Building Better Relationships? Interrogating the 'Black Box' of a Statutory Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme

  • Nicole Renehan

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the statutory domestic violence perpetrator programme, Building Better Relationships (BBR). The main aims were to explore best practice, the process of change and what men need in helping them to build better relationships. The thesis is situated within a tripartite of concerns. These are: 1) the philosophical assumptions upon which BBR is premised; 2) the ‘evidence’ upon which this and evaluations of programmes pivot; and 3) the now defunct Transforming Rehabilitation agenda proposed by the Conservative government in 2013. The experiences of men mandated to attend BBR and the practitioners who implemented it were captured via programme reviews, pre-sentence reports, five months of on-site observations, informal discussions, and in-depth interviews. This study found that facilitators were attuned and sensitive to the traumatising but often traumatised men with whom they worked. However, I propose that the principles underpinning BBR and the context in which it is delivered was not necessarily redressing male perpetrators’ reasons for violence, and sometimes aggravating the difficulties behind them in ways that were not conducive to better relationships. While BBR proposed an intervention that was holistic and individualised, it did not surmount the shortcomings of its predecessor, the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP). The painful feelings that are unearthed are left largely unaddressed in the pursuit of treatment targets. Managing men and teaching them to (superficially) manage their reactions to domestic conflicts remains the central treatment aim. The study found that facilitators were similarly concerned about the ethics of such practice and acknowledged their limited skills in supporting men with complex needs but were struggling to deliver on their own values given the loosely cognitive behavioural perquisites of the BBR manual. I conclude that abusive men are expected to take responsibility for their behaviour when interventions and practitioners are not response-abled – that is sufficiently enabled to be responsive to them. The limits on practitioners’ responsiveness are compounded by the lack of financial investment in them, the silos in which they worked despite the requirements of multi-agency working, and the absence of quality supervision and personal development on offer to them. This thesis highlights the limitations of positing domestic violence perpetrator programmes as the primary response to men’s violence against women and underscores the need for more transformative, community-led initiatives that focus on repairing harms, as opposed to criminalising a minority of abusive men – among them those whose capacity to change is probably the most limited – without engaging with gender relations or masculinities more generally.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRosemary Broad (Supervisor) & David Gadd (Supervisor)


  • Masculinities
  • Facilitators
  • Gender
  • Psychosocial
  • Domestic Abuse Perpetrators
  • Building Better Relationships
  • Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes

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