We had a terrific keynote speech from Professor Mike Johnson at our National Conference on Wednesday. He explained his work around typologies of relationship in domestic abuse. He highlighted three main types (see http://www.caada.org.uk/events/CAADA_conference_2014.htm for more info) – Intimate Partner Terrorism where one partner – usually a man in heterosexual relationships – ‘terrorises’ the other, Situational Couple Violence where there is typically an equal split between male and female victims and perpetrators (although not necessarily in terms of impact) and finally ‘Violent Resistance’, where the partner of an ‘intimate terrorist’ will try and defend themselves in a violent way. The first category is much smaller in number than the second, but with a much higher percentage of high risk cases because of the persistent existence of coercive control. The second is by far the largest in terms of number of cases but most of these never come to the attention of public or specialist agencies such as police, IDVAs, refuges etc because the level of severity is typically much lower – although a significant percentage (about a quarter) do involve severe violence albeit without coercion and control. The last category is very small.
So what are the implications of his research? Firstly, it gives us a clear way to unlock the prevalence debate around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men. Both figures are right. But the bulk of the violence where men are victims fits into the Situational Couple Violence category and we need to treat it in a different way. In Situational Couple Violence, Mike’s research shows that about one third of cases involve men being violent to women, one third involve women being violent to men and one third are bi-directional. Most do not involve patterns of violence and none involve coercion. These are typically arguments and conflict that get out of control and where there is a violent incident. In many cases this is a one off. This is borne out by the crime survey for England and Wales which shows that about a third (I quote from memory) of cases are resolved in a month. This is not the sort of coercion, violence and control that we see in our work.
Secondly, it has clear implications for the family courts in particular in relation to children. Mike describes the impact of Intimate Partner Terrorism as the ‘poison’ that infects a family and leaves children exposed to constant stress. You will all be familiar with the literature about the impact of this on the neurological development of small children. The courts and those arranging contact between children and their parents need to get real clarity around this.
Thirdly, at a time when the police and others are reviewing the use of risk assessment, does this have a message for front line officers? My sense is no. There is a level of sophistication in distinguishing between different types of relationship which probably won’t be done most effectively at 3 in the morning. Front line officers need to collect evidence, safeguard the parties involved in an incident and manage the immediate risk that they are faced with.
Does it have implications for the work of specialists in the field? My sense is yes. At its most basic, many people in our field still speak about high risk as if it didn’t include coercion and control. I feel as if there can’t be anyone left who doesn’t understand that coercion is totally linked to risk – as well of course as significant physical violence. However, apparently there are! When I listen to people saying: “Half of the homicide reviews were of standard risk cases” I do want to say that they really were NOT! But they might have been hidden to public agencies or we didn’t spot the coercion and control because there was little or no physical violence disclosed, or because the person doing the risk assessment didn’t understand its significance. I really would commend to practitioners the severity of abuse grid that we have put in the IDVA version of the DASH checklist (http://www.caada.org.uk/dvservices/RIC_and_severity_of_abuse_grid_and_IDVA_practice_guidance.pdf see pages 8 and 9). Look at the examples of coercion and control included under sexual abuse, stalking and harassment and jealous and controlling behaviour. As an aside, we are in favour of streamlining the DASH tool for police – but anxious not to confuse the tool itself from the training and supervision required to implement ANY tool effectively. College of Policing please note!!
More broadly, I think that the options we offer those in Intimate Partner Terrorism relationships are broadly appropriate. However, we offer the same interventions to those experiencing Situational Couple Violence – and Mike argued very convincingly that the dynamics are not the same. Our data show that only about 15% of victims supported by IDVA services do not disclose jealous and controlling behaviour – perhaps they are in situational couple violence relationships? Mike’s research shows that a significant percentage of these do not want to split up – but this is broadly the only option we are offering them today. I say this with great caution – BUT – if someone is genuinely in a Situational Couple Violence relationship, surely we should be looking at work with the couple and even anger management? These are all interventions that are traditionally seen as unsafe where Intimate Partner Terrorism is involved.
Mike was very clear that our starting point must be to assume Intimate Partner Terrorism and safety plan as if this was the case. However, his analysis does give us a few more options if, and only if, a real risk expert, with a capital ‘E’, establishes that this is not the case.