Domestic violence affects 950,000 UK children very year. In Kirklees, the police make an average of 85 referrals to social services each WEEK. Now a new programme in Huddersfield, aims to break the cycle of abuse. Hilarie Stelfox reports
THE FIGURES are shocking. Domestic violence accounts for 25% of all violent crime in the UK and every year 100 women and 30 men die as a result.
The lives of nearly one million children are known to be affected by violence and abuse in their own homes.
According to Respect, the UK membership organisation for domestic violence programmes, in Kirklees more than 22,000 (17%) men and 23,000 (18.6%) women between the ages of 16 and 59 years will have experienced one or more episodes of sexual assault (including attempts) since the age of 16.
And yet the general consensus among those who work with the victims and perpetrators is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Research has shown that the reported incidents of domestic violence are only about one quarter of what is actually happening in society, which makes it even more shocking,” says Rebecca Hirst, director of the Huddersfield-based Pennine Domestic Violence Group.
A new joint initiative by the National Children’s Centre in Huddersfield and the PDVG is piloting a one-year programme for male perpetrators of violence who want to change their behaviour. It differs from interventions already offered in that it is not part of the justice system.
Funded by the Home Office Crime Prevention and Innovation Fund, the Kirklees-wide Domestic Violence Prevention Programme will work with men referred by statutory bodies, voluntary agencies and those who refer themselves.
“Someone who volunteers for a programme is more likely to succeed because they are doing it because they want to, not because they have to,” said Rebecca.
“It’s not about counselling, anger management or short-term fixes to what is a complex problem,” she added. It will mean a long-term weekly commitment to change. The problem with programmes linked to the justice system is that men will go on them because it helps their case and not because they really want to or see a need to.”
Feedback from similar initiatives elsewhere has been positive. Respect says that a survey of women whose partners had attended a full programme found that the violence and most of the abusive behaviour had completely stopped and they hadn’t been physically abused in the previous three months. All but one had been physically abused regularly before the start of the programme.
While the NCC, based at Brian Jackson House, will host the programme for the male perpetrators, the PDVG will work with their partners to offer them help through an Integrated Support Service.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are there are to help the victims,” explained Rebecca, “the aim of the programme is to reduce the impact of domestic violence and keep children and partners or ex-partners – or anyone affected by domestic violence – safe.”
Helen Orlic, who is managing the programme for the NCC, says that so far four men have enrolled and embarked on the initial stages. The group programme can take up to 10 men at any one time and if there is demand they will provide additional groups.
“We carry out risk assessments and find out what is their motivation for change,” said Helen. “Then they attend for four weeks of pre-group work and then have 21 weeks as part of a group looking at different areas such as the effect of violence on children and analysing abusive behaviour.”
Both Rebecca and Helen say it is critical to establish a motive for change and that the programme cannot be used by men who simply want to improve their chances of getting access to children or impressing others.
The PDVG has been working with victims of domestic abuse for 25 years but this is the first time it has been involved in a project directly aimed at the perpetrators.
“We have worked with male and female victims in a reactive sense,” says Rebecca, “but this is about families that are wanting to stay together.”