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The Action on Perpetrators network responds to the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan

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The Action on Perpetrators network welcomes the publication of the government’s Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan, particularly the inclusion of the ‘Pursuing Perpetrators’ strand. This fulfils the government’s legal requirement to publish a Perpetrator Strategy as part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

The £75M investment over three years for behaviour change interventions, research, and evaluation is the first multi-year funding of its kind for perpetrator work and a welcome investment towards sustainability in the specialist perpetrator sector. We welcome the continuation of funding for the current Home Office-funded services and the intention to avoid rushed commissioning and tender processes. However, we are concerned that the Home Office’s decision not to open any new funding opportunities until years 2 and 3 will exacerbate existing gaps in provision for the sector. The recent intensive national work by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office mapping behaviour change programmes and other intervention services, supplemented by subsequent help from the Home Office with data analysis, will have confirmed known gaps and the low level of service provision overall. We would urge a speedy response to this valuable new data rather than delaying progress for a year. We are also cautious that, given the long-term nature of perpetrator work, behaviour change services run the risk of having to stop referrals this summer under these funding proposals. These interventions require long-term work and a stable workforce to be effective.

The network welcomes the increased focus on out of court disposals such as diversionary or community cautions and the consideration of victims’ views in these decisions. However, it will be vital that these interventions are applied appropriately based on the level of risk that perpetrators pose. We also note that has been no funding commitment announced to go alongside these out of court disposals. If we are to offer safe and high-quality interventions for those perpetrators at an early stage of offending, then OPCCs and police forces need to be sufficiently resourced to do this. This is a new burden, yet there has been no indication of whether resources will come to enable the delivery of conditional cautions for domestic abuse perpetrators.

We also welcome proposed bail reforms away from presumption against using pre-charge bail to a neutral framing of the legislation and the step-change in the bail process to consider victims’ views. However, clarification is needed on whether the current presumption against using bail is legislative or just common practice. These reforms will only have their intended effect if they are triangulated with high-quality victim-survivor support.

The network believes that the move towards empowering local areas to develop their own perpetrator strategies and needs assessments for interventions is a positive step towards effective local leadership in delivering a more strategic approach to DA perpetrators. We are keen to see a more significant investment in and attention paid to community-based responses and by-and-for organisations.

We are glad that the government has committed to approaching a register of DA perpetrators carefully and with full exploration first. While we appreciate the intention behind a register, we have reservations about how the criteria for being on the register will be decided and whether its creation will divert resources away from multi-agency working. Before introducing a register, it is essential to understand how it will be useful for victim-survivors beyond what is already provided by the Domestic Violence Disclosure Service (Clare’s Law). For the register to be effective, it will be vital that the risk assessment of perpetrators placed on the register is dynamic, influenced by victim/survivors and carried out by the range of agencies in contact with a perpetrator to maximise victim-survivor safety.

Similarly, the network is cautious about proposals to expand electronic tagging. If enacted will require concurrent wraparound behaviour change programmes and high-quality victim-survivor support provisions to be effective. Finally, we were concerned to see an expansion of the use of mandatory polygraph examinations for perpetrators of domestic abuse, given the mixed evidence around the accuracy of polygraph testing.

While we welcome the Plan’s focus on the effectiveness of multi-agency forums, we still feel that overall, it is heavily and disproportionately focused on the criminal justice response to DA perpetrators. Given the small percentage of domestic abuse cases that ever come to the attention of the police and the even smaller percentage that progresses through the criminal justice system, it is essential that policies for risk reduction extend into other agencies and services. We urgently need greater consideration for what might be achieved in the family justice system. This will require enhanced support and training of members of the judiciary working in the family court and for policy discussions and decisions to incorporate the experience and expertise of the judiciary working in the FJS.

There is an opportunity missed within the Plan for a stronger steer from the government on facilitating information-sharing networks for shared learning, best practice and developing innovative responses to DA Perpetrators. Further to this point, the scale and specificity of workforce development needed to get systems ready to effectively respond to DA perpetrators are not recognised in the Plan. Agencies and voluntary sector organisations need funding, training, capacity and leadership to give them the confidence, time and resources to carry out this work safely and effectively. There is a particular gap in workforce development for professionals from racialised communities, deaf and disabled communities and other professionals from minoritised communities.

Another component of readying systems for effective perpetrator responses lies in recognising the need for our systems to radically shift from a ‘failure to protect narrative’ focussed on victim-survivors to a ‘perpetrator pattern-based approach’ in any settings who work with families where there is domestic abuse and children. This is currently missing from the Plan, and the success or failure of many other initiatives ultimately rests on this shift. For example, high-risk meetings, disclosure schemes or a register of domestic abuse perpetrators can be used as a tool to blame survivors if they are inserted into systems that do not have a perpetrator pattern focus or are still involved in patterns of victim-blaming.

Ultimately, the Plan fails to truly take a cross-governmental, cross-sector approach to perpetrator responses. The importance of integrated interventions/ approaches is a critical component of behaviour change intervention that is overlooked in the plan. Programmes such as ADVANCE (Substance misuse and DA), REPROVIDE (Healthcare settings and DA) and FDAC (multidisciplinary teams including adult and child social work, substance misuse, mental health and psychology) are all examples of effective integrated specialist services.

Throughout the Plan, there are limited commitments from departments beyond the Home Office and MoJ. The network would be particularly keen to see further commitments from the Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions & Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Please see the ‘Building a robust response to perpetrators: recommendations for the new Domestic Abuse Strategy’ paper that many Action on Perpetrators network members were signatories of for details of which commitments we would like to see from each department. Ideally, we would like to see a dedicated senior-level person in each of these government departments responsible for delivering on these commitments and coordinating a cross-departmental response to perpetrators. We would also welcome the re-establishment of a National Oversight Group on domestic abuse to bring together government departments, policing and key stakeholders from the VCS to measure progress against the plan.

Due to the scope of the Action on Perpetrator’s network, this statement focuses on gaps in the Pursuing Perpetrators pillar. However, we recognise the significant gaps in terms of victim-survivor provision in the plan, particularly for by and for communities, victims with no recourse to public funds and support for victim-survivors going through the criminal justice system. These gaps risk enabling serious harm to victim-survivors. For example, there continues to be little robust evidence of effective outcomes from widely used programmes intended to support victims-survivors, and we urge that attention be paid to building the evidence base across all three pillars of service delivery: prevention, victim-survivor (adults and children), and behaviour change in those who use abusive behaviour. Similarly, developing robust national standards and expectations is as applicable to victim-survivor programmes as to perpetrator programmes.