Tackling domestic abuse by challenging perpetrators – rolling out Drive. Domestic violence: Changing the conversation from asking ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to start asking ‘Why doesn’t he stop?’

By RedQuadrant consultant, Claire Bethel

RedQuadrant has successfully worked with two police forces in the last year to carry out feasibility studies into the roll-out of DRIVE[1], an intensive intervention for perpetrators of high risk high harm domestic abuse. The Home Office announced £10 million of funding in the Budget this year for interventions working with perpetrators of domestic abuse. This includes £1.1 million for implementation of the Drive project to expand it into new areas. Any Police and Crime Commissioner in England and Wales can apply.

Domestic abuse is thought to cost in the region of £66 billion a year in England and Wales[2]. Although both men and women experience abuse, it remains a gendered crime, more commonly inflicted on women by men, with at least 27% of all women experiencing partner abuse since the age of 16[3]. Traditional approaches to tackling domestic abuse in this country have for years focused on providing support to victim-survivors and their children. This has changed in recent years with recognition that, if we are to stop domestic abuse in its tracks, we have to do something to challenge the behaviour of perpetrators of high risk or serial abuse. Failing to do so allows them to move from one relationship to another, wreaking havoc until the victim-survivor manages to get away or the authorities take action.

Support is frequently provided by local agencies in the form of refuges; providing sanctuary in the victim-survivor’s home (eg: strengthening locks, installing stronger doors); a range of criminal justice measures and helping victims to seek safety. Much of the caseload of a Children’s Services Department is taken up with addressing the consequences of domestic abuse – frequently leading to child protection plans or, in extreme cases, children being taken into care.

It was recognised that criminal justice interventions punished the offender but did little to change their behaviour which is frequently entrenched, stemming from adverse childhood experiences, including witnessing domestic abuse in childhood. Evaluation of traditional perpetrator programmes has been inconclusive, with high rates of recidivism by participants. Concern that this approach, whilst both worthy and necessary, didn’t help to address the behaviour and mindset of the perpetrator led to greater efforts to find a longer term solution.

In response, a number of programmes have been developed to tackle the root cause of domestic abuse perpetrators’ behaviour. DRIVE, developed by a consortium of voluntary sector organisations[4], aims to tackle high harm and serial perpetrators by challenging behaviour and preventing abuse. This is a truly multi-agency approach, relying on collaboration between police, voluntary and community sector, local authority, housing, probation and many other agencies. An evaluation of a pilot project found that it has led to the number of participating service users reducing their use of each type of domestic violence and abuse behaviour – for example, physical abuse reduced by 82% and sexual abuse by 88%[5]. It is a three-pronged approach consisting of engaging with the perpetrator, supporting the victim and using disruption to penalise any ongoing abusive behaviour.

A RedQuadrant team, with a range of expertise on domestic abuse and interventions to address it, has worked with two Police and Crime Commissioners – one urban and one in a more rural area – to evaluate the effectiveness of their DRIVE pilot and to examine the feasibility of rolling it out across the whole police force area. Taking both a quantitative and a qualitative approach, our work has involved interviewing a wide range of stakeholders to find out their views on what difference a pilot of DRIVE has made in their area; an economic analysis into the costs and benefits of the scheme and potential ways of rolling it out, and an analysis of their initial findings to see if these were likely to match those produced by the original pilot being evaluated by the University of Bristol (spoiler: it does).   

[1] http://driveproject.org.uk/

[2] Oliver R, Alexander B, Roe S et al, The economic and social costs of domestic abuse, Research Report 107, Home Office, January 2019.

[3] Smith et al, 2012, cited in NICE guideline, Domestic abuse and violence: multi-agency working, page 28.

[4] Respect, SafeLives and Social Finance.

[5] Hester M, Eisenstadt N, et al, Evaluation of the Drive Project – a three-year pilot to address high-risk high- harm perpetrators of domestic abuse, University of Bristol, Executive Summary, January 2020, page 2.