Domestic Abuse Service Providers and Their Stories – Dr Rebecca Shaw

This research project aims to investigate the power of those systemic and structural narratives that impact on stereotypes and create biases in relation to domestic abuse, as witnessed by service providers who support both victim-survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse. Despite legislative changes in 2021 with the Domestic Abuse Act, and its stated aim to raise awareness of domestic abuse and further improve the effectiveness of the justice system, domestic abuse remains an inherently difficult problem to tackle.

“I don’t think we’ll ever eradicate domestic abuse, but we can definitely reduce the harm and the numbers.”
– Interview Participant

“Nothing’s going to change unless we go and directly focus towards the perpetrators. And again that might not be an option. So, then the only other option we have is to go right back – towards the prevention. So, I will say prevention is our medicine, so we need to focus towards prevention more so.”
– Interview Participant.

Narratives have a diverse role to play when it comes to harm and vulnerability. They can inspire and motivate harmful action; they are used to make sense of harm and vulnerability; and they are used in the process of surviving harm. Stories, therefore, are crucial for helping people make sense of the world. Yet, how we see, react and make sense of domestic abuse often involves drawing on prominent socio-cultural narratives that silence victim/survivors and perpetuate problematic myths and stereotypes of domestic violence and abuse. The continuing existence of such entrenched, dominant narratives within domestic abuse discourse should not be underestimated, despite key legislative changes and government strategies to tackle violence against women and girls. Analysing the stories, then, of those people who work with victim-survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse is a productive exercise in order to assess their perceptions of the kinds of narratives that persist in preventing change, and consider what needs to be reformed in order to dismantle those narratives. Specifically, the project will offer a new contribution to current research by exploring and scrutinising the stories of service providers to look at how we perceive and understand domestic abuse. The challenge being to better understand and contribute – ultimately – to changing how as a society we perceive and thereby respond to domestic abuse.

This project has a number of overarching aims: investigating the stories of service providers’ experiences with both domestic abuse victim-survivors and perpetrators; to assess current practitioners’ perceptions of the dominant narratives regarding domestic abuse and identify what kinds of narratives persist in preventing change; and to identify gaps in understanding how the system responds to the needs of both victim-survivors and perpetrators, and how we might create strategies for practical change of the narrative of domestic abuse. The project has been co-designed from its inception by the principal investigator and four service providers from the Leeds, York and West Yorkshire area.

Through a series of focus groups and narrative interviews with participants from each of the four partner organisations, this project is examining the narrative practices which play out among these stories; the effect of these stories on the characterisation of victim-survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse; and assessing front-line workers’ perspectives on the biases and misperceptions of domestic abuse. By examining both the content and form of a story, it allows for an appreciation of how stories gain significance and how they shape the way we understand ourselves, are perceived by others and make sense of the world. The project aims to better understand the stories of front-line workers, and work in collaboration with partners to craft solutions in a bid to change the dominant narrative. and shape how agencies can prevent future harm and vulnerability through awareness of these systemic and structural dominant narratives.

Principal Investigator: Dr Rebecca Shaw, University of Leeds
Research Fellow: Dr Kelly Henderson, University of Leeds

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