Intimate Partner Violence - domestic abuse programmes

A summary of evidence relating to the effectiveness of programmes for those convicted of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The definition of domestic violence and abuse

The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional

Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.

Programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence

Domestic violence and abuse is a major concern in England and Wales. Two million adults self-reported being a victim of abuse in 2017/18; 1.3 million were female and 695,000 were male. Similar rates of abuse are recorded internationally.

A range of providers offer programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and/ or abuse against an intimate partner, or are at risk of doing so. These programmes aim to motivate and support perpetrators to change their abusive behaviours. Some programmes are offered as part of prison and probation sentences Some police forces also offer interventions to repeat perpetrators through Integrated Offender Management (IOM) schemes. These can begin before a conviction.

This summary is about Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) programmes for those convicted of IPV or abuse. They are not for people who harm other family members or who commit honour-based violence/Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). These IPV offending behaviour programmes are accredited by the Correctional Services Accreditation and Advice Panel (CSAAP).

How good is the evidence base?

Programmes for perpetrators of IPV tend to use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or the Duluth model. CBT is a talking therapy which aims to help people manage problem behaviours by changing thoughts and feelings. The Duluth model adopts pro-feminist theory. This focuses on changing attitudes that support male dominance in society (patriarchy). Other motivational enhancement and psycho-educational approaches have also been trialled.

Many studies have explored the effectiveness of programmes for IPV perpetrators. But the vast majority are limited by weak methodologies. Only a few high quality robust evaluations exist.

Most research is from North America. But the way these programmes are designed and delivered is different from England and Wales. Most perpetrator programmes in the US run outside of the Criminal Justice System (CJS). They tend not to consider how suitable the intervention is for the individual. In particular, criteria may not be risk-based. These differences limit how far we can apply US research to accredited programmes in England and Wales. Evidence from research from where principles of Risk, Need and Responsivity (RNR) are applied, (including the UK), is most relevant.

International evidence to support the effectiveness of perpetrator programmes is inconsistent and inconclusive. This makes it hard to draw any firm conclusions about ‘what works’ or whether one intervention approach is better than another.

We do not yet know what works best, for whom, and under what circumstances1

As the evidence is unclear, what can we do to improve effectiveness?

Lack of clear evidence means we can only view perpetrator programmes as experimental. But, IPV is highly prevalent. It causes physical, psychological and economic harm to victims, their families and society. This means we need to continue to work towards supporting behavioural change.

There is agreement in the research that IPV perpetrator programmes are more likely to be effective if:

  • they are delivered as intended
  • they contribute to a wider, multi-agency approach to risk management; and
  • they apply the principles of RNR


The length and intensity of interventions should be proportionate to the individual’s risk. Higher risk cases need more intervention and resources. Low risk cases will likely require little intervention.


Interventions should focus on the changeable risk factors that research has found to link with IPV. This includes supporting participants to:

  • challenge, change and manage any thoughts or beliefs that support IPV
  • develop social skills for healthy intimate relationships like communication, negotiation and assertiveness
  • develop problem solving skills
  • explore the impact of alcohol or substance misuse, support appropriate management and refer to treatment when required2
  • when appropriate, encourage participation in couples’ counselling that focusses on eliminating abusive behaviours and teaching negotiation, communication, and interpersonal problem solving3

There are many reasons why an individual might abuse their partner. Interventions should be flexible enough to accommodate the range of motivations and needs. Patriarchal attitudes might contribute to IPV in some cases, but not in many other cases. When present, it may not be a main risk factor. There is little evidence to support patriarchy as a standalone risk factor for IPV. Therefore, this should not be the sole focus of an intervention.


Programmes should be responsive to the needs of participants to enhance learning and support change. This may include:

  • using respectful, collaborative and transparent approaches to develop positive working relationships with participants.
  • showing genuine interest in the individual and their circumstances, for example, culture and past life experiences, which may include victimisation and trauma
  • using strength based, future focused approaches to instil hope
  • modelling and encouraging the development of a pro-social, non-offending identity
  • using a range of brain friendly approaches for different learning styles and abilities
  • accounting for fluctuating levels of motivation

Programme integrity

Programmes are more likely to be effective if they are delivered as intended. This makes ensuring quality in delivery important. This can be enhanced by:

  • regular assessment of the quality of delivery, ensuring programmes are running according to approved standards understood by providers and managers
  • using manuals to offer detailed guidance for delivery
  • using trained programme facilitators and Treatment Managers
  • offering ongoing clinical support
  • evaluation to show impact and to improve the programme

Community response

An effective multi-agency response can help to protect victims by:

  • courts and police providing effective arrest and supervision procedures
  • supporting the partners of programme participants via Partner Link Workers - victims should be told about the programmes, be informed about available community resources, and be supported in safety planning
  • intensive case management for the highest risk cases

How effective are accredited programmes for those convicted of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) delivered by HMPPS in England and Wales?

HMPPS offers and quality assures 4 accredited programmes for those convicted of IPV. They are:

  • Building Better Relationships (BBR) is for men assessed as moderate risk in custody and for men assessed as either moderate or high risk in the community
  • New Me Strengths (NMS) is for men assessed as moderate risk who have been identified as having Learning Disabilities and Challenges (LDC)
  • Kaizen is for men assessed as high risk and high need in custody
  • Becoming New Me plus (BNM+) is for men assessed as high risk and need who have LDC in custody

These draw on: CBT, a BioPsychoSocial (biological, psychological, and social factors) change model, and desistance theory. This acknowledges the complex interaction of risk factors and aims to motivate change and support people to learn the skills for change. Design and delivery is grounded by RNR principles, program integrity and multi-agency collaboration.

Their design is also informed by emerging evidence and learning from earlier HMPPS accredited programmes. The main offer between 2004 and 2013 was the:

  • Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP)
  • Community Domestic Violence Programme (CDVP) and
  • Healthy Relationships Programme (HRP)

IDAP was based heavily on the Duluth model and incorporated some elements of CBT. CDVP and HRP used a CBT model. A high quality evaluation of IDAP and CDVP in 2015 found promising outcomes4. For example, those who completed these programmes were found to have lower rates of general and IPV related reoffending when compared to those who did not complete the programme. Those who completed IDAP also had lower rates of generally violent (non-IPV) reconvictions.

Robust evaluation of current programmes in the future is needed. Although plans for evaluation are being developed, research has not been undertaken. It is not yet possible to say for certain that they are or will be effective.

Cross Government Definition and Guidance on Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018 Office for National Statistics (2018).

An outcome evaluation of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP) and Community Domestic Violence Programme (CDVP) Analytical Summary (2015)

Applying the Effective Corrections Approaches to Domestic Violence Programmes (Vimeo) Lynn Stewart PhD. C.Psych, Correctional Services Canada. Member of MOJ Correctional Services, Advice and Accreditation Panel (CSAAP)

Applying Effective Corrections Principles (RNR) to Partner Abuse Interventions (Stewart et al in Partner Abuse 4(4) 2013)

Further reading

A rapid evidence assessment. What works with domestic abuse perpetrators? Welsh Government (2018)

Transforming Rehabilitation: a summary of evidence on reducing reoffending MoJ (2013)

Research indicates that rates of Domestic Abuse are high in LGBT+ groups. Additional research on LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse is published by Stonewall and the Government Equalities Office (GEO).

Domestic abuse consultation response and draft bill (MoJ 2019)

The economic and social costs of domestic abuse This report estimates the social and economic cost for victims of domestic abuse in year ending March 2017 in England and Wales to be approximately £66 billion (Home Office 2019)


  1. Akoensi, T. D., Koehler, J. A., Lösel, F. & Humphreys, D. K. (2012). Domestic violence perpetrator programs in Europe, part II: A systematic review of the state of evidence. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 57 (10), 1206- 1225.
  2. Schumacher, J. A., Coffey, S. F., Stasiewicz, P. R., Murphy, C. M., Leonard, K. E. & Fals-Stewart, W. (2011). Development of a brief motivational enhancement intervention for intimate partner violence in alcohol treatment settings. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 20, 103-127
  3. McCrady, B. S., Wilson, A. D., Muñoz, R. E., Fink, B. C., Fokas, K. & Borders, A. (2016). Alcohol-focused behavioral couple therapy. Family Process, 55, 443-459.
  4. An outcome evaluation of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP) and Community Domestic Violence Programme (CDVP) Analytical Summary (2015).

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019