'Strength to change' - male perpetrators of domestic violence: Qualitative research
Summary of findings
The evidence from – the literature review, interviews with key stakeholders and focus groups with men in Hull – is remarkably consistent.
Key messages for the Social Marketing Campaign
The Local Culture
Hull was described by both focus group participants and the stakeholders as:
- A city characterised by continuity vs. change.
- Where traditional gender roles prevailed.
- Where high levels of male violence were still considered acceptable.
Talking About and Defining Domestic Violence
Men in Hull rarely use the term ‘domestic violence’ but instead employ a set of colloquial terms to describe it that have the effect of minimising violence.
Men’s Help Seeking
Domestic violence services are seen by men to be focused on female victims and access to services for perpetrators is experienced as restricted.
Acknowledging Abusive Behaviour
A key theme emerging from the study was that abusive men often fail to recognise their behaviour as violent and have little awareness of the impact of their behaviour on their partners. It was argued that the campaign needed to provide such men with a hard-hitting message which would enable them to identify their own behaviour as abusive.
Anticipating and Avoiding Backlash Responses
The stakeholder interviews and the focus groups identified the risk of the campaign distributing messages that evoked a defensive reaction in men and caused them to disassociate from the campaign and the behaviour it was addressing. This was supported by the literature review.
The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children as a Motivating Message
The focus groups and wider research covered in the literature review identified concern about the impact of domestic violence on children as an effective message that could motivate behavioural change.
Messages Conveying Threats of Loss
The evidence around the value of messages that conveyed the potential for abusive men to lose their relationship was conflicting.
Messages Conveying the Legal Consequences of Domestic Violence
The threat of criminal proceedings was considered to be a less effective motivating message for many men in Hull who were described by both stakeholders and focus group members as having a low regard for the law.
Local Experience of Help Seeking
Research participants emphasised that many people in Hull lacked confidence in formal services and would seek to evade the scrutiny of statutory agencies.
A Telephone Helpline for Perpetrators
Telephone help-lines were highly rated by focus group members as a source of support for perpetrators of domestic violence. The need for any intervention to be non-judgemental was reiterated throughout the focus groups and is supported by the research literature.
Messages for the BME Community
The views of the BME focus group emerged as distinct in some aspects from those of other groups.
- Members of the BME group were more likely to give high ratings to the threat of legal consequences/wanting to be a better person as motivating factors vs. men in other groups.
- They identified religious leaders as offering a source of support for abusive men but were uncertain as to the confidentiality of support.
- They were also keen for campaign material (eg, posters) to be in other languages.
- It was stressed that the campaign needed to address the increasingly diverse makeup of Hull’s population but be wary of the campaign stereotyping BME groups by including them in advertising material.
In devising messages for the campaign, men participating in the focus groups:
- Sought to highlight the non-judgemental nature of a helpline service
- Suggested messages which conveyed threats of loss and which emphasised the impact of domestic violence on children.
- Emphasised the value of positive messages which utilised masculine imagery that would be engaging for a male audience.
Media and Locations for the Campaign
- Local radio and Hull’s buses were suggested as a means of providing repeated exposure to campaign messages for a broad segment of the male population.
- Other forms of communication suggested included the internet.
- Careful thought needs to be given as to how specifically masculine locations (ie, sports arenas/pubs) are used by the campaign as such contexts may convey messages that conflict with the aim of ending domestic violence.
This research aimed to inform the social marketing campaign planned for Hull, which is underpinned by three key objectives:
- To increase the safety of women and children in Hull affected by domestic violence.
- To develop a model for engaging with perpetrators of domestic violence in a proactive and productive manner.
- To evidence, through the implementation of a robust and longitudinal evaluation process, a reduction in incidence and type of domestic violence offending/re offending in Hull.
The Primary Care Trust (PCT) in Hull took the decision to respond to domestic violence in the city by developing a social marketing campaign aimed at male perpetrators of domestic violence.
This research designed to inform Hull’s social marketing initiative on domestic violence combines a literature review, stakeholder depth interviews and focus groups with local males.
Asian, black, white
A ‘snowballing’ approach was used to identify practitioners and managers working in the field of domestic violence in Hull.
A series of focus groups were recruited from different segments of the male population in Hull (eg, work settings, the university, a sports clubs and a local church, groups for younger/older men and a family support service group, BME communities, men from a perpetrators’ treatment programme and two groups from users of substance misuse services).
Data collection methodology
- 10 stakeholder depth interviews
- 15 focus groups (84 participants)
July to September 2008