Prevalence and characteristics of serial domestic abuse perpetrators: multi-agency evidence from Wales

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Robinson, Amanda L. ; Clancy, Anna ; Hanks, Samuel (2014)
  • Publisher: Cardiff University
  • Subject: HN | HQ | HV

The Integrated Offender Management (IOM) Cymru partnership commissioned this research to achieve a clearer picture of whether and how ‘serial domestic abuse’ is being understood, defined and recorded by Police forces, Probation providers and Third Sector partners across Wales. Phase one of the research included a qualitative mapping exercise along with a quantitative analysis of n=6642 anonymised domestic abuse perpetrator records provided by Wales Probation Trust. This report sets out findings from phase two which entailed interrogating agency files to gather more detailed information on a random sample of perpetrators (n=100). \ud Objectives for this phase of the research included: \ud 1) Estimating the prevalence of serial domestic abuse\ud 2) Evaluating agency information and the overlaps (and gaps) across agencies \ud 3) Identifying any distinguishing characteristics of serial domestic abuse perpetrators\ud 4) Providing new evidence to inform developing policy and practice in this area\ud \ud Findings\ud Prevalence estimates varied considerably across the three main sources of information used in this research (Police, Probation and Third Sector), ranging from 4% to 20%. A key finding from this research is that different agencies are identifying different individuals as serial (from the same sample of 100 domestic abuse perpetrators) with only a very small degree of overlap across agencies (at best only 1 out of 100).\ud Using Probation data, it was difficult to empirically distinguish ‘serial domestic abuse perpetrators’ from non-serial perpetrators. While serial perpetrators were also likely to be repeat perpetrators, only a fraction could also be considered ‘high risk’ using Probation risk assessment tools (OASys and SARA). Therefore, in the case of domestic abuse offending, the categories of serial/ repeat/ high-risk should not necessarily be considered interchangeable or synonymous. \ud Serial perpetrators do, however, differ to some extent in their individual risk profile as assessed by the Spousal Abuse Risk Assessment (SARA) risk factors. For example, serial domestic abuse perpetrators are more likely than non-serial domestic abuse perpetrators to have past assault of family and stranger/acquaintance violence, recent escalation in violence, past use of weapons and denial of spousal assault, amongst others. \ud A profiling exercise of the ‘top ten’ serial perpetrators was conducted to identify whether those prioritised by Police forces represent a distinctly different, and more dangerous, group of perpetrators. This exercise revealed that, in addition to each force developing their own definition of what constitutes a serial perpetrator, different methods and processes are utilised across forces to target this group of perpetrators, if this is done at all. Only two of the four Welsh forces (South Wales and Dyfed Powys) routinely target serial perpetrators within their force operational processes, thus highlighting that not all forces necessarily view serial perpetration as synonymous with the highest priority offending. Cross-force comparison showed that the profile of ‘top ten’ serial perpetrators varied considerably across forces, and whilst all but one perpetrator was ‘known’ to Probation, only one-third of this group could be identified by Probation as serial perpetrators. \ud \ud Implications\ud In conclusion, the evidence derived from this exploratory study does not suggest that ‘serial domestic abuse perpetrators’ represent a qualitatively different group – one that is distinctive, can be reliably identified, and that has a profile calling for a particular course of action in terms of multi-agency response and risk management. This in turn suggests that the conceptualisation of ‘serial domestic abuse perpetrator’ should be informed not just by the quantity of victims but also the quality of, and motivations behind, the abusive behaviour. For this reason, we recommend that serial offending be considered alongside repeat and high-risk offending behaviour in the determination of who is a priority perpetrator and that this determination should instigate a more intensive and targeted multi-agency response.
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