Criminologists at the University of Cambridge have recently conducted a pioneering study to investigate a new approach to tackling domestic abuse cases. Instead of facing criminal charges, the accused would undergo a counselling course to uncover reasons for behaviour and take a positive step towards recovery. The researchers claim that this approach has been hugely successful at cutting reoffending rates, but the Crown Prosecution Service is waiting for results from other studies before considering nationwide approval.
As part of the study, 300 men arrested by Hampshire Police for domestic abuse related offences were asked to attend a Cautions and Relationship Abuse (CARA) workshop. Offences which were included in the study included common assault, criminal damage, and threatening behaviour. The workshop was divided into two five hour counselling sessions held a month apart. The course was led by a counsellor, and involved group discussion with a between four and seven offenders. The participants were encouraged to talk about themselves and their behaviour in order to identify psychological issues which have led them to be abusive.
The aim of the course was to persuade offenders to acknowledge what had gone wrong in their lives, and use motivational techniques to formulate a plan and empower them to change their behaviour for the better. The sessions took place in a hotel, a location without any emotional ties to encourage them to relax and be open with the counsellor and the other offenders. The researchers argue that the offenders who participated in the study were less likely to reoffend that a control group of offenders who were given a conditional caution instead. Compared to the cautioned group, they found that 35% fewer individuals reoffended after participating in the counselling sessions.
Although the results of this study have offered new insights into how domestic abuse cases are approached, there is not yet sufficient evidence to integrate it into the justice system. Current CPS guidance states that domestic abuse cases are not usually suitable for conditional caution schemes. A spokesperson from the CPS welcomed the findings, but stressed that more data is required before changes to these guidelines can happen.
Critics have also said that two days of counselling is insufficient to have a long term effect on behaviour. Domestic abuse offenders are likely to need ongoing support to discover the root causes of their behaviour and begin to change the way they act. Concerns have also been raised about victim safety through this approach, as although the study showed a reduction in acts of violence, it doesn’t tackle the issue of coercive control and forms of psychological abuse according to Katie Ghose of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
Assistant Chief Constable for Hampshire Police, Scott Chilton, who co-authored the Cambridge report, takes a different view. He said that the police should aim to deliver a better service to victims, and claims that victims often want offending partners to receive help because they have a relationship and a family together. In his view, using counselling instead of criminal charges is one way to deliver that better service.
Our expert witness psychologists often work on cases involving domestic abuse. They provide thorough, accurate reporting on an individual’s state of mind and the factors governing their behaviour. Psychologists can also assess the effects an abusive relationship has had on children or other family members. Get in touch if you require an expert psychologist to strengthen your legal case.