Paper on Reconsidering Perpetrator Typologies by Professor David Gadd

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Practitioners working with men who are violent towards women will routinely encounter men who claim the causes of their behaviour are unique or specific to a relationship that has gone wrong. Such claims must be treated with caution and read against the backcloth of victim testimonies that reveal a continuum of violence in very many women’s lives. But neither can they be dismissed outright as there is ample evidence of diversity among perpetrator populations in terms of the intentions behind their violence, the pattern it takes, and the life circumstances that have led up to it.

Typological approaches to domestic violence have been developed in large part to assist practitioners identify differences in their client groups and to help them find ways to target their interventions to better effect. Two approaches have predominated in the literature. The first might be considered a typology of violent scenarios and is most associated with Michael Johnson’s (2006) book; the second is a typology of abusive personality types and is most closely associated with the work of Amy Holtzworth-Munroe and her collaborators (Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart, 1994; Holzworth-Munroe and Meehan; Holzworth-Munroe et al, 2000). The first approach differentiates between violence that is ‘Situational Couple’ or ‘Separation-Instigated’ – neither of which are said to implicate gendered power differentials – and Coercively Controlling ‘Intimate Terrorism’ and ‘Violent Resistance’ – both of which do. The second approach differentiates between perpetrators classified as 1) ‘Family-Only’ 2) ‘Dysphoric-Borderline’ and 3) ‘Generally Violent-Antisocial’. Some commentators suggest that the personality types can be mapped onto the violent scenarios: the violence of family-only batterers is more sporadic and context-specific and hence typically ‘situational couple’ or ‘separation-instigated’, while dysphoric-borderline and violent-antisocial batterers frequently engage in severe forms of violence, often for reasons that are underpinned by misogynistic,  conservative or patriarchal values articulated as jealousy or authoritarianism (Holtzworth-Munroe and Meehan, 2004; Dixon and Browne, 2003).

What is less often acknowledged, however, is that to make the typologies work around a third of participants have to remain unclassified (Johnson et al. 2006; Holtzworth-Munroe et al., 2000). Those in the unclassified groups are more likely to be young adults – the section of the population survey research consistently shows to perpetrate the most disproportionate amount of domestic violence relative to other age bands, as well as the age band most likely to report having been assaulted by a partner themselves (ONS, 2014). Of course, younger male perpetrators also have more opportunity to move on, do things different and hence to change, whether for better or for worse, than men with long histories of abuse, damaged relationships and/or criminal records. For this reason, we need to be careful not to over-reify the ‘types’ found in typologies. Indeed, it is logical to expect personalities to change in the aftermath of violence, separation and/or the stigma of becoming known as a perpetrator to the police, one’s friends, family or children. In such circumstances, some perpetrators will become more paranoid, ashamed, depressed, and drink or drug dependent. This can lead some to become more controlling as they coerce others into keeping the violence secret. Others will recognise that they have a problem, or be supported in doing so when the violence or other problematic features of their lives come to someone else’s attention, when their partner leaves or seeks support herself, or when they enter a new relationship and become fearful of messing it up. Practitioners need therefore to be alive to the different meanings violence can have for men who use it and how these meanings can change – or be changed – during the course of tragic incidents as well as afterwards when the behaviour is brought to light and opportunities to talk about it present themselves. Often the meaning of men’s violence will allude simple classification and will not always be fully understood by perpetrators themselves, especially when there has been explosive or sudden rage as a response to something hurtful that has been said or thought. In such instances, domestic violence needs careful interpretation, informed by what is said about what happened, knowledge of the relationship history and of the perpetrator’s biography. This is something we attempted in the From Boys to Men Project and in our book Young Men and Domestic Abuse. It is also illustrated in the free to access paper.

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Gadd, D. & Corr, M-L. (2017) ‘Beyond Typologies: Foregrounding Meaning and Motive in Domestic Violence Perpetration’ Deviant Behavior

Gadd, D., Fox, C., Corr, M-L., Butler, I. and Alger, S. (2015) Young Men and Domestic Abuse. London: Routedge.

Holtzworth-Munroe, A. (2000) Typology of Men Who Are Violent Toward Their Female Partners: Making Sense of the Heterogeneity in Husband Violence. Current Directions in Psychological Science 9(4): 140-143.

Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Meehan, J. C., Herron, K., Rehman, U., & Stuart, G. L. (2000) Testing the Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) batterer typology. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(6): 1000–1019.

Holtzworth-Munroe, A and Meehan, J. (2004) Typologies of Men Who Are Maritally Violent Scientific and Clinical Implications. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(12): 1369-1389.

Holtzworth-Munroe, A. and Stuart, G. (1994) Typologies of Male Batterers. Psychological Bulletin, 16(3): 476-497.

Johnson, M. (2006). A Typology of Domestic Violence. Boston: New University Press.

Johnson, R. Gilchrist, E. Beech, A., Weston, S., Takriti, R., and Freeman, R. (2006) Psychometric Typology of U.K. Domestic Violence Offenders. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 21(10):1270-85.

ONS (2014) ‘Chapter 4 – Intimate Personal Violence and Partner Abuse’ Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2012/13, London: ONS.