Domestic Violence Typologies: What Value to Practice?

By Boxall, Hayley; Rosevear, Lisa et al. | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Domestic Violence Typologies: What Value to Practice?


Boxall, Hayley, Rosevear, Lisa, Payne, Jason, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


When domestic violence was first recognised as an issue of societal significance in the 1970s, it was conceptualised and described as a quite homogenous offence perpetrated by a homogenous group of offenders (Capaldi & Kim 2007; Dixon & Browne 2003). In the traditional scenario, a male offender victimised their female partner in order to control and dominate her, perpetrating a series of violent and abusive acts that escalated in severity and frequency over the course of the relationship (Cavanaugh & Gelles 2005). Traditional understandings of domestic and family violence have also focused on relationship 'dysfunction' and understanding why women 'choose' to stay in relationships with their violent partners.

However, over the last 25 years, understanding of domestic violence has changed significantly. People experience and are affected by domestic violence in different ways and the reasons underpinning domestic violence also differs between individuals and across relationships (Capaldi & Kim 2007; Huss & Langhinrichsen-Roling 2000; Johnston & Campbell 1993; Kelly & Johnson 2008; Lohr et al. 2005). Consequently, some commentators suggest that it is 'plausible that offender's behaviour is best described by categories' rather than at an overall, aggregate level (Dixon & Browne 2003: 109).

The re-conceptualisation of domestic violence as a more heterogeneous phenomenon has been in part influenced by the growing number of theoretical and empirical domestic violence typologies such as those outlined in Table 1 (Johnson & Ferraro 2000). Typologies are a means of classifying or categorising subject matter into groups and aim to simplify 'social reality by identifying homogenous groups of crime behaviour that are different from other clusters of crime behaviours' (Miethe, McCorkle & Listwan 2006: 1).

Generally speaking, the domestic violence typologies that have been developed to date have attempted to identify groupings of domestic violence offences, or of domestic violence perpetrators (male or female; Wangmann 2011). As demonstrated in Table 1, domestic violence typologies have typically differentiated between groups of offenders and incidents on a number of factors, including:

* the gender of the offender;

* frequency and severity of the violence;

* type of violence (physical, emotional, sexual etc);

* motivations/underlying causes of the violence;

* physiological responses of offenders to different stimuli;

* presence of personality/psychopathic/ antisocial disorders and symptoms; and

* whether the violence is confined to intimates or includes non-intimates.

While domestic violence typologies have been important for the development of more in-depth and sophisticated conceptualisations of domestic violence, their relevance and Implications for practice is unclear. The purpose of this study is to explore the practical utility of domestic violence typologies for professionals who are directly responsible for responding to and managing domestic violence matters (eg police officers, legal representatives, domestic violence service providers and treatment practitioners).

At this point, it is necessary to differentiate between domestic violence typologies and domestic violence risk assessment processes. The purpose of risk assessment processes is to assist practitioners to 'predict' or assess the likelihood of a domestic violence offender perpetrating similar abuse and violence in the future, or the severity of the offending escalating (Campbell, Webster & Glass 2009, Laing 2004). Domestic violence typologies are broader in scope than risk assessment processes, although as highlighted in later sections of this paper, they could potentially be used to inform the development of risk assessment processes. Domestic violence typologies involve the differentiation between groups of domestic violence offenders and offences on the basis of a set of evidencebased (either theoretical or empirical) criteria. …

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