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Professionals’ discursive constructions of the intimate partner domestic abuser (IPDA) and their influence on the legal and therapeutic interventions they make use of.

Presser, Ellen (2018). Professionals’ discursive constructions of the intimate partner domestic abuser (IPDA) and their influence on the legal and therapeutic interventions they make use of.. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This research study aims to explore how the intimate partner domestic abuser (IPDA) is constructed through available discourses by different professionals working within contemporary western society. In addition to this, it aims to explore how different constructions of the IPDA, by these professionals, influence the criminal, legal and therapeutic interventions that are utilised by them. A Foucauldian Discourse Analysis was conducted on a sample of six interview transcripts of different professionals working with IPDAs. The professionals that took part within this study included: a forensic psychologist, a police officer, a criminal law solicitor, a social worker, a family law QC and a domestic abuse programme facilitator. The analysis generated three major discursive themes in relation to the object of the IPDA. These included: Power, control and criminality, psychological vulnerabilities (internal and external) and the volatile relationship. Professionals struggled within available discourses, particularly when utilising criminal/ legal and psychological discourses to construct the IPDA. Professionals often adopted criminal/legal discourses to explain the use of interventions that focused on safeguarding and containment. By positioning the IPDA as ‘bad’ they were seen to have choice and responsibility for their actions, meaning they could be held accountable for them. However, professionals would often utilise a psychological discourse when introducing therapeutic interventions. Within this construction, the IPDA was positioned as ‘unknowing’ and ‘vulnerable’, which meant they could be seen as lacking control over their behaviours. The behaviours were often seen as separate to the core person and the use of more compassionate and less punitive interventions was described. Ideas for future research and developments within Counselling Psychology are discussed. These include more focus on social and contextual factors when working with IPDAs’ and developing a greater awareness of how language can impact individual’s experiences. Domestic abuse is a complex phenomenon which presents a unique challenge to professionals working in a variety of different settings, including health and wellbeing as well as legal and criminal agencies. It is a phenomenon that is prevalent throughout society and is not limited to one class, gender, sexuality or culture. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2017 that an estimated 1.9 million adults aged between 16 and 59, living in England, had experienced domestic abuse between March 2016 and March 2017. Over this period, the police recorded 1.1 million domestic abuse related incidents and crimes, and found that domestic abuse and violence accounted for 32% of violent crimes reported to the police in the UK. However, the ONS estimated that 79% of victims of domestic abuse will not report the abuse to the police. It is also estimated that 1.2 million victims of domestic abuse are women whilst 713,000 are men, and the most common form of domestic abuse is that of partner abuse. Furthermore, 16 to 19 year olds were found to be the age group that were most likely to say that they had experienced domestic abuse. The ONS (2017) also found that 63% of people who access support from independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs) had children living in their households at the time they were receiving the support. With domestic abuse permeating all areas of society the costs to the UK economy is substantial. Walby (2004) conducted an analysis to determine estimates of the overall costs to the UK as a result of domestic abuse and violence. She estimated that in total the UK spends £22.869 billion a year on services relating to the management, prevention and rehabilitation of those impacted by or perpetrating domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is estimated to cost the criminal justice system £1.017 billion, with £0.49 billion being spent by the police. It is estimated to cost £1.396 billion in relation to health care, with £1.22 billion being spent on treating physical injuries and £0.176 billion being spent on mental health related injuries. Furthermore, social services spent £0.228 billion in the year 2001, emergency housing for victims is estimated to cost £0.158 billion and civil legal costs amount to £0. 312 billion a year. The economic output lost to domestic abuse is estimated at £2.67 billion. This study adopts a social constructionist framework and has a particular interest in exploring how language is used to construct the intimate partner domestic abuser (IPDA) by professionals in contemporary western society. Throughout this research, I have chosen to identify the abusive party as an IPDA rather than make use of the more commonly used ‘perpetrator’. Given the nature of the research methodology, Foucauldian discourse analysis, I wanted to ensure that I made use of a term that was as neutral as possible. Although I acknowledge that it is very difficult, near impossible, to create neutral terminology, I felt that the use of IPDA abated many of the underlying inferences and connotations that come with the term ‘perpetrator’. For example, ‘perpetrator’ can be associated with criminality and criminality is often constructed as a male attribute. This awareness of bias within language is particularly relevant to Counselling Psychologists as we are often based in the community and are responsible for supporting both recipients and abusers with their mental wellbeing. These constructions have far reaching implications for our research and practice, and the therapeutic alliance that we form with IPDAs as well as recipients of abuse.

This chapter will begin by exploring definitions of domestic abuse and violence and how it is understood within the current literature. It will then look at how the IPDA is understood in the current literature and will briefly look at cultural and historical understandings of domestic abuse and violence and the implications that these understandings have for policy and politics. Current interventions for IPDAs will then be reviewed and the theories behind each intervention will be discussed. Finally, this chapter will conduct a review of the empirical literature in this area and will present the current aims for this research study.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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