New domestic violence programmes will ‘target offenders’ not just victims, says government

Sophie Gallagher
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The new domestic abuse bill will include "perpetrator programmes", such as one-to-one counselling for abusers, the government has confirmed.

The bill will be introduced at the “earliest opportunity", it said.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: “The bill includes measures to improve the response to perpetrators at all points in the justice system, including promoting the use of perpetrator programmes – which aim to help them change their behaviour, undergo mental health assessments, and prevent future incidents.”

Perpetrator programmes can include measures such as individual counselling, support to help abusers build healthy relationships, control their impulses and develop an understanding of the impact of abuse on their victims.

Domestic abusers can also be offered support with alcohol, drug and mental health problems.

Charities who provide women's services have supported the move, but said it must also be delivered alongside support for victims.

Nicki Norman, acting co-CEO of Women's Aid, said: “We support the call for an evidence-based strategy to tackle perpetrators. Preventing domestic abuse lies in promoting healthy, respectful relationships.

"As well as working with individuals, we are seeking to change systems that enable abuse to continue, and we work with communities and organisations to achieve this. All work with perpetrators must be safe, and delivered alongside specialist support for survivors."

Norman also urged the government to fund work with children and young people to "challenge the sexism and misogyny at the heart of domestic abuse".

The government response follows the publication of an open letter signed by 60 charities, police forces and campaign groups, which called for such schemes in England and Wales.

The letter was based on a 10-month pilot trial, known as Drive, that successfully reduced levels of abuse across Essex, West Sussex and south Wales.

Drive saw 506 prolific offenders, aged 17-81, enrolled in individual counselling as well as appropriate rehabilitation for drug or alcohol addiction.

Offenders were closely monitored by the police and probation services throughout their time on the programme. Many were involved in ongoing legal proceedings in criminal or civil courts.

Analysis by the University of Bristol found the Drive trial had led to a drop in incidents of abuse to a “greater degree” than in cases where only victims were helped.​

In one sample, offending by perpetrators fell by 30 per cent when working with the scheme. A control group, made up of offenders who had not taken part, was reported to be committing crimes at the same rate as previously.

According to ONS statistics, two million adults – including 1.3m women – experienced domestic abuse in the year to March 2018, an increase of 23 per cent year on year.

The government has also committed to developing guidance for police on serial and repeat perpetrators, including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders (DAPNs/DAPOs).

These notices could, for example, require a perpetrator to leave the victim’s home for 48 hours or notify the police if their address changes.

Earlier this month, figures from Refuge showed that three in four domestic abuse victims have been exposed to “controlling, humiliating or monitoring” behaviour by their former partners using technology.

Refuge said 4,004 women sought help in 2019.​

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