Finding solutions to domestic violence

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By Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, Reader in Economics
Department of Economics, University of Birmingham

Domestic violence is a pervasive global problem. WHO estimates that it affects nearly a third of women. Violence against women and children, particularly intimate partner violence (IPV), child abuse, female genital mutilation and “honour crimes” in addition to the devastating effect it has on individual welfare, has big, negative productivity effects and is estimated to cost a sixth of the world’s GDP. Given this, policies to reduce this are at the forefront of the sustainable development agenda. Nevertheless, there is no clear understanding about the precise causes of this type of violence and the relation between female empowerment and women’s security.

Finding solutions

The solutions to the problem are often far from obvious and policies that seems at first sight to be attractive may not always be very effective. For example, an obvious solution towards empowering women is increasing their labour force participation which is expected to enhance their bargaining power at home leading to lower domestic violence. However, it could also lead to greater exposure to other types of crimes outside the home, e.g. at workplaces or while traveling to work. This is something that researchers associated with the Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing at the University of Birmingham have explored in a recent research article. Even domestic violence might go up due to a ‘backlash’ from male and other members of the house who retaliate in response to the woman’s rising relative income and independence. Thus, policies that apparently seem suitable may not work in the absence of other institutional and cultural changes.

Treatment or punishment?

Given that changes in attitude and behaviour of males may be key, there has been interest in programmes that try to change perpetrator behaviour. I have recently led the evaluation of a domestic violence perpetrator intervention programme with colleagues at the University of Birmingham.  We found there to be a 40-50% reduction on domestic violence for perpetrators that attended a community based programme compared to similar offenders who did not. And whilst in some quarters it’s argued that perpetrators should instead be punished, such punitive approaches have not always solved the problem. For low level offending, changing behaviour through such programmes may represent an attractive alternative.

Gender based violence is a complex phenomenon and one solution will not work for everyone. Researchers at the University of Birmingham are at the forefront of the agenda, with cutting edge cross disciplinary work e.g. through the RAV (Risk, Abuse and Violence) research programme, to produce rigorous, cross evidence regarding the cause of, responses to and interventions that lead to reduction of societal abuse and violence, particularly against women and children. Researchers at the RAV programme work hand in hand with researchers at the Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing to produce rigorous research that is relevant and contextual. It is our hope that we will continue to research and find ways to reduce what is one of the most challenging global problems of the century.

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