Domestic violence is one of the most hidden and intractable of crimes. Prosecuting perpetrators can take months or years, and can put the victim in even greater danger. Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) are a new civil justice approach to the problem. Perpetrators are typically excluded from the home for between 2 and 4 weeks, giving victims the opportunity to consider their options. Three police regions trialled the new orders in 2011/12. With considerable experience of evaluating interventions for offenders, and expertise in the interplay between fear, power and violence, the Home Office chose Professor Joanna R. Adler's team to help analyse whether the pilot was successful. To undertake the work, Forensic Psychological Services at Middlesex University (FPS) - of which Prof Adler is the founder and director - joined forces with London Metropolitan University to form a multidisciplinary team of 17 researchers jointly led by Prof Liz Kelly at London Metropolitan University and Prof Adler.
FPS at Middlesex offers training, evaluation, research and consultancy in the fields of criminal and civil justice. Under Prof Adler's leadership it has acquired a stellar reputation for expertise in sexual violence, hate crime and offender interventions, all areas in which the FPS team have published extensively. The service has evaluated numerous projects involving, offenders, victims and services around them. FPS is one part of a wider forensic psychology research and teaching group within the Department of Psychology. This group is focused on translating research to the domain of practice and policy, so that forensic psychology students at Middlesex, for example, go beyond theoretical study to have "a real experience of what's going on," says Prof Adler. The group's PhD students tackle subjects as wide-ranging as disability hate crime, multiple perpetrator rape, and young people's understanding of conflict and how to resolve it.
"Our work in the community and with our students is about knowledge exchange, not just transfer" she adds. Certainly, their work has informed debate on some of the most controversial topics in modern society, such as the report led by Middlesex's Dr Miranda A H Horvath on children's access to pornography ("Basically... porn is everywhere", 2013), which was widely discussed during the summer of 2013 in relation to children's resilience to pornography. Middlesex's research on hate crime has also informed national efforts to deter homophobia, and efforts to steer young people away from al-Qaida-inspired groups. Prof Adler's drive to understand what leads people to violence is matched by her determination to improve the way the justice system treats both victims and offenders. Another recent research topic in the group looked at how women bereaved by murder were treated by police and the courts, and found both institutions wanting (e.g. Gekoski, Gray and Adler, 2012).
The findings of the report on DVPOs were positive and the orders will be rolled out nationally from 2014. Additionally, the team were pleased to discover another newly published study of a similar pilot in the Netherlands that reported very similar findings -"The Orderscan provide a space necessary just to think," she says. "If you're in a relationship with a constant low-level threat of violence you don't always have the chance to look at that relationship. With DVPOs, the victim-survivor and sometimes the extended family can see something is going on. One couple looked at their behaviours and decided they weren't going to drink as much." Police call outs to domestic violence fell, particularly in cases where police had previously responded more than three times. Prof Adler believes the Orders have a real chance of reducing domestic violence before it becomes entrenched, and she hopes to have the opportunity to re-evaluate them as a national picture emerges.