Victims of domestic violence will discuss their abuse face-to-face with the perpetrators under a scheme being piloted by a local authority that aims to “break the cycle”.
Harrow council in north-west London, which has funded the scheme to the tune of £200,000, hopes that by providing specialist counselling sessions for couples who are violent towards each other future incidents can be reduced. The council, which has just begun counselling sessions with the first couple participating in the scheme, believes it can tackle domestic violence by bringing couples together in a “supportive environment” to discuss its impact.
Traditional models of tackling domestic violence usually focus on the abuser and not the whole family. The Harrow experiment is based on a US model. Social workers from Harrow will undertake direct work with the children of families involved to assess the impact of the violence.
The programme will be run by psychotherapists and counsellors from the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships who will work with the families to find the triggers for the abuse. Susanna Abse, the centre’s chief executive, said: “We are really delighted to be delivering, in partnership with Harrow council, such a new and innovative way of helping with the major challenges faced when interpersonal violence occurs between couples.”
Councillor Pamela Fitzpatrick, whose responsibilities include adult safeguarding and preventing domestic violence, said the council was hopeful the scheme would help it to address the issue head on. “If the abusers understand the impact their behaviour has on their family, we hope they can change. We are delighted we are the first place to tackle the causes of domestic abuse.”
She added that the initiative would coincide with a campaign encouraging victims of domestic violence to come forward: “Victims are sometimes too scared to come forward and report it, or don’t know how to.”
The scheme has been greeted with scepticism by some women’s groups. Sarah Green, acting director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “The assumption in such couple counselling approaches tends to be that both parties must be at fault and they simply need to learn better behaviours. Domestic violence is about bullying and control, not misunderstanding. It is a choice, and it is deeply related to power between men and women.”
Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of nia, a London-based charity that works with vulnerable women and girls, said the scheme should concentrate on challenging male violence rather than involving the family. “By framing this work as a ‘family issue’, not as a male violence issue, Harrow council show themselves to be completely ignorant of the dynamics of intimate-partner violence. The responsibility for men’s violence lies with themselves – not with their female partners,” she said.
On average in England and Wales, two women are killed every week by a current or former partner. Police revealed recently that they are on the verge of being “overwhelmed” by “staggering” increases in reports of domestic abuse.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said recorded cases rose by 31% between 2013 and 2015, an increase that influenced the quality and speed of investigations in some forces.
Domestic violence charities warn every year that Christmas will be ruined for many families as incidents of abuse escalate, often over issues such as financial strain, alcohol and being cooped up together for long periods.