The study was designed using a mixed method approach and involved three phases of data collection:

Phase 1: A survey of school children aged 13-14, including an evaluation of a schools-based domestic abuse prevention education programme.

The first phase of the research aimed to examine whether the implementation of a six week school-based intervention would result in children moderating their attitudes towards experiences of domestic violence. There have been many evaluations of interventions of this type, however, very few (if any) examine this important connection. Such studies were unable to explain why interventions failed to change the attitudes of certain pupils, especially boys, and whether this matters, i.e whether those boys whose attitudes are most entrenched are also those whom one might suspect are likely to be experiencing problems with their own or other people’s violence already.

The survey measured the following aspects:Attitudes towards domestic abuse

  • The incidence and prevalence of domestic abuse victimisation
  • The incidence and prevalence of witnessing domestic abuse between adult carers
  • Self-reported domestic abuse perpetration
  • Willingness to seek help from adults
  • The impact of a relationship education programme on acceptance of domestic abuse

Phase 2: 13 focus groups with young people, many of whom had distinctive relationships with violence. 69 young people aged 13-19 took part of this phase of the study.

Phase 2 of the research used a focus group approach to explore how malleable young people’s attitudes to domestic abuse are, and the extent to which young people contradict themselves and/or change their positions when they are asked to account for very specific examples of violent behaviour and/or when challenges are made by other group participants. This research provides a unique opportunity to move beyond one dimensional models of children’s understandings; to show that even those with pro-violence attitudes tend only to hold these attitudes when certain contingencies are met, and to show that there may well be doubts underpinning these attitudes that can be exploited by those working to help young people, especially young men, to turn away from violence.

This insight may also help to explain why it is that some young men turn out to be more accepting of violence despite expressing attitudes unconducive with it.

The focus groups comprised the following participants:

FG1:   Mixed sex; school pupils who received a domestic violence prevention programme

FG2:  All male; school pupils who received a domestic violence prevention programme

FG3:  Asian young men

FG4:  Gay young men

FG5:  Mixed sex; school pupils who received a domestic violence prevention programme

FG6:  All male; school pupils who received a domestic violence prevention programme

FG7:  Young men under YOT supervision with a history of violence towards their girlfriends

FG8:  Young men attending a substance use programme

FG9:  Young men who had witnessed violence at home

FG10: All male; students attending an alternative education programme

FG11: Mixed sex; students attending an alternative education programme

FG12: Young men under YOT supervision on a group work programme

FG13: School students attending an anger management programme

(YOT=Youth Offending Team)

Phase 3: Life history interviews with 30 young men, aged 16-21, who had experienced domestic violence as victims, perpetrators or witnesses.

The final stage of the research explored young men’s experiences of domestic violence through in-depth one-to-one interviews. The researchers used a range of probing narrative techniques to examine how certain attitudes are evoked as a defence against confronting certain feelings, such as the pain, shame and humiliation of being unable to prevent an abuser from perpetrating violence, or to conceal the intense grief that children often feel when their parents separate and relationships end. By contextualising these reactions within the life stories of individual men, the research sheds new light on the contingencies that determine how the tensions between various developmental processes and the demands of adolescent masculinity play out and, how this in turn impacts on both young men’s attitudes to domestic violence and their willingness to engage in the destructive behaviours adopted by a minority (towards self and/or others).