Domestic violence prevention work ‘should focus on offenders’

Dozens of charities, police forces and experts are backing the call for such schemes in England and Wales, after a pilot project reportedly led to a sustained reduction in abuse.

The pilot scheme, Drive, worked with 506 prolific domestic violence perpetrators, aged 17 to 81.

The Home Office said future legislation would promote perpetrator programmes.

Drive, which operated in Essex, West Sussex and south Wales from 2016 to 2019, involved one-to-one counselling sessions with offenders – most of whom were white men while nearly half were involved in ongoing legal proceedings in the criminal or civil courts.

They were given help on building relationships, controlling their impulses and developing empathy and understanding of the impact of abuse.

Agencies offered support with alcohol, drug and mental health problems, and offenders were closely monitored by police and probation for the 10 months they were on the scheme.

The University of Bristol analysed results from the project in what it said was the “largest evaluation” of perpetrator intervention to be carried out in the UK.

It found that Drive had led to a drop in incidents of abuse to a “greater degree” than in cases where only victims were given help, with improvements sustained for more than 12 months after the scheme ended.

Police data for one sample of perpetrators showed domestic abuse offending had reduced by 30% in the six months after the scheme compared to the six months before.

A control group, made up of offenders who had not taken part in the project, were reported to be committing crimes at the same rate as before.

‘Victims held responsible’

Kyla Kirkpatrick, director of Drive, told BBC News it was “so important” to direct services at domestic abuse offenders, as well as victims and survivors.

“We usually see victims held responsible for securing their own safety – and the perpetrator gets away with it, continuing to abuse or moving onto the next victim,” she said.

“Huge harm is being caused to individuals and their families – we need to turn the tide on this.”

The Drive scheme included work with housing providers to install CCTV to gather evidence for stalking cases and to get injunctions where there were reports of anti-social behaviour.

In one case, where an offender had avoided being served with a non-molestation order because he couldn’t be traced, a relative of his victim gave Drive the registration number of his car so it could be passed to police to track him down.

In another example, a victim said a man had been harassing her in phone calls from the prison where he was being held, so Drive liaised with the jail to conduct cell searches on his wing. Three mobile phones were later recovered.

The key groups behind the project, Safe Lives, Respect and Social Finance, claim the findings demonstrate the “urgent need” for perpetrator programmes to be made universally available.

They said the costs would be outweighed by savings for the NHS, social services and the criminal justice system.

The University of Bristol study estimates the cost to the state of a high-risk offender is £63,000, compared with £2,400 to deliver the Drive course.

Along with some 60 voluntary organisations, police and crime commissioners and academics the charities have launched a joint call to action to persuade the government to provide funding.

“We are beginning to see evidence of the impact of Drive but it’s not a magic bullet,” said Ms Kirkpatrick.

“We need a comprehensive system and a national strategy to respond to perpetrators of domestic abuse,” she added.

According to statistics from the ONS, two million adults, including 1.3 million women, aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in the year up to March 2018 – an increase of 23% from the previous year.

The Home Office has appointed the first ever domestic abuse commissioner and is preparing to reintroduce a bill to strengthen provision for victims.

“We are committed to protecting vulnerable people and bringing perpetrators to justice and will implement our landmark domestic abuse bill at the earliest opportunity,” a spokesperson said.

They added that the bill includes measures to promote the use of perpetrator programmes “which aim to help them change their behaviour, undergo mental health assessments, and prevent future incidents”.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, help and advice is available here.

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