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Muddy waters: Evidence and the domestic violence sector

Anne (new)

Recent news that the domestic violence (DV) sector is divided over initiatives that work with perpetrators is, sadly, not surprising. DV charities deal with incredibly complex issues, and are also hugely underfunded, so grapples over the best way to proceed seem inevitable.

At the heart of this current division in the sector is the question of evidence, and whether DV prevention work can have an impact. The challenges around evidence in the DV sector reflect the evaluation challenges of the social sector as a whole, but tend to be harder to surmount, given the intractable nature of DV and its huge consequences.

Add drastic underfunding into the mix and it becomes clear why debates like these often arise. What is the best way to use limited resources? Keep on going with the same initiatives which have some results? Or take risks on interventions for which there is not yet evidence, but which could make a real dent in the issue you’re tackling? Given that lives are at stake, it’s not a gamble any DV charity would take lightly.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) recently held a seminar with NPC and NSPCC, which sought to address some of these issues, with a look at the latest evidence on DV prevention. The seminar brought together academics, practitioners and policy makers to discuss evaluations of interventions in the field.

It was clear from the event that there is still a lot to be overcome by the DV sector with regards to evidencing the best interventions.

Successful comparison group methodologies are hard to come by. And there isn’t much consistency in measures used across different monitoring or evaluation activity.

There are also ethical questions that make it even more difficult, for example: do perpetrator programme evaluations place yet another burden on victims of DV by putting the responsibility on them to report rates of the physical and emotional abuse they encounter?

Current strapped-for-cash times mean there are also doubts about how committed to evidence some commissioners are—even though these lack of funds mean it’s actually more important than ever to spend the money wisely. And as a result, specialist charities are struggling to survive in the current commissioning landscape, meaning we are at risk of losing their expertise.

Being clear on the outcomes the DV sector is working towards is, as always, key to using the right measures, but currently there is a lack of a clear view on what a good outcome is. Where partners stay together, what level of reduction in violence is good enough to indicate impact? And some interventions may be successful at lowering risk in the short-term, but may neglect addressing the needs of the family in the long-term.

But it’s not all bad news. While the water remains muddy, and there remains a lot to be done, the fact that there is an increasing focus on evidence can only be a good thing. As national DV charity SafeLives has shown, evidence can help bring real benefits when used right—their DV evidence sharing initiative Insights, featured in our latest report on shared measurement, helped secure the sector new funding in the recent Spending Review.

Like EIF and NPSCC, at NPC we are keen not only to improve the quality of evaluation, but also the sharing and management of evidence. We like evidence to be used to make the best possible use of resources, and to achieve the best possible outcomes for beneficiaries. So, with our seminar participants, we are going to be looking at developing a stronger practitioner-researcher forum for the DV sector. A key aim for us will be to build on current evaluation and support more shared measurement activity.

Read more about the event here, and contact us on anne.kazimirski@thinknpc.org if you’d like to be involved in our plans.

4 Comments

  1. There should be strong evidence for domestic violence before anybody is accused of domestic violence like any other crime.
    The difficulties of obtaining evidence are no less prevalent than obtaining evidence of any crime under common law.
    Just by accusing somebody of DV even if its of the abuse of emotional kind which are usually argument’s, especially in divorce and custody cases is currently enough to ensure people are referred to mentioned perpetrator programs. Thereby unwittingly people can be forever known as a perpetrator of abuse. This problem is exasperated by a lot of councils and community groups reliant on funding by not clearly defining between the types of abuse and violence which also has the effect of manipulating statistics of the problem. Just by attending one of these programs should not be used as evidence in itself DV occurred this is wrong.

  2. There should be strong evidence for domestic violence before anybody is accused of domestic violence like any other crime.
    The difficulties of obtaining evidence are no less prevalent than obtaining evidence of any crime under common law.
    Just by accusing somebody of DV to the Local authority or one of its partners even if its of the abuse of emotional kind which are usually argument’s and two sided especially in divorce and custody cases, Is currently enough to ensure people (omnipresently the respondent to intial allegations, allegations which are usually encouraged to be made by agency’s despite lack of evidence) are referred to aforementioned perpetrator programs.
    Thereby unwittingly people can be forever known as a perpetrator of abuse.
    This problem is exasperated by a lot of councils and community groups reliant on funding by not clearly defining between the types of abuse and violence which also has the effect of manipulating nationwide statistics of the problem. While locally, charities use their own skewed statics and every accusation and referral made with or without police intervention to lobby their own local authority for additional funds. Just by attending one of these programs should not be used as evidence in itself DV occurred this is wrong.
    I feel it is paramount police intervention is the way forward in regards to collecting evidence as the current way local authorities and their partners address the issue is unconstitutional and out of proportion. For those falsely accused at any stage including court without a thorough investigation has different but no less damaging life changing consequences than highlighted in the consequence tab in this article.

  3. It’d be useful to make contact with the researchers at Kings College who have been looking at the issues of Intimate Partner Violence perpetration by men in substance misuse services, if you haven’t already.

    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/depts/addictions/research/drugs/bilaterallearningalliance.aspx

    The capabilities framework they’ve developed has (I think) the potential to be a very useful tool for the sector.

    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/depts/addictions/research/drugs/Capabilities-Framework-Final.pdf

  4. Thanks James for raising this issue.

    Thanks Andrew, we had come across this work, agree this is very useful research.

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