• Claire Verney

What Are Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes and Are They Effective?

Recently charities and organisations have called for a perpetrator strategy to be included in the new UK domestic abuse bill. This post will explain what programmes usually cover, how you can ensure the programme is appropriate and how effective they are at reducing domestic violence and abuse.

As DV-ACT Practice Manager I was recently interviewed for a podcast aimed at survivors and DV professionals and I was surprised about how little was known about these programmes (known as DAPPs or DVPPs) and how they worked. This article answers the questions that listeners asked in that interview, the link to the podcast interview is at the bottom of this post.

When in 2011 I first started working for a DV organisation that provided perpetrator programmes there were some who disapproved of this work because they saw it as money being drawn away from vital refuges and victim services to fund work with perpetrators. I hope that following this post there will be a greater awareness of what a DAPP does to support victims and hold perpetrators to account.

Please note that my experience is working with a programme that is accredited by Respect and I cannot guarantee that a programme that is not Respect accredited would have the same aims and methods as those described here. I am also basing this on programmes for male perpetrators with female victims.

What domestic abuse perpetrator programmes are not

I find that it is best to start off with an assurance of what approved programmes are not. They are not therapy sessions, couples counselling, anger management or parenting programmes, although the DAPP will have an element of these programmes within it, a DAPP is something unique to domestic abuse. A DAPP is not an opportunity for abusers to support each other in their abuse, look for a reason to justify their behaviour or find an easy way to satisfy the courts in order to gain contact, or mollify their partners.

It is sometimes the case that because of a lack of provision, funding or the ineligibility of the perpetrator, domestic abuse perpetrators are referred to therapy or other types of programmes that are not a DAPP. Finding a programme can be particularly difficult if the perpetrator is female, needs a translator, is a young person or if the victim is not an intimate partner (such as a family member), in these cases the programme may need to be delivered on a one to one basis or it may mean considerable travel to a provider who has the ability to undertake this work.

What are DAPPs?

A DAPP is a behavioural change programme, usually delivered in a group, wherever possible, and is designed to help men learn how to take responsibility for their actions and be less violent and abusive. Research has shown that the group work programme is most effective as it involves them seeing themselves through others and being challenged by their peers.

They are usually around 26 sessions long, so if attending once a week the intervention will take around 6 months to complete. Many victims and perpetrators will be dismayed at the length of time they take to complete but I would keep in mind that often the core beliefs that perpetrators have are complex and entrenched, and changing this behaviour takes time. Short untested programmes run a number of risks, they play into the 'instrumental' orientation of some perpetrators, and are unlikely to address the deeper issues that relate to risk.

A group has usually 2 facilitators who come from a variety of backgrounds but are trained domestic abuse professionals (not simply trainers teaching a course). Facilitators should ideally include a female, so that there is a woman's voice in the room, and will hold the attenders to account for their behaviour. Topics will include sexual respect, intimacy, separation, alternatives to violence, parenting and how partners and children are affected by his violence and abuse.

Where do referrals come from?

Referrals to these programmes (and not probation or prison programmes aimed at those convicted of domestic violence) come from a number of places but individual programmes will have their own referral pathways, usually, referrals come from:

  • Self referrals

  • Cafcass referrals from cases that are in family court contact proceedings

  • Social workers

  • Police or GPs

Whatever the referral route the perpetrators will need to attend a suitability assessment and it is up to the programme providers to decide who is eligible. A court order or referral is not a guarantee that a perpetrator will be excepted, he must show a genuine willingness to work on his behaviour and attend the full course.

Are the victims listened to?

All Respect accredited programmes will have an integrated victim support service who will proactively contact an attendees current and ex partners. The service should offer a range of support options including:

  • Group support for ex/partners of perpetrators attending the programme

  • one to one, face to face support

  • telephone support

  • contact only if something is disclosed and they are concerned about safety

It is up to the ex/partner to choose how much support they would prefer and engagement in support is entirely voluntary, free of charge and confidential. Support is usually available for the time the attendee is on the programme and for some months following completion. An integrated service should ensure that the ex/partners views, fears and concerns about ongoing abuse are listened to and acted upon.

How much do programmes cost?

This will depend upon the referral route, if self funding, each programme will have its own fees which may be on a sliding scale depending upon income. Where a perpetrator is in court proceedings and referred by Cafcass to an approved provider, there is no charge to the perpetrator. For other referral routes, it is possible that fees may be met by the local authority but each programme will have its own fee structure.

Please note that you cannot buy your way on to a programme, no amount of money should determine your eligibility!

Do the programmes work?

Attendance and even completion of a DAPP does not guarantee a reduction in risk, having said that, they are the only tool that we have that has shown any success in reducing or stopping perpetrators use of violence and abuse. Research shows that DAPPs do extend men's understanding of violence and abuse with the recent Mirabel report, showing that physical and sexual violence was not just reduced but ended for a majority of women.

It is the Drive Projects success in reducing perpetrators re-offending that has fuelled the recent campaigns for a national perpetrator strategy. Drive is an intensive intervention that aims to make victims/survivors and children safer by working with high-risk and serial perpetrators to challenge behaviour and prevent abuse. The University of Bristol’s evaluation of Drive found significant reductions in the use of abuse – the number of Drive service users perpetrating abuse reduced as follows: 

  • physical abuse reduced by 82%; 

  • sexual abuse reduced by 88%; 

  • harassment and stalking behaviours reduced by 75%; and 

  • jealous and controlling behaviours reduced by 73%. 

  • Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) who are trained to work with victims-survivors and assess the level of domestic abuse risk they face, recorded reduction in risk to victims in 82% of cases.

If a perpetrator's behaviour is changed it could save many future partners from violence and abuse at his hands.

What should a victim/survivor look for in a DAPP programme?

  • Make sure it is a Respect accredited domestic abuse programme. Anger management, couples counselling or parenting programmes are not the same thing as a DAPP and are not appropriate for domestic abuse.

  • It should have an integrated support programme for ex/current partners - ask what support they have that would best meet your needs. I would suggest that you check that they have correct contact details for the partners and ex-partners.

  • If you are in court proceedings try to insist that no changes are made to contact arrangements until the programme is completed and there has been a final report from the programme provider.

  • Manage your expectations, programmes are not a guarantee that abuse and violence will stop


For more information on perpetrator programmes you can visit the following sites:

A Call To Action A Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy for England And Wales - http://driveproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Call-to-Action-Final.pdf

Respect - http://respect.uk.net/

The Drive Project - http://driveproject.org.uk/about/research-evaluation/

Mirabal Report - https://www.nr-foundation.org.uk/downloads/Project_Mirabal-Final_report.pdf

Cafcass information on perpetrator programmes - https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-perpetrator-programme/

Online community support - With Abuse Talk you can join the discussion on domestic abuse through a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday 8-9pm GMT www.twitter.com/abusetalkonline there is also a forum https://jennifergilmour.com/community/ which is available 24/7 and even houses a solicitor who will answer questions and queries for no charge. There is a podcast which delivers a series of interviews with those that work in the domestic abuse sector. Watch my talk on perpetrator programmes here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8_B4EFarS0


Helplines are available in the UK as follows:

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247

The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327

Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040

Childline - 0800 1111

Call the UK police non-emergency number, 101, if you need support or advice from the police and it's not an emergency.

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