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Anti-violence campaign not enough to stop abuse

20 Nov 2012

A hard-hitting anti-violence campaign which encourages young men to change their behaviour requires deeper understanding of their attitudes, a University of Manchester criminologist will say in a public lecture.

The benefits of the Government’s This is Abuse campaign will not be reaped unless followed up with compulsory domestic abuse education for all children, they also argue.

The findings are part of a three year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council called From Boys to Men.

The team are in the process of analysing 1,200 young people’s attitudes towards domestic violence and  biographical interviews with thirty young men who have been victims of, witnesses to or perpetrators of domestic violence.

This part of the study examined the reaction of three young people, who have carried out violence against women, to The Bedroom, a film directed by BAFTA award winner Shane Meadows.

The Bedroom was the centrepiece of the This is Abuse campaign, which was first launched by the Labour Government in 2010. The campaign has since been continued and extended to tackle sexual violence under the Coalition .

Project leader Professor David Gadd is Director of the University’s Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice.

He said: “It is wrong to argue that young people who are violent to women are untouchable by social marketing.

“We have found that such publicity can make young people stop and think, and that young men who are violent can sometimes see themselves and the things they have done when presented with these kinds of films.

“Getting young men who have been abusive to address their behaviour, however, requires a much deeper level of engagement, and there are currently few services around providing this kind of support, aside from those delivered as punishment.

“Our research shows just how complex young men’s responses to campaigns against violence really are: simply ostracising already stigmatized young people in trouble risks making the situation worse.

When the young offenders saw The Bedroom, their initial response, say the researchers,  was one of condemnation and shock.

But as they continued watching  the film, their attitudes changed, blaming the victims and expressing how discriminated against they themselves felt.

Professor Gadd, based in the University’s School of Law, added: “The success of campaigns such as This is Abuse cannot be measured by simple audience viewing figures – or attitude surveys.

“We need to look much more closely at what young men say and what they mean when they talk about abusive relationships, especially as many will agree that violent men should be challenged.

“Many will construe this challenge in physical and confrontational terms, and claim it should be directed at men who fit certain stereotypes, or men who do not look like them or act they do.

“This is why domestic abuse education should be compulsory for all children, whether regularly attending school or not.

“Youth work, mentoring, counselling and other confidential services should all be part of the mix and should be available on an enduring basis to young people who think they are at risk of being abusive.”