Shaping strategies to prevent domestic abuse

The University of Manchester's research supported the development of an educational programme and public awareness campaign to help prevent domestic abuse, and shaped interventions for male offenders who use violence against their partners. The research contributed to major policy reform in Greater Manchester and nationally.

Impact highlights

  • Research highlighted the need for educational approaches and interventions to tackle limited understandings of what domestic abuse looks like.
  • The findings led to the development of an educational toolkit for schools that has been used in Spain, France and Malta. 
  • The research was used to design an intervention scheme that reduced violence in prolific offenders by 77%.

Understanding the root cause of abusive behaviour

Approximately one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. David Gadd, Professor of Criminology at Manchester, seeks to understand what more could be done to reduce the number of young men who become perpetrators.

The research looked to avoid replicating the damaging, macho discourse of ‘teaching bad men a lesson’ in favour of a more responsive approach that seeks to understand why men and boys exhibit controlling and violent behaviours in domestic partnerships.

Professor David Gadd

Professor David Gadd

David Gadd is Professor of Criminology at The University of Manchester.

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Evidencing the need for early intervention

Following extensive interviews, Gadd’s research showed that although most young people think it is wrong to hit a partner, many can still think of exceptions to the rule, such as when a partner hits them first or cheats on them. The study revealed that boys were significantly more likely than girls to endorse these exemptions.

The research also revealed that young people rarely see controlling behaviour or ‘put downs’ as domestic abuse, and the majority of men interviewed struggled to realise that controlling a partner is unlikely to increase feelings of security and respect in intimate relationships. Often, those who were criminalised perpetrators struggled with negotiating conflict peacefully as many had childhood experiences of institutional care, crime, domestic abuse, mental health issues and drug use.

The findings highlighted the need for educational approaches and interventions that tackle limited understandings of what domestic abuse looks like.

Applying the findings in practice

“My work speaks to the hurts inflicted on survivors, but attempts to engage with the perpetrators who are causing them harm.”

David Gadd
Professor of Criminology
The University of Manchester

The research findings were used to develop schools-based relationship education programmes. Pupils in UK schools who took part reported an increased awareness of domestic abuse and an understanding of how to access help and support. A majority also indicated that they would seek support if they knew someone was suffering.

Further development included an educational toolkit, which has since been used in schools in Spain, France and Malta. Following presentations to ministers and civil servants in the UK, the research findings were also acknowledged by Parliament, the House of Lords and the Scottish government as evidencing the need to teach young people about domestic abuse, change attitudes among men generally and tackle the behaviour of perpetrators.

Gadd’s study is also integral to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s ten-year strategy to tackle gender-based violence, which recognises the importance of education, early intervention and an enduring public dialogue with men and boys.

Demonstrating the positive effect of working with perpetrators

Project findings were used by Mentoring West Midlands (MWM) to develop an intensive, 24-hour mentoring scheme for high-risk offenders, which has proved both clinically and cost-effective.

The practice team were able to show that the intervention secured a 77% reduction in violence among the prolific offenders mentored, with a saving of £493,588 in terms of reduced demands on emergency, offender management and victim services.

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