Below, we answer some of the most common questions we encounter in our work. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to get in touch with us.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence perpetrated against someone because of their gender, and it disproportionately affects women and girls. Accordingly, we use the terms gender-based violence and violence against women and girls interchangeably on this website.
Male violence against women is a serious and widespread problem, which occurs in every European country and worldwide. It is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men. This inequality prevents the full advancement of women and represents a pervasive violation of human rights, as well as a major obstacle to achieving gender equality.
Therefore, the term “gender-based violence” references the fact that much of the violence women and girls experience throughout their lives is due to their gender and the social power imbalance in which it puts them.
Gender-based violence can take many forms; it can e.g. be physical, sexual, psychological and/or economic. It may include domestic violence/abuse (violence within the home/family/relationship), sexual violence (incl. sexual harassment), harmful practices (e.g. forced marriage, female genital mutilation), cyberviolence, stalking, etc. It disproportionately affects women and girls.
Our network members mostly address domestic violence/abuse by men against women. Domestic abuse is a type of gender-based violence and can take very subtle forms. Most of the time, media portray domestic violence as physical violence, but there are many more subtle and invisible forms of abuse. Such subtle forms might include:
- sexual abuse, such as a man pressuring his partner into having sex with him by acting hurt or angry when she refuses, threatening her or deliberately causing her pain during sex.
- controlling and isolating behaviour, such as men making their partners cut ties with their families and friends or the partner having to report on every move she makes. The abusive partner might also stalk his partner, check up on her constantly or use spy-/stalkerware on her cell phone.
- economic abuse, such as a man controlling all the household finances and making his partner completely financially dependent on him.
- psychological and emotional abuse, such as gaslighting (questioning his partner’s perception of reality, making her feel mentally unstable), threats of physical violence towards her or her children, threats of sexual violence, etc.
- reproductive coercion, such as a man forcing his partner to have abortions or manipulating her birth-control in a way that causes her to become pregnant.
Children in violent household have the right to protection and support. Violence in the family affects children, no matter whether they witness the violence directly or not. Accordingly, child protection organisations should be involved in all interventions against domestic violence.
While both men and women may experience abuse, countless studies have found that repeated and severe domestic violence disproportionately affects women, and men are the biggest group of perpetrators – this clearly makes it a form of gender-based violence. We acknowledge this fact by using and promoting a gendered approach to working with perpetrators of domestic violence.
This gender-sensitive approach acknowledges the history of men’s domination over women and the often violent steps taken to uphold the structural imbalance from which the majority of men benefit on a daily basis.
Concretely, this approach includes addressing the gendered nature of domestic violence on a societal, institutional, family/community and individual level. It is important to acknowledge the very real consequences, e.g.,
- sexist stereotypes, such as the idea of women as being manipulative and emotionally controlling,
- traditional gender roles, such as men having to be strong and unemotional, and
- violent ideas of relationships and sexuality, for example through consumption of mainstream pornography, can have on the readiness of a man to commit violence against his (ex-)partner.
We encourage our members to understand the gendered factors that influence perpetrators in their violence. This way they can help men in their programmes to stop using abusive behaviours and encourage them to create relationships based on respect and equality.
Perpetrator work is an important element of combating and preventing violence against women. It is grounded in the fundamental belief that men who have used violence towards their (ex-)partners can change – by acknowledging the harm they have caused and taking responsibility for their past and future actions.
The objective of perpetrator programmes is to increase safety and well-being for women and children by interrupting the violent behaviour, increasing men’s self-reflective skills, supporting the men in developing non-violent coping strategies, and monitoring the risk levels of perpetrators for their(ex-)partners and children.
Accordingly, perpetrator work does not support perpetrators to get custody of their children or to make their partner stay with them. They do not give perpetrators an advantage in the justice system or help them better hide and excuse their abusive behaviours. Victims/survivors and their safety must be the centre of all interventions.
The programmes need to be part of a cooperation between all organisations involved in the intervention (e.g. women’s support services, child services, probation services), this ensures that diverse risk factors and potential stressors are known and can be taken into account throughout the programme.
The concrete work can take quite different forms but, in general, it involves individual or group work over a specific period (at least 6 months). Programmes can include men that participate because:
- they have noticed their violent behaviour and want to change.
- it is part of their probation,
- child services or a judge sent them or
- their (ex-)partners have given them an ultimatum.
Some prisons offer perpetrator work, which can be crucial to keeping men from returning to their violence after their sentence ends (= reducing recidivism).
For our network it is central that perpetrator work is based on a gender-sensitive approach and that the safety of women and children is at the centre of any intervention.
However, perpetrator work alone cannot end men's violence against women. It is crucial that perpetrator programmes are part of a holistic community response to gender-based violence. The perpetrators' social networks, as well as other support systems (e.g. probation, church) need to be part of the intervention. Without society holding men accountable for their violence on a wider scale, we will not be able to effect longlasting and sustainable change.
One of the big questions around perpetrator work is of course whether the men actually stop their abusive behaviours and if survivors benefit from their (ex-)partners being in perpetrator programmes.
It is extremely difficult to evaluate perpetrator programmes for a variety of methodological reasons (i.e. different programme characteristics, high participant turnover, different definitions of success, different tools used to measure success, etc.).
Men who have used violence might deny and minimise violence and its effects. Moreover, official national data on domestic violence is usually very limited due to low reporting and prosecution rates. Therefore, when evaluating a perpetrator programme it is very important to include (ex-)partner feedback, as their opinion is an integral aspect for evaluating change. It has been found that the main predictor of re-assault is the woman’s perception of her safety.
What data do we have that shows perpetrator programmes work?
Until now, studies that have measured perpetrator programme outcomes have obtained different results and were based on different definitions/measures of success.
One of these studies, the Mirabal Project, is a large-scale evaluation of perpetrator work in the UK, which conducted a series of interviews with men in the programmes, women whose (ex-)partners were in a programme, as well as staff and funders of the programmes. They came up with six main measures of success:
- an improved relationship underpinned by respect and effective communication,
- expanded “space for action” for women which restores their voice and ability to make choices, whilst improving their well-being,
- safety and freedom from violence and abuse for women and children (presence of violence and feelings of safety),
- safe, positive and shared parenting,
- enhanced awareness of self and others for men, including an understanding of the impact that domestic violence has had on their (ex-)partners and children,
- for children, safer, healthier childhoods in which they feel heard and cared about.
The two first measures where very important for the women, who stated that ending violence was necessary but not enough for them to feel safe and free. The results from (ex-)partners’ accounts showed improvement especially in physical and sexual violent behaviour, the increase of feeling of safe, and the men’s increased awareness of the impact of their violent behaviour on women and children.
Despite this, some other results were not as promising: harassment and other abusive acts where still present and the “space for action” had not increased much. Perpetrators were still blaming the (ex-)partners for outbursts and tried to excuse their behaviours. Additionally, the impact of the violent behaviour on the children was still present. Interviews with the men and their (ex-)partners showed that change in men happens as a series of sparks, different for each men. Interestingly, both (ex-)partners and men showed a belief in traditional gender roles.
How do we measure success/change?
In order to overcome the challenges for programme evaluation, WWP EN has developed the IMPACT Outcome Measurement Toolkit.
At WWP EN, we are gathering data on behavioural and attitudinal change through perpetrator work with our toolkit, which programmes all over Europe are using to evaluate their work. One of the many great things about our toolkit is that it asks men and their (ex-)partners about change – the assessment of (ex-)partners is incredibly valuable for a realistic picture of how a perpetrator has changed his behaviour throughout the programme.
Moreover, it assesses change over an ongoing period, at several different moments during the treatment and after the treatment. Therefore, it helps programmes monitor their outcomes and gain information about some of the changes that might be needed to improve their results.
Finally, IMPACT does not just measure behavioural change (if the violence has stopped) but also changes in attitude (e.g. awareness of the impact of the violent behaviour, reasons and explanations given for violence, motivation to change), and the survivors feelings of safety.
Cooperation with women’s support services, such as counselling centres or crisis hotlines, is crucial
- to keep the safety of women and children at the centre of any intervention,
- to aid reliable outcome measurement, and
- to ensure accountability of the programmes towards the specialised women’s sector.
However, the relationship between perpetrators programmes and women’s support services is strained in many countries. There are several continuing issues which we must address to enable good cooperation between perpetrator programmes and women’s support services, some of which we briefly discuss here:
Quality and focus of the perpetrator programme
Since very few countries have guidelines or official accreditation processes for perpetrator programmes, ensuring the programmes are of good quality and uphold the focus on the victim’s and children’s safety can be difficult. We encourage all our members to set up their programmes in accordance with our guidelines, as well as offering other resources on setting up accountable programmes (here & here).
Increased risk for victims/survivors
There are several concerns from women’s service about an increase in risk for the (ex-)partners of perpetrators enrolled in perpetrator programmes:
- Participation in a programme might foster a false sense of security for the women
- Women might decide to stay with their partners to give them “one last chance”
As part of the intake process, every responsible perpetrator work organisation includes a comprehensive risk assessment. The results of this assessment will be shared and facilitators will suggest necessary safety precautions. This detailed look at the risks a perpetrator poses to his (ex-)partners or family would not be possible without a well-organised programme doing work with abusive men. Accordingly, perpetrator work can actually help increase the safety of women and children.
To manage women’s’ expectations about improved behaviour and long-term positive changes, there must be a form of pro-active contact with them to provide empowerment and correct information. This way programme facilitators can prevent a false sense of security.
Perpetrator programmes who are in touch with their clients’ (ex-)partners need to encourage them to reach out to a women’s support service. There she has the opportunity to access resources to make her own choices and evaluate the man’s progress with professional input. Additionally, a breakup will be a safer process if her (ex-)partner has support and assessment.
Manipulation of the system
Women’s services have also raised concerns over perpetrators being able to manipulate facilitators into helping them in front of judges, with child services and their (ex-)partners.
While perpetrators are good at manipulating the system, they are not almighty. The structure of the perpetrator programme can be built to avoid the most common pitfalls. Additionally, the training for the service providers must enable them to respond adequately to manipulation and regular contact with clients’ (ex-)partners can provide an invaluable resource for having a realistic picture of his behaviour outside of treatment.
The entire domestic violence sector is chronically underfunded and most states do not realise that work with perpetrators takes place in addition to women’s support services, needing its own line of funding and not money from the same sources as victim support. One of the ways forward is to establish that ending gender-based violence is a cross-cutting problem, which should be funded by a diverse host of actors (e.g. justice ministries, health services, etc.). Recognising each other’s work allows an effective collaboration between women’s support services and perpetrator programmes in applying for funding and in working together. Through joint efforts, support services and perpetrator programmes can create stronger lobbying schemes, a more stable funding system and encourage independent funding.
Despite these concerns making cooperation difficult, it is the responsibility of perpetrator programmes to reach out to the specialised women’s support services to establish communication in an attempt to set up collaboration. Perpetrator programmes should make constant and ongoing efforts to talk to and cooperate with women’s services.
Historic differences and the issues mentioned on this page sometimes make it difficult for victim’s support organisations to collaborate with and trust perpetrator programmes. With continuing good work from the perpetrator work organisations, it should become possible to have open and productive relationships.
One way to build lasting structures of accountability and cooperation is to include representatives from women’s support services as experts in steering committees or advisory boards, ask them to provide input on training manuals or expert papers and make sure to include compensation for their time in all budget proposals to donors.