Breaking the cycle of abuse: Why early intervention needs to take place even earlier

At the beginning of this year, the Home Office provided funding to Police and Crime Commissioners to increase the availability of perpetrator intervention schemes in their areas. Whilst this is a necessary and welcome step, we believe that prevention and intervention has to start even earlier – before a perpetrator becomes a perpetrator.

One year ago we hosted an expert panel conversation live on Twitter Spaces with representatives from Hampshire and IOW Constabulary, Southampton City Council, and local domestic abuse intervention providers during the UN’s 16 Days of Activism campaign. One of the common themes expressed by participants was the need to start early intervention at a much younger age, for example with young fathers and in schools.

A report from the children’s commissioner for England has highlighted the violent nature of much of the pornography that children are reporting seeing at a young age. The survey found that a third of children had seen porn by the age of 10, with over two-thirds of young adults aged 18-21 saying they had seen violent pornography before turning 18. The report also highlighted correlations between early exposure to porn and the development of harmful attitudes, a finding that was echoed by Shonagh Dillon, CEO of Domestic Abuse charity Aurora New Dawn, who said that the perpetrators seen as part of their work were younger and very sexually violent.

At Hampton Trust, we know from our own work in schools that young men base their ideas of intimacy and sexual relationship on what they see in pornography. We have had many situations in schools where young people thought that violence was a normal part of sexual activity, without any deeper understanding of the concepts of consent and informed consent. We are watching this issue snowball, and the cases, examples and scenarios that we come across are getting more and more worrying. These are the adult perpetrators of the future, and they are highly dangerous unless we address this now – through Government mandated controls on access to pornography, and through consistent and continuous healthy relationship education as part of the curriculum.

Another area of prevention and early intervention is our work with young dads who are showing signs of harmful behaviour in their relationships, but where that behaviour is not yet entrenched. We are closely involved with the MATAC (Multi-agency Task and Coordination) process in Southampton and also work with Southampton Family Hub colleagues to identify and engage young adults who tend to be ill equipped to respond to the unique characteristics of adolescent relationships and often show signs of complex trauma histories themselves. Fathers play a very important role in their children’s development, and by helping them build positive and healthy relationships with their children and learn to find alternative ways of coping in challenging situations, we can break the cycle of abuse.

However, there continues to be an overreliance on police and perpetrator services to identify and engage with those causing harm in their relationships. We need to equip professionals in different sectors – including schools, youth services, and family support services – to recognize abusive behaviours and intervene early. Our DARE Toolkit has been designed to do just that and give professionals the confidence to have crucial conversations about relationships, enabling them to identify potential harm and take appropriate action early –  before abusive behaviour becomes entrenched and escalates.

You can listen to the full recording of the conversation here:

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