From witness to perpetrator: is it inevitable?

The recent Respect National Practitioners Seminar, held in London, featured a keynote speech from Professor David Gadd, of the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice at Manchester University. David reported on the findings of the three-year ESRC From Boys to Men project, in his speech: The Making and Unmaking of Domestic Abuse Perpetrators.

Essentially, the research has been examining why some young men go on to become domestic abuse perpetrators and others not; and then what can be done about it. Work such as this is incredibly important in a field such as parent abuse, where a significant amount is known about correlation, but less about causation.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, researchers found that those who had witnessed domestic violence had higher acceptance of it, there was a sense that violence was normalized for many children, and trust and betrayal were fundamental to explaining and justifying abuse. Some participants had experienced tragic home lives and described feelings of powerlessness, insecurity and helplessness, sometimes accompanied by vengeful feelings towards a mother for failing to protect them earlier. Some gender differences were found in the likelihood of noticing/witnessing emotional and physical abuse in adult carers’ relationships, with girls being more nuanced in what they saw and understood.

More positively, there was a significant attitudinal change over a 6-week programme encouraging young people to think and talk about domestic abuse, prevention can work!

Recommendations so far include preventative education, social marketing (with follow up), work with perpetrators, and family intervention. In the light of research such as this, the failure of the UK parliament to make relationship education a compulsory part of the school curriculum in a recent vote on an amendment to the Children and Families Bill is all the more disappointing.

Key findings can be found on the project website.

In other workshops during the day, there were opportunities to hear from Sandra Ashley (Director, Hertfordshire PPP) with a workshop entitled Lifting the Lid on Child to Parent Violence; Xenia Solomou (CIRO, Tower Hamlets) on the Child Sexual Exploitation Inquiry Interim Report (2012); Julia Worms (YPS Interim Manager, Respect) on the Challenges of Working With Older Teens in Relationship Abuse; Fiona Barakat (YUVA) on Making Sense of ADHD Diagnosis (see addendum to previous post); Natalie Collins (Day Programme) in an interactive session looking at lessons to be learned from the way young people make use of popular culture in the fields of domestic abuse and rape; Peter Joseph (Co-ordinator DV Perpetrator Programme, Positive Change) on work with young parents in relation to domestic abuse; Rachel Young (Safer London Foundation) on work with young men involved in gangs; Jo Sharpen (AVA) on her research into the use of online spaces by young people to disclose abuse; and finally Kate Iwi (Respect YPS) speaking about the learning so far from the Respect Young People’s Programme.

Slides from relevant presentations should shortly be available from the Respect website.

You can see a twitter storify of the day here.


Filed under conference report, Research

2 responses to “From witness to perpetrator: is it inevitable?

  1. Good afternoon Helen.

    First i want to congratulate you on the chosen topics. No doubt this blog is helpful to identify and exchange ideas on key elements in CPV.

    All children exposed to domestic violence are matter of concern and research. In this problem there are many questions but few answers. It seems we all think that the child is always the victim in these situations of domestic/gender violence (although not directly received shocks), but just to witness violence, the child is exposed to an atmosphere of violence. This situation might suggest (to the child) that hitting, insulting or humiliation is an appropriate way to resolve conflicts, that his father assaulted his mother because she has done something wrong …..

    However, in the transition from Domestic Violence to CPV, it seems simple to say: “they see, they do.” Yes, but not all children do. Why?, Perhaps the educational style? Perhaps the social support network? The gender? Attachment style?

    A fascinating subject within the CPV, hope we can move forward on it.

    I apologize for the mistakes I have committed to write in your language

    José Alberto Llamazares
    Coordinator Centro Hobetzen. Asociación Educativa Berriztu.
    Programa dependiente Diputación Foral de Bizkaia.

    • This is an important issue because it is too easy to confuse correlation and causation. Earlier experience of domestic violence is a feature of child to parent violence, but it is still only present in around half of cases. In many families only one child is violent, despite similar upbringing and circumstances. Clearly some children respond differently to the same stimuli. It will be good to hear what other people have found about this.

      Thank you for your comments. Your meaning is very clear.

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