Focus Group Design

For the purpose of the From Boys to Men research, the topics for focus group discussion were broadly centred around the causes of domestic abuse:

  • the nature of abuse according to different couple types (as a result of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation)
  • abuse in teenage relationships
  • domestic abuse education
  • responses to domestic abuse.

After consultation with members of a local Youth Parliament, it was decided to include visual aids (a video) and vignettes (short stories) as a means of engaging young people in focus group discussion. Aids of this type are useful when addressing sensitive topics, such as domestic violence, as they allow participants to approach the issue indirectly through debate addressed to hypothetical examples rather than questionning them directly about their actual experiences. Vignettes, for example, provide concrete examples of people and their behaviour on which participants can offer comment and opinion (Hazel, 1995) without having to draw on personal experiences when exploring potentially sensitive topics.

Each focus group commenced with a showing of The Bedroom film which formed part of the UK Government’s 2010-12 This is Abuse campaign. The film tells the story of two teenagers in a potentially intimate situation that turns aggressive when the young woman declines her boyfriend’s invitation for ‘a bit of fun’ and suggests they just watch television instead. A text message from one of the girl’s friends enrages the young man, who then throws the girl’s phone across the room, before twisting her arm as she begins to protest. The scene ends with the young man telling his girlfriend she is ‘pathetic’, unfastening his belt, asserting, ‘Well go on then. Show me something’. The camera swings to an image of the same boy banging on the bedroom window from the outside shouting ‘Get off her’. Get off her and the caption ‘If you could see yourself, would you stop yourself?’.

Participants were asked for their reflections on the film, before being presented with two further vignettes. While it is argued that real-life stories have the potential to initiate more of a response from young people in focus groups (Barter & Renold, 1999), it was decided to compile original stories in order to focus on the particular aims of this research project. The first vignette told the story of a young couple where the man threatens his girlfriend because of how she is dressed for a night out with her friends.

you're not going out like thatSarah, age 16, has been going out with Mark, age 18, for six months. They had been thinking about moving in together until they had their first big argument. Mark didn’t like it when Sarah went out by herself to meet her friends. He said he did not like her getting dressed up like that and told her which clothes he would rather she wore. She said that that was unfair at which point he got really angry before shouting if you do that again you know what will happen and slamming the door.

The second vignette told the story about a boy who is in trouble in school for pushing a girl and calling her ‘a slag’, but who was also living with parents who were abusive to each other. Participants were asked to empathise with the characters in these vignettes and other individuals that they may come into contact with (family members, friends etc.) and discuss what they would/should do in these situations. Participants were also asked for their reflections about domestic abuse in different couple groupings older and younger couples, couples from different ethnic groups, same sex couples. Finally, they were asked to advise what they would do, if anything, ‘if they were in charge’, of young people who were victims of abuse in their own relationships, who had been accused of being abusive towards a partner of for young people who witnessed domestic abuse at home.

The actual focus group schedule used for the From Boys to Men project can be found in the Research Materials menu.