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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

What do perpetrator programmes add to co-ordinated community responses to domestic violence?

A research project of the Department of Sociology, part of the Crime, Deviance and Culture research group.


Our ESRC and charitable trust funded research investigates the extent to which perpetrator programmes reduce violence and increase safety for women and children, and the routes by which they contribute to coordinated community responses to domestic violence. This research enters a contested arena where questions of methodology and policy direction have reached something of an impasse. By re-casting the research question beyond ‘do they work?’, addressing the limitations of previous studies, and introducing innovative directions in analysis we hope to create a new trajectory for domestic violence perpetrator research and interventions.

Who we are

We are academics from three institutions that specialise in researching men’s violence against women. The project investigators are: Professor Liz Kelly, Dr Nicole Westmarland, and Professor Charlotte Watts.

Professor Liz Kelly holds overall responsibility for the project and leads a team of researchers at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University. The research team here consists of: Dr Kerry Lee, Kara Jarrold and Ruth Phillips, with administrative support from Jackie Lewis.

Dr Nicole Westmarland leads a team of researchers at the Crime, Violence and Abuse research group at Durham University. The research team here consists of: Dr Julia Downes, Richard Wistow and Sue Alderson, with administrative support from Pauline Harrison. Dr Julie Chalder-Mills worked as a researcher on the pilot phase. In addition, Professor Simon Hackett is a research consultant, and Professor Ed Gondolf holds an advisory position as visiting professor.

Professor Charlotte Watts leads the team of researchers at the Gender Violence and Health Centre at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The research team here consists of: Dr Cathy Zimmerman and Tanya Abramsky.

Why we are doing this research

Despite advances in research, policy and practice, domestic violence shows no signs of abating. It continues to blight the lives of (predominantly) women and children as victims and survivors and men as perpetrators. The focus of much work to date has been on interventions to improve the safety of women and children, for example women's refuges and advocates. It has become clear that in order to reduce and prevent domestic violence, the spotlight must be placed on men and their behaviour, alongside, rather than replacing, the interventions for women and children.

A frequent response to domestic violence perpetrators is to refer them to a domestic violence perpetrator programme. These generally take an approach which combines techniques from cognitive behavioural and other therapeutic interventions with awareness raising and educational activities, usually using an understanding of domestic violence which is pro-feminist and based on research evidence about the nature of domestic violence. Most consist of weekly group work sessions which aim to educate men about how to eliminate their use of violent, abusive and controlling behaviour and promoting the value of gender equal relationships. Such programmes are now widespread within the criminal justice field (through probation for men mandated by the criminal courts) but community based programmes (for men mandated by family courts, child protection or self or partner mandated) remain sparse. Less than one in ten local authorities (n=37) in Britain has a community based domestic violence perpetrator programme (Coy et al., 2009). Of those that do exist, over half (n=19) are located in just three regions - in London, the North East and the North West (Coy et al., 2009).

This shortage of programmes is linked to a lack of evidence about whether perpetrator programmes 'work'. In the UK there have been two published evaluations of community based programmes (Dobash et al., 2000; Burton et al., 1998). Whilst both showed programme effects, they were largely based on criminal court mandated men (who previously attended community programmes before the expansion of probation-led programmes) and had methodological limitations. In the USA two contradictory sets of findings are put forward. The first claims to have found a programme effect (largely through the work of Gondolf) and the second claims there is no programme effect at all (largely through the work of Dutton and colleagues). None of these studies have been accepted universally as providing evidence whether perpetrator programmes 'work' or not. In addition, most of the USA studies have also relied on court mandated research participants and had other methodological limitations. The findings cannot be easily translated to the UK because of the different communitycontexts. Finally, the UK community based programmes are required to have associated women's support projects making proactive contact with all partners and ex-partners of programme men, their work has also expanded into undertaking risk and case management as part of multi-agency responses. Neither were generally the case in the projects taking part in the USA research.


The aims of the project are to investigate the extent to which perpetrator programmes reduce violence and increase safety for women and children, the routes by which they do or not produce effects alongside the overall contribution programmes make to coordinated community responses to domestic violence. Within these overarching aims are a number of more specific objectives.

 1. To innovate in research methods and research practice

  • Develop more nuanced measures of effectiveness through a set of ‘indicators of success’.
  • Apply new methods of analysis, specifically critical incident analysis and survival analysis (these are statistical and thematic ways of analysing research data).
  • Reflexively engage in practitioner initiated research, building collaborative practices which ensure the study will be more valid, rigorous and useful without compromising the independence and integrity of data collection and analysis.
  • Draw on contemporary gender theory in developing analytic frameworks.

 2. To locate community based perpetrator programmes within co-ordinated community responses to domestic violence

  • Document the development of community based programmes in the UK and compare to other jurisdictions.
  • Map the domestic violence arenas at study sites, locating programmes and referral routes within this. 
  •  Examine what programmes add to a co-ordinated community response.
  •  Identify the characteristics of men who participate in community based perpetrator programmes.

3. To measure change among men who have used domestic violence

  • Measure the range of effects (through indicators of success) of community based UK perpetrator programme activities on the women and children linked to 600 men referred to programmes over a 12 month period.
  • Compare the range of effects (through indicators of success) with a matched comparison group of 200 men who have not participated in any programme.

 4. To discover what enables men to change

  • Document and evaluate how programmes engage perpetrators in a change process.
  • Examine and control for site effects, different modalities for programme delivery.
  • Identify what helps men to engage and to remain engaged.
  • Explore and account for change in men who do not complete or attend programmes. 
  • Identify whether pro-active sustained support to partners makes a difference to perpetrators.

 5. Address two neglected areas in the knowledge base through linked PhDs

  • Investigate the impact of domestic violence perpetrator programmes on children and young people.
  • Research programme process and integrity, including how group work ‘works’ and for whom, and how gender is performed by leaders and participants.


This is a multi-methodological study which is collecting primary quantitative and qualitative data, and combining this with secondary analysis of data routinely collected by the research sites. Research participants will be drawn from a number of programmes across the UK.

The impact of programmes on individual behaviour will be assessed by:

  • monitoring the behaviour of 600 men from the point they leave/complete a perpetrator programme for 12 months through the reports of their partners on a range of quantitative measures;
  • comparing them to 200 men not on programmes, through the reports of their female partners who are accessing support in relation to their experiences of domestic violence;
  • qualitative data collection, including critical incident analysis, with a sub-sample of 60 men on two occasions and their partners on four occasions.

We will also be using the Respect database called REDAMOS (Respect client information, case and risk management and outcome monitoring system) to analyse not only the profiles of men on programmes, but also the referral routes and the increasingly diverse range of work undertaken by perpetrator programmes. 

Interviews with national stakeholders and analysis of policy documents will help establish the contribution of programmes to the domestic violence ‘arena’ (Seith, 2003). In addition, interviews with programme workers will focus on their experiential knowledge, the range of activities they undertake and how they understand the contribution of perpetrator work. For those who work with women, in addition, the challenges of pro-active contact, safety planning and children’s needs will be explored. Interviews with other stakeholders, primarily to be conducted by telephone, will focus on the development of perpetrator work locally, how the local programme in viewed and its contributions to multi-agency work.

Two PhD researchers will focus on a) the impact of programmes on children and young people (using life story books) and b) programme integrity (using video recordings of programme sessions).

Who funds the research

The research team is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Northern Rock Foundation. The pilot phase was funded by Northern Rock Foundation and Home Office. The research team and the pilot phase are supported by the LankellyChase Foundation, who fund the Respect research manager post (see below).

The role of Respect in the research

The project is unusual, in that the research was initiated not by academics but by a third sector membership organisation called Respect - the national umbrella organisation of perpetrator programmes and allied services. Although the research questions and design have been extensively refined by the research team, the key questions this research seeks to answer have very much come from the ‘bottom up’, from perpetrator programme workers themselves.

The role of the Respect research manager, funded by LankellyChase Foundation, is key to the organisation of the research. Although the research team is independent of Respect, the Respect research manager is responsible for supporting programmes to become and remain ‘research ready’, monitor programme integrity and accreditation status; develop and maintain the REDAMOS database and support programmes to use it; and for convening the research advisory group.

Publications to date

Westmarland, N., Kelly, L. and Chalder-Mills, J. (2010) What counts as success? London: Respect.


Burton, S., Regan, L. and Kelly, L. (1998) Supporting Women and Challenging Men: Lessons from the Domestic Violence Intervention Project, Bristol: Policy Press.

Coy, M., Kelly, L. and Foord, J. (2009) Map of Gaps 2 – The Postcode Lottery of Violence Against Women Support Services in Britain, London: End Violence Against Women Coalition and Equality and Human Rights Commission.  

Dobash, R.E., Dobash, R.P., Cavanagh, K., and Lewis, R. (eds) (2000) Changing Violent Men, California: Sage Publications.

Dutton, D.G. and Corvo, K. (2007) The Duluth Program: A flawed and data - impervious paradigm, Aggression and Violent Behavior, 22 (6), 658 -667.

Gondolf, E (2002) Batterer Intervention Systems: Issues, Outcomes and Recommendations, California: Sage.

Gondolf, E.W. (2007) Theoretical and research support for the Duluth Model: A reply to Dutton and Corvo, Aggression and Behaviour, 12, (6) 644-657.

Seith, C. (2003) Öffentliche Interventionen gegen häusliche Gewalt - Zur Rolle von Polizei, Sozialdienst und Frauenhäusern (Interventions in Domestic Violence - The Role of Police, Social Services and Women’s Shelters), Frankfurt: Main Campus.


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