just that, by offering targeted support to those who really need it. The outcomes will be three-fold; we will not only see a reduction in reported incidents of new cases of domestic violence but we will also see fewer repeat incidents, and we will also help victims and families feel safer in their homes and communities. We always put victim safety first.”
Councillor Yvonne Davies, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health, said: “I welcome this new initiative for Sandwell, which has already made a big difference for victims of domestic abuse in Coventry. Fry Housing Trust will be working closely with Sandwell Women’s Aid, which will be providing support to victims while their partners are going through the perpetrator programme.
“Sandwell Women’s Aid supports more than 4,000 women, children and men affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence a year – but this is only the tip of the iceberg. We know the devastating effects of domestic abuse and the destruction it causes to individuals’ and families’ lives.”
There is considerable scepticism around whether interventions for domestic violence perpetrators can be effective, or should even be offered. However if we are determined to combat domestic violence, then we need to develop and implement effective interventions for perpetrators, as well as providing structured support for survivors.
At the moment, there is a lot of uncertainty about which types of intervention work to combat domestic violence and abuse, and even the most recent research that has been conducted in the UK has not definitively answered this question. However, there is increasing evidence that interventions can play a role in helping perpetrators become non-violent and non-abusive.
The data collected by Fry Housing Trust so far suggests that The Brighter Futures intervention may have a positive impact on the perpetrators that engage with it, and their families – at least in the short term. I am looking forward to working with Fry Housing Trust and staff from the University of Birmingham who will independently evaluate the Sandwell delivery of Brighter Futures and help us understand if short term change lasts.
Professor Bowen has been researching interventions for domestic violence since 2000. In addition to Brighter Futures she has led an international team to develop a serious game-based intervention for use with adolescents to raise awareness about violence and abuse in teenage relationships (www.cavaproject.eu). She has written extensively on these topics including the books ‘The rehabilitation of partner-violent men (2011, Wiley-Blackwell) and ‘The psychology of violence in adolescent romantic relationships (2015, Palgrave).
Professor Bowen is the Director of the Violence and Interpersonal Aggression research theme (www.coventry.ac.uk/via; @VIA_Coventry; @ProfEricaBowen) within the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement at Coventry University.
Fry Housing Trust has more than 50 years of experience in providing supported accommodation and support in the community to people who have offended or are at risk of offending. The organisation works across the West Midlands, Worcestershire and Warwickshire and is part of the Accord Group, one of the largest not-for-profit housing organisations in the Midlands.
If you’re experiencing domestic abuse and need help, call the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247. In an emergency always call 999. For more domestic abuse services, visit www.sandwell.gov.uk/domesticabuse or in Coventry www.safetotalk.org.uk