Perpetrator interventions


  • Centre for Innovative Justice report, Opportunities for Early Intervention : Bringing Perpetrators of Family Violence into View , (2015, RMIT University).
    While this report is focussed on early interventions for perpetrators of domestic and family violence in a very broad sense chapter two of this report titled ‘Perpetrator Programs’ provides a detailed literature review of current debates and evidence about the effectiveness of programs.
  • Chung, Donna, Damian Green, Gary Smith, and Nicole Leggett, Breaching safety: Improving the effectiveness of Violence Restraining Orders for victims of family and domestic violence (2014, Curtin University).
    This Western Australian draws on interviews with ten men recruited from a Western Australian men’s behaviour change program. The interviews were complemented with a focus group of service providers including representatives from men’s and women’s domestic violence services, Family Violence Court, Family Court, Legal Aid and the Department for Child Protection and Family Support. This study provides useful insights for Magistrates regarding perpetrator views of protection orders and what might be needed to increase their effectiveness. Key study findings include participants’ lack of empathy or regard for the safety and wellbeing of their current or former partners. Men often perceived court processes as unfair (including protection order processes and decision making around child contact). Participants’ explanations for breaches of violence restraining orders could be grouped into three categories: men who took responsibility for the breach and related consequences; describing the partner as being responsible and ‘accidental breachers’ where the breach occurred because the protected person and respondent were ‘accidentally’ in the same physical location. The issue of partner initiated contact does raise an important issue for the women who require flexibility to their protection order to enable them to remain safe and legally protected from unwanted partner contact, but allow communication and face to face contact if necessary (p3).
  • Liang, Lesley, Risk Assessment in Domestic Violence (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2004).
    This article presents insights into the characteristics of perpetrators and the risk factors which influence abuse and explains why they may be useful considerations for judges. The author identifies that risk assessment is an important aspect of sentencing as it can help to identifythe amount and types of treatment. For example, abuse of alcohol appears in many risk assessment lists. Screening for alcohol problems may identify the need to provide treatment for alcohol abuse, in addition to perpetrator treatment. It can also help the criminal justice system to identify which offenders need closer supervision), particularly given the rise in number of domestic violence perpetrators now before the courts in jurisdictions with strong arrest and prosecution policies. (p2)
  • Mackay, Erin; Althea Gibson, Huette Lam, David Beecham, ‘Perpetrator interventions in Australia: Part one – Literature review. State of knowledge paper’ Landscapes: State of knowledge (ANROWS: 2015).

    This extensive literature review examines both domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrator programs, including the types available and their effectiveness. This review identifies that perpetrator programs are just one form of perpetrator intervention. It notes that the majority of perpetrator programs in Australia are voluntary and often use group work and counselling (p10)

    Psychoeducational: (p11) as a response to violent men- criticised for lacking empirical support and being ineffective at promoting authentic and self-directed change. Also adopts a ‘one size fits all’ approach

    Psychotherapeutic: (p11) operate on the understanding that factors such as behavioural deficits, trauma or psychopathology are the causes of family/ domestic violence; criticised for not adequately addressing the more personal and embedded aspects relating to men’s use of violence and its connections with wider structural inequalities. (Cognitive behaviour therapy / CBT programs maybe a subset and focus on the idea that violence is learned and so can be unlearned.)

    Families and couples counselling: (p12) family therapists or couples counsellors tend to approach the issue of family/domestic violence from the perspective that domestic and family violence is a consequence of a dysfunctional relationship and that it is the role of the therapist to address this underlying dysfunction or discord in the relationship. Concerns for women’s safety in relation to this approach, not a popular option. Still deemed an effective pathway for couples with low levels of violence/situational violence/couples committed to staying together.

    Combined approaches: (p12) Mix of psychoeducational and CBT approaches. The Duluth model is a combined approach model.

    Matched interventions (MI): (p12) These programs tend to be individualised. Evidence regarding the effectiveness of MI is inconclusive.

    Programs for Indigenous men: (p14) such programs need to acknowledge Indigenous views of family/domestic violence, including that the violence is less about patriarchal power than “a compensation for lack of status, esteem and value” or an expression of trauma. They must have a strong cultural foundation and be delivered as part of a holistic approach that encompasses the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing of individuals and the community as a whole.

    Programs for men from CALD backgrounds (culturally and linguistically diverse): (p16) specific programs needed but difficulty in accurately defining a cultural group.

    Emerging/evolving approaches to family/domestic violence:

    • Narrative therapy: a form of psychotherapy, it perceives family/domestic violence as manifesting from dominant narratives within society. Consequently, the narrative therapist tries to explore alternative narratives or stories, for example, inviting perpetrators to consider the effects of their violence or explore alternative ways of being within relationships (p 17)
    • Restorative justice: preferred by Indigenous victims.
    Risk Needs and Responsivity (RNR) Model (p18) ‘: ‘it requires the intensity of the program to be tailored to the level of risk of re-offending posed by the offender, the nature of the intervention to respond to the offender’s rehabilitative needs, and the delivery of the intervention to conform to “a style and mode that is commensurate with the offender’s ability and method of learning.’ The authors note that research examining attrition rates of specified perpetrator programs reveals that different program approaches may suit different men, and that program styles should be tailored to be responsive to the particular perpetrator. They conclude that ‘given the tailored nature of the RNR assessment and model in terms of addressing the particular needs of perpetrators, its application to existing community and corrections based family/domestic violence interventions may help to reduce dropout rates.’
  • Mackay, Erin; Althea Gibson, Huette Lam, David Beecham, ‘Perpetrator interventions in Australia: Part two – Perpetrator pathways and mapping’ Landscapes: State of knowledge (ANROWS: 2015).

    [Summary at page 43]

    There are subtle differences between jurisdictions in terms of domestic violence orders mandating perpetrators to attend a specific perpetrator intervention program. For example, in South Australia a man issued with a domestic violence order can be mandated to attend a specific program and non-attendance is considered a contravention of the order. Conversely, in some jurisdictions such as Victoria, courts can mandate a perpetrator to attend an eligibility interview under a domestic violence order; but need to issue a counselling order in order to mandate eligible perpetrators to attend programs.

    Within many jurisdictions there are few pre-sentence perpetrator intervention programs delivered by community correctional services or other government organisations; and there are limited programs available for perpetrators on remand. Access to specific perpetrator intervention programs in custodial settings is also limited, as many perpetrators are given short sentences and programs in custody are often only available to those on sentences of more than 12 months. It is also the case that there is a shortage of programs specifically designed for Indigenous and CALD perpetrators in custody or on community-based orders in many jurisdictions.

    Perpetrators generally have the opportunity to avail themselves of help and support from non-governmental organisations, although there is a disparity between jurisdictions in terms of the number of organisations available, with Victoria and New South Wales having more program providers than other jurisdictions… Support can also be limited for those perpetrators residing in rural and remote areas in Tasmania, South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.
  • This paper discusses the notion of the ‘web of accountability’ that has been influential in policy circles. A web of accountability around a man potentially comprises strands based on:

    • attempts to hold him accountable through the formal criminal justice, civil justice and child protection systems (involving informed, consistent and coordinated actions by police, courts, corrections and child protection, where appropriate)
    • the actions of non-mandated service systems that attempt to engage him through proactive, assertive outreach (for example, at court through a Respondent Worker, or telephone-based via men’s enhanced intake or the MRS After Hours Service)
    • women’s (and in some cases, a community’s) own informal attempts to ‘draw a line in the sand’ about his behaviour, and to hold him accountable to the promises he might have made to change his behaviour, and to her and her children’s needs for safety and dignity. (p5)
  • This commissioned literature review into domestic violence perpetrators covers a wide range of topics. With regard to sentencing, predominately the efficacy of perpetrator programs is addressed. In discussing this, the review mainly considers international sources and research, noting Australian research on the topic is scarce. The review makes a number of general conclusions: Treatment conducted in a group format is limited in its capacity to respond to individual needs, and group dynamics may reduce the willingness to self-disclose and engage among perpetrators who are less motivated to change (p 11). Individual or individualised interventions increase the likelihood of program completion, which in turn reduces recidivism (p 11). There is no clear positive impact of court-mandated interventions (p 12). The effectiveness of intervention programs has been found to vary as a function of characteristics associated with the evaluation methodology as well as the perpetrators (p 12). Programs should be matched to offender characteristics (p 12). Court-monitoring of program attendance can improve program completion (and therefore recidivism) (p 14)
  • Vlais, Rodney, Domestic violence perpetrator programs: Education, therapy, support, accountability ‘or’ struggle (No to Violence, Male Family Violence Prevention Association, 2014).

    This article was written on behalf of No to Violence (the peak body for those working with male perpetrators of family violence in Victoria) and presents a literature review. The article focuses on the ways in which men’s attitudes and behaviour can be changed. As such, it does not primarily refer to court-ordered programs however the programs and models discussed are ones the court could consider utilising when sentencing.

    The report discusses and recommends education, therapy (provided it is tailored for the individual) and ‘support’ (which includes programs and counselling).

    The report recommends that all five ‘elements’ of DV perpetrator programs listed (education, therapy, support, accountability and ‘solidarity and struggle’ – i.e. standing in solidarity with victims and perpetrators and recognising the struggle to change) are woven together to provide the best and most effective system.
  • Vlais, Rodney, Guidelines for Engaging People who Cause Family Violence (North West Metropolitan Region Primary Care Partnerships, Policy Guidelines, December 2017).

    This document provides practical guidance for interacting with and assisting perpetrators of domestic and family violence. Key points include:

    • ‘Engaging perpetrators of family violence in ways that work towards the safety of women and children can be very difficult and complex’, and unskilled attempts can compromise victim safety (p 5);
    • Perpetrators often take a long time to accept responsibility for their behaviour, and have ‘highly-reinforced ways of minimising, denying, justifying and excusing their behaviour’ (p 5);
    • Perpetrators of family violence are not always easy to identify as ‘there is no one type of man who uses violence’ and family violence is a social condition, stemming from ‘how men are socialised to use power’ (p 6);
    • The highest priority in cases where family violence is identified is to support the victim, including by referring victims to appropriate external agencies (p 9);
    • Engagement with perpetrators must minimise ‘collusion with the attitudes and beliefs that the perpetrator uses to absolve himself of responsibility’ (p 13).


  • Bloomfield, Sinead and Louise Dixon, ‘An outcome evaluation of the integrated domestic abuse programme (IDAP) and community domestic violence programme’ (National Offender Management Service, UK Gov. 2015).
    This paper reports on reviews of two perpetrator programmes in the UK. Among other findings- it found that the programmes were effective in reducing domestic violence and reoffending in the two year follow up period.
  • Boots, Denise et al. ‘A Comparison of the Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program with Alternative Court Dispositions on 12-Month Recidivism’ (2015) Violence Against Women 1-24.

    The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a 20 week Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) for cases assigned to a misdemeanour family court. This study focused on determining whether BIPP cases, compared with alternative sanctions, had significantly lower recidivism rates 12 months after program involvement. The study was undertaken by randomly sampling cases appearing before two county courts in Texas in 2007. The BIPP was a 20 week program with state mandated programming (Psychoeducational and psychotherapeutic combined model- includes both group work and individual counselling).

    The study found that the general recidivism / arrest was significantly related to being non-White, younger in age, younger at time of first official arrest, more counts of prior arrests, having a female victim, not cohabitating with the victim, being under the influence of substances during intimate partner violence offense, receiving jail time, and living in neighbourhoods with higher disadvantage and residential mobility. Findings indicated that BIPP was more effective than jail or regular dismissal in reducing the likelihood of future arrests, but not plea deferred adjudication and conditional dismissal. Results argue toward the efficacy of some form of treatment versus simply receiving jail time.
  • Buzawa, E., G. Hotaling, A. Klein, and J. Byrnes. Response to Domestic Violence in a Pro-Active Court Setting. Final report for National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 1999.

    This study draws on a sample of 353 cases of male-to-female domestic violence cases heard during a 7 month data collection period at a US court. Drawing on a range of data this study draws on recidivism data, police reports and perpetrator / victim perspectives to determine likelihood of reabuse. (Summary of findings from p154)

    The study found that the type of program does not affect re-abuse (p 65); those who complete batterer programs are less likely to re-abuse than those who fail to attend, are non-compliant or drop out (p 68); court monitoring can enhance program attendance (p 69); most victims are satisfied with their abuser’s referral to a program (p 73); anger management programs on their own were found to not be effective (p 66); suggests that alcohol and drug treatment: generally effective in reducing re-abuse and should be incorporated as a standard component of batterer intervention programs (p 67)
  • Eckhardt, Christopher et al, ‘The Effectiveness of Intervention Programs for Perpetrators and Victims of Intimate Partner Violence’ (2013) 4(2) Partner Abuse 196 – 231.

    This article presents a review of studies of perpetrator programs undertaken since 1990. The article reviews:

    • 20 studies investigating the effectiveness of “traditional” forms of batterer intervention programs (BIPs) aimed at perpetrators of IPV
    • 10 studies that investigated the effectiveness of alternative formats of BIPs
    • 16 studies of brief intervention programs for IPV victim-survivors,
    • 15 studies of more extended intervention programs for IPV victim-survivors
    • Based on the results reported for all of the studies examined the authors conclude: Interventions for perpetrators showed equivocal results regarding their ability to lower the risk of IPV; available studies had many methodological flaws; among interventions for victim-survivors of IPV, a range of therapeutic approaches have been shown to produce enhancements in emotional functioning, with the strongest support for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches in reducing negative symptomatic effects of IPV.
  • Fanslow, Janet, Pauline Gulliver, Robin Dixon and Irene Ayallo, ‘Women's initiation of physical violence against an abusive partner outside of a violent episode’ (2015) 30(15) Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2659.
    This article explores women’s use of physical violence against an abusive male partner, outside of a violent episode. Data were drawn from the New Zealand Violence Against Women Study, a cross-sectional household survey. Factors associated with women initiating physical violence against their male partners were identified. Of the 845 women who had experienced physical violence perpetrated by their intimate partner, 19% reported physically mistreating their partner at least once outside of a male initiated violent episode, while 81% never initiated violence against their partner. Analyses showed that women’s initiation of violence under these circumstances was strongly associated with either or both partners having alcohol problems, her recreational drug use, her number of violent partners, and her mother being hit or beaten by her father when she was a child.
  • Gondolf, Edward W., ‘Evaluating batterer counseling programs: A difficult task showing some effects and implications’ (2004) 9 Aggression and Violent Behaviour 605.
    A US study. Abstract: Over 40 published program evaluations have attempted to address the effectiveness of ‘‘batterer programs’’ in preventing reassaults. Summaries and meta-analysis of these evaluations suggest little or no ‘‘program effect.’’ Methodological shortcomings, however, compromise most of these quasi experimental evaluations. Three recent experimental studies appear to confirm little or no effect, but implementation problems, intention-to-treat design, and sample attrition limit these results. A longitudinal 4-year follow-up evaluation in four cities poses additional considerations and evidence of at least a moderate program effect. There is a clear deescalation of reassault and other abuse, the vast majority of men do reach sustained nonviolence, and about 20% continuously reassault. The prevailing cognitive–behavioral approach appears appropriate for most of the men, but the following enhancements are warranted: swift and certain court response for violations, intensive programming for high-risk men, and ongoing monitoring of risk. Program effectiveness depends substantially on the intervention system of which the program is a part.
  • Harne, Lynne and Jill Radford, Tackling Domestic Violence: theories, policies and practice (Open University Press, 2008).

    See chapter 4 (Policing, prosecution and the courts) and 5 (Preventing domestic violence). In relation to perpetrator programs the authors critique three types: (p 156)

    • Psycho-therapy models: tend to reinforce the ‘poor me syndrome’, where violent men redefine themselves as the main ‘victims’ and as the ones who need help and the focus moves away from their responsibility and the impact of their violence on women and children
    • Couples counselling: poses risks to survivors – it has almost ceased to be used in the US.
    • Social learning approaches and anger management programs: Anger management courses do not recognise domestic violence as being connected to male dominance on women in intimate relationships. May feed excuse that men have ‘uncontrollable tempers.’ Although they may reduce violence in the short term, they do not deal with the control element.
    • Authors observe that many women express fears of further violence once the program had ended and felt that being referred to a program was a soft option – the program was only effective when combined with the sanction of imprisonment for further violence.
  • Hyman, Hon. Eugene M. And Liberty Aldrich, ‘Rethinking access to justice: the need for a holistic response to victims of domestic violence’ (2012) 33 Women's Rights Law Reporter 449.
    Writing in the USA context the authors emphasise that a judge who has information that a particular offender previously failed to complete a mandated batterer program may be less likely to simply re-order attendance at that program (at 11).
  • Juodis, Marcus et al. ‘What Can be Done About High-Risk Perpetrators of Domestic Violence?’ (2014, Journal of Family Violence, online).
    This article presents a useful literature review about how perpetrators who present as high risk should be dealt with. See pp2-3 where the concurrent need for safety planning for women while perpetrators attend programs must be considered. Notes that some perpetrators assessed as high-risk maybe particularly resistant to treatment and so particular efforts may need to be made to ensure they remain in program. Pre-treatment is suggested. Includes a discussion of appropriate risk assessment and treatment programs for psychopathic perpetrators.
  • Kelly, Liz and Nicole Westmarland, Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes: Steps Towards Change (Project Mirabal: Final report, London Metropolitan University and Durham University, 2015).

    This important UK study examines whether domestic violence perpetrator programs (DVPP) work in reducing men’s violence and abuse and in increasing the freedom of women and children. The study is longitudinal (see p6) and includes program data from 11 UK base sites; 64 interviews with DVPP staff and stakeholders across four locations; survey with 100 women DVPP intervention group, 62 women comparison group (5 interviews over 6 time points); interviews 64 men on programmes (the programmes all followed the RESPECT guidelines) and 48 women (ex) partners at time 1 (near start) and time 2 (near end). Interviews and surveys were also undertaken with children and staff about the impact on children and there was further analysis associated with program integrity.

    Results: As a result of participation in a Domestic Violence Perpetrator Program, there was found to be positive change with regard to:

    • Respectful communication (p11)
    • Space for action (p14) “This measure draws explicitly on the understanding that safety is insufficient to undo the harms of abuse, women need to have the freedom restored that abuse restricts.”
    • Safety and freedom from violence and abuse for women and children (p18)
    • Shared parenting (p23) “safe, positive and shared parenting.”
    • Awareness of self and others (p25) “enhanced awareness of self and others for men on programmes, including an understanding of the impact that domestic violence has had on their partner and children.”
    • Safer, healthier childhoods (p30)
    Identified a different way of thinking about change: “Change is better understood as a series of sparks, different for each man, and not all of which are activated.” (p34)
  • Klein, Andrew Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges (National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of justice Programs: 2009).

    This is a comprehensive review of US based research on issues relevant to domestic violence and law enforcement. The recommendations are made in the US context.

    See 8.3 for a discussion of couples counselling and anger management programs as a response to domestic and family violence: ‘There is no evidence that couples counselling or anger management programs effectively prevent court-referred batterers from reabusing or committing new offenses after treatment. (Research basis: The limited research conducted thus far has been, at best, inconclusive regarding the effectiveness of these programs. One large state study found that court-referred batterers are less apt to commit new offenses [including both domestic and nondomestic violence offenses] if they completed batterer programs rather than anger management programs. The difference, however, may be because the batterer programs were twice as long as the anger control programs.)’ (p67)

    See 8.4 for a discussion of Drug and alcohol programs as a response to domestic and family violence. ‘Incorporating alcohol and/or drug treatment as a standard component of batterer intervention programs adds to the likelihood of reductions in reabuse among batterers, many of whom abuse alcohol and drugs. Effective treatment should include abstinence testing to assure sobriety and no drug use. (Research basis: Extensive research in both clinical and court settings confirms the correlation between substance abuse and the increased likelihood of reabuse as well as the reduction in reabuse among offenders successfully treated for drug abuse.)’ (p67)

    In relation to failure to comply with conditions of perpetrator programs: ‘Judges should respond to noncompliant abusers immediately to safeguard victims. (Research basis: Multiple studies have found that doing nothing with regard to noncompliant, court-referred abusers results in significantly higher rates of reabuse.)’ (p72)
  • Mandel, David, Safe and Together TM Model, Overview and Evaluation Data Briefing (2014).
    Suite of Tools and Interventions is a perpetrator pattern based, child centered, survivor strengths approach to working with domestic violence. Developed originally for child welfare systems, it has policy and practice implications for a variety of professionals and systems including domestic violence advocates, family service providers, courts, evaluators, domestic violence community collaboratives and others. The behavioral focus of the model highlights the “how” of the work, offering practical and concrete changes in practice. The model has a growing body of evidence associated with it including recent correlations with a reduction in out of home placements in child welfare domestic violence cases (Click here to read more about the growing body of evidence behind the Safe and Together Model.)
  • Miller, M; E., Drake, and M. Nafziger, What works to reduce recidivism by domestic violence offenders? (Document No. 13-01-1201). (Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy: 2013).

    The authors present a literature review particularly examining the effectiveness of perpetrator programs from the perspective of whether they reduce recidivism. The authors found no effect on DV recidivism with the 6 Duluth like interventions reviewed although they note there may be other reasons for referring perpetrators to such programs. The authors observe that their review indicates that there may be other group based treatments for male domestic violence offenders that effectively reduce domestic violence recidivism.

    See p 2 which states that the Duluth model: ‘approach assumes that domestic violence “…is a gender-specific behaviour which is socially and historically constructed. Men are socialized to take control and to use physical force when necessary to maintain dominance… the model assumes that DV does not result from mental illness, substance abuse, anger, stress or dysfunctional relationships.”
  • Rempel, Michael Evidence based strategies for working with offenders. Centre for Court Innovation. (2014), Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice.
    This American resource presents a succinct summary of some fundamental issues in promoting court-based perpetrator accountability.