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Durham University

Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse (CRiVA)

Our Research

CRiVA is carrying out cutting edge research into a range of different aspects of violence and abuse, as illustrated by the sample of current projects by our members below.

Barriers and Facilitators to Implementing the Universities UK (2016) Recommendations on Sexual Violence on Campus

CRiVA member: Professor Catherine Donovan

With colleagues at UCLAN and Exeter, we have conducted a national survey and follow up interviews with a range of academic and professional support staff at Higher Education Institutions in England, Wales and Scotland. We are currently writing up the report and intend to submit an abstract to the European Conference on Domestic Violence.


CRiVA members: Professor Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini

Time Out” is a common strategy that is taught within domestic violence perpetrator programmes, as a last resort to prevent the occurrence of violence between current or previously intimate partners. It involves taking oneself (the perpetrator) out of their immediate environment, for an agreed period time, to reflect and manage their own behaviour, before returning. Despite its pervasiveness and outlined concerns that ‘Time Out’ is being implemented incorrectly, or in the worst cases misappropriated as another tool of abuse, little research has been performed in what tools could aid in assisting men to perform this activity correctly. This research project aims to understand what technical requirements are essential to be built into supportive tools to enhance responsibility for abusive behaviour, while contributing to a safer environment for victim-survivors. While in its nascent stages, this work plans to conduct a series of scoping interviews and design workshops with service providers, service users and software developers to encourage deeper conversation in the design of preventative tools. We are keen for the final design of the tool to be implemented, and trialled through heuristic, user testing alongside existing domestic violence perpetrator programmes, to assist providers in ensuring course content is learned and implemented effectively.

Digital Duluth

CRiVA members: Professor Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini

Since the early 1980s, a small community in northern Minnesota (US) has led the way in innovating ways to prioritise victim-survivors safety, and hold men that use violence in relationships accountable for their actions. Despite evolving and changing over the last three decades, crossing continents and being translated into over fifteen languages, the role of technology within the delivery of domestic abuse intervention programs. While digital tools have become a necessity for societal and interpersonal communication, these have to be designed and implemented carefully to ensure the content and mode of delivery of such programs are not lost. Through a partnership with Partnerships with Family Peace and Menswork Program in Family Violence, we sought to explore what role video conferencing technologies might play in emerging programs by taking part in the evaluation of their 40-week batterers intervention program. This research aims to explore what are the perceptions of using video conferencing software in the delivery of sensitive content, how does the use of video conferencing impact group dynamics, and identify the constraints and benefits of using digitally-facilitated communication to inform future perpetrator courses. Through the use of a mixed methods approach, including semi-structured interviews, digital ethnographies and quantitative survey data, we aim to capture a complete picture of how the introduction of this tool can illuminate some of the unknowns within this space.

Domestic Abuse Awareness Project (DAAP) Evaluation

CRiVA members: Dr Hannah King, Professor Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini

Durham County Council (DCC) commission a range of services to tackle domestic abuse, including a long-term Respect accredited perpetrator programme. However, only a small number of perpetrators engage with or complete the course each year. DCC have recently received Home Office funding to pilot a new short domestic abuse awareness course for the high volumes of perpetrators who are assessed as standard risk. The DAAP aims to work with a higher volume of perpetrators to stop serial perpetration of domestic abuse and to prevent the impact of abuse on children and young people. It is expected that more perpetrators will then progress to the Respect accredited programme. The project will link with other existing multi-agency domestic abuse provision.

Dr Hannah King and Professor Nicole Westmarland are undertaking a process and impact evaluation of the DAAP. We are working with the DAAP Board, Barnardo’s (DAAP delivery organisation), Harbour (Victim and Children’s Safety Project), police and partner agencies to undertake this research. We are also working with Rosie Bellini (PhD researcher) to explore digital opportunities for developing the accountability intervention. The research explores the experiences of victims, perpetrators and partner agencies of the project.

DCC Checkpoint

CRiVA members: Dr Hannah King and Professor Nicole Westmarland

Related to the DAAP evaluation, Dr Hannah King and Professor Nicole Westmarland are also undertaking a small-scale qualitative evaluation of Durham Constabulary’s Checkpoint pilot service for domestic abuse. Checkpoint is a four-month programme ran by Durham Constabulary aimed at addressing root causes of offending behaviour to prevent future offending. It is an alternative to custody (subject to successful completion) used for certain offences. Over the past year, Checkpoint has been piloted with people who have committed offences relating to domestic abuse. Where appropriate, offenders participating in Checkpoint are referred to Harbour’s domestic abuse services and Barnardo’s domestic abuse awareness course. The CRiVA research is evaluating the use of Checkpoint for domestic abuse, specifically intimate partner violence cases, from the perspective of victim-survivors. Working with partner agencies, it also explores how Checkpoint fits into a partnership response to domestic abuse. The research feeds into the continuing development of Checkpoint as an initiative and ensures that the voices of victim-survivors are heard.

Generating Impact from Research into Violence and Abuse at Durham

Funded by: Durham University ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA)

CRiVA members: Professor Nicole Westmarland and Stephen Burrell

We are using this funding to help boost the generation of social impact from several different CRiVA research projects:

Project Mirabal, which was was the largest UK study of domestic violence perpetrator programmes to date, and investigated the extent to which they contribute to coordinated community responses and reduce violence and increase safety for women and children. The IAA is enabling us to collaborate with domestic violence perpetrator programmes in the UK and internationally to raise their profile and inform and improve the delivery, availability and effectiveness of their work, as well to track the impact that Project Mirabal has already had on practice and policy. To aid this, we have produced five profile-raising videos based on the research findings for programmes to embed into their work.

The Policing Domestic Abuse Knowledge Transfer Project., which focused on investigating and improving frontline police responses to victims of domestic abuse, and officers’ understandings of coercive control, through an innovative research-informed, drama-based training package developed in collaboration with Open Clasp Theatre Company and Durham Constabulary. The IAA has enabled us to support Open Clasp in the production and dissemination of a film of the play ‘Rattle Snake’ for use in the training of additional police forces and other service providers.

Building awareness and understanding of domestic abuse in the workplace, and helping to improve employer responses to it. Professor Nicole Westmarland recently authored a report for the Vodafone Foundation entitled ‘Domestic violence and abuse: Working together to transform responses in the workplace’, which has subsequently been developed into a Domestic Abuse Toolkit for Employers by Public Health England and Business in the Community. The IAA is helping us to disseminate and track the impact of this report and toolkit.

Investigating the nature and extent of ‘out of court’ resolutions (restorative justice and community resolutions) used by the police in cases of domestic abuse. The IAA is enabling us to make efforts to influence official guidance and police officer practice across the UK in relation to charging and the appropriate use of restorative justice in domestic abuse cases.

Image-Based Sexual Abuse in the UK, Australia and New Zealand

Funded by: Australian Research Council

PI: Dr Nicola Henry (RMIT, Australia)

CRiVA members: Professor Clare McGlynn and Dr Kelly Johnson

The project aims to be the first international, empirical and comparative study to establish the prevalence, nature and impact of image-based sexual abuse in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and examine the diverse legal responses to this harm. Little is known about how widespread these behaviours are, or the extent of resulting social, economic and psychological harms. The study aims to generate new knowledge, a theoretical framework and a much-needed evidence base to develop law reform and strategic interventions.

Learning Advisor

Funded by: Comic Relief

CRiVA member: Dr Hannah Bows

This 18 month project involves providing project management support and overseeing/evaluating the collective learning from a grant programme supporting frontline projects providing services to older women who have experienced violence and abuse.

Mapping the learning from domestic homicides in Newcastle

CRiVA members: Dr Hannah Bows

Funded by: Newcastle City Council

This project is evaluating the domestic homicide reviews undertaken since 2013 to identify common learning outcomes, action plans and the extent to which these have led to change.

Networks of Accountability (NoA)

CRiVA member: Rosanna Bellini

In the United Kingdom, there is currently a wide variety of behaviour change programmes that aim to teach perpetrators of domestic violence of respectful, non-violent behaviours. These may vary in length, from 12 to 26 weeks and intensity (depending on the perpetrator’s assessed level of risk), but consistently use a combination of the Duluth model, psycho-educational approaches and cognitive behavioural therapies. Public service reform has as of yet relied very heavily on the use of bureaucratic and market-based tools that are ill equipped to deal with a growing range of complex societal problems including domestic violence. This research project aims to explore the implications for designing, implementing and trialling a digital peer support network for perpetrators of domestic violence that aspires to extent responsibility beyond the completion of such courses. As the effective achievement of a desistance in abusive behaviour requires a balanced, self-determined lifestyle, this work will explore how social bonds may be utilised to positively enforce this lifestyle, and thereby discourage further violence at the courses’ conclusion. By acknowledging the lived experience of perpetrators who have completed such courses, it may be possible to encourage supervised support, guidance and liability within these individuals towards men whom have commenced behaviour change.

Police Responses to Domestic Abuse Ethnographic Study

Project partners: The College of Policing

CRiVA members: Professor Nicole Westmarland and Dr Kelly Johnson

Through the use of ethnography, this study will examine police officers’ understanding of and attitudes towards domestic abuse, as they ‘play out’ in everyday practice across the police organisation. The study will also examine policies and processes, the interactions between officers’ attitudes and understanding and the processes they work with, and wider organisational factors such as performance frameworks and resourcing, in the context of policing domestic abuse. Researchers from Durham University and the College of Policing are conducting this study with one police force in the North of England and one force in the South, and will work collaboratively to produce academic outputs. This proposed research aims to address a significant lacuna in contemporary, contextual knowledge about the policing of domestic abuse in the UK.

Profiling Older Sex Offenders

CRiVA member: Dr Hannah Bows

This ongoing project with Greater Manchester Police is examining the backgrounds and offending histories of sex offenders aged 60 and over.

SELFIE Project Evaluation

CRiVA members: Dr Alison Jobe and Dr Hannah King

Dr Alison Jobe and Dr Hannah King are jointly conducting an external evaluation of a sex and relationships education programme (and educational resource) that is currently being piloted in secondary schools and colleges in Darlington. SELFIE (Sexualisation, Exploitation, Love, Friendships, Information and Empowerment) – is a Big Lottery funded sex and relationships education programme developed and managed by RSACC (The Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre, Darlington and Co. Durham). The research focuses on exploring the experiences of young people completing the project and the impact the project has on them and their views and understanding of sex and relationships issues. The research also considers the role and contribution of the project within the school system. This element involves exploring the views of partner agencies, including the Local Authority and individual schools themselves.

Sexual Violence at UK Music Festivals

CRiVA members: Dr Hannah Bows and Professor Nicole Westmarland

Funded by: British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant

This 18 month project is exploring the extent, nature and responses to sexual violence at UK music festivals.

The Believed Project: Evaluation of a specialist programme of support for women at HMP Low Newton who have experienced sexual violence

CRiVA member: Dr Kate O’Brien

Kate O’Brien is currently evaluating a HMPPS funded programme of work designed to support women who have experienced sexual violence and abuse at HMP Low Newton women’s Prison. Rape and Sexual Assault Counselling Centre', Darlington and County Durham (RSACC) are currently delivering a programme of work (October 2018- June 2021) that is supporting women who have experienced sexual violence in HMP Low Newton through specialist counselling, group work and staff training. Working with Hannah King and members of HMP Low Newton Think Tank, Kate is using a mixed methods approach that combines quantitative, interview and participatory research methods. The evaluation will examine the extent to which the programme supports women to recover and heal; lead to improved mental health and wellbeing; and help support rehabilitation. It is also evaluating the impact of the programme on staff and prisoners with a mentor role (such as PID workers, Listeners and Think Tank members) to respond, support and signpost women who have experienced sexual violence appropriately.

The Coral Project

CRiVA member: Professor Catherine Donovan

We are currently analysing quantitative and qualitative data from the Coral Project on abusive behaviours of LGB and/or T people for a book contract with Palgrave.

Training needs of magistrates on domestic violence and coercive control

CRiVA member: Professor Catherine Donovan

This is a national survey of the Magistrates’ Association conducted in September 2018. The data has been analysed and we are currently writing up the report. Working with a local chair of magistrates, Magistrates Association and a Research Assistant at the University of Sunderland (where funding was secured).

Why do some men take a public stance against men's violence against women, and how can more be encouraged to do so?

Funded by: British Academy Small Research Grant

CRiVA members: Professor Nicole Westmarland and Stephen Burrell

Many academics, policy makers, and NGOs have argued that more men must engage with the movement against violence towards women, in order to create social change that can prevent violence and abuse from being enacted in the first place. This transnational research project sought to speak to men who already actively and publicly take a stance against men’s violence against women, to explore the individual and structural factors that enable and support men to do so. It featured two core research questions: 1. What are the personal backgrounds and life experiences that are associated with some men moving to positions where they actively and publicly challenge men’s violence in society? 2. What are the socio-political, personal, political and economic factors that are conducive to enabling and supporting more men to do so? To answer these questions, we used an electronic survey with 40 participants, and semi-structured interviews with 18 men, all of whom had actively taken a public stance against violence towards women in the UK, Sweden, or Spain. A research advisory group ran alongside the project, made up of representatives from NGOs and academics from the three countries being studied. We are now in the process of co-authoring a short book to present the key findings from the research. By exploring the dynamics by which some men come to challenge men’s violence and building on their knowledge and experience, we wish to provide insights into how more men can be drawn into this struggle.

Women on Porn

CRiVA member: Dr Fiona Vera-Gray

The limited studies that exist on women’s experiences of porn to be contradictory, conflicted, and ambivalent, qualities that struggle for expression within legal or psychological frames. There are a range of unanswered, and mostly unasked, questions about if and how women use pornography as well as what pornographies they use, how their views of pornography have developed over time, and where pornography sits in relation to their experience of sexual freedom and agency. There is also a significant gap in our understanding of the actual content of mainstream online pornography meaning public debate, and policy development are taking place without a clear baseline of what kinds of pornography are most often advertised to a first-time user of the most popular online porn sites.

The Women on Porn project seeks to establish such a baseline for mainstream online pornographic content, as well as to provide the long-needed evidence to centre women’s lived experience within the porn debates. The project has three parts: (1) A content analysis of the 3 most accessed UK porn sites (2) A survey with over 1,600 responses on women’s use of and relationship to mainstream online pornography (3) In-depth interviews with 100 women on their experiences of pornography over the life course. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, it is the largest study solely on UK women’s experiences of mainstream online pornography, and has collected the greatest data sample internationally of online pornographic content. Updates on the project can be found at