Family Violence - Perpetrator

General guidelines and warnings when working with perpetrators; a practice approach based on safety, respect and accountability; conversation ideas around engagement, assessing safety, providing support; practice tips for listening and responding, child aware practice


This page has three sections:

  1. Background Material that provides the context for the topic

  2. A suggested Practice Approach

  3. A list of Supporting Material / References

Feedback welcome!


Background Material


[In keeping with the dominant patterns of domestic and family violence (DFV), victim survivors are referred to as women and children while perpetrators are referred to as men. It is acknowledged that women can be perpetrators and men may be victims in DFV.]


A very large proportion of domestic violence perpetrators are reoffenders. Reducing this reoffending requires effective and planned interventions (Hulme et al., 2019). Humphreys and Campo (2017) point out the importance of working with fathers because non-offending parents cannot always separate from an abusive partner for a wide variety of reasons. They reviewed five approaches to intervening with fathers exist: home visiting by nurses, restorative justice approaches, couple counselling, child protection investigations, and whole of family approaches. They found whole of family approaches to offer most promise as they explicitly focus on work with both parents as well as children. However they, and other sources, suggest caution if considering working with mothers and fathers together; rather practitioners should restrict work with fathers and mothers together to very specific circumstances.


Guidelines when working with fathers


Not all men are suitable for entry into these programs.


Interventions should be centre-based to provide safety for all and structure.


Focus on the safety of women and children; discontinue if threats exist.


A recent article (Moss et al., 2021) from the Emerging Minds suite of resources discusses the role generalist social workers can play in supporting children caught up in FDV. The resource warns workers that fathers and mothers can minimise the impact of FDV on children in a number of ways.

Fathers may:

1. Portray themselves as victims of their children or partner’s faults and ‘bad’ behaviours.

2. Suggest their violent behaviour is a result of their own victimisation.

3. Discuss unhelpful beliefs about women and children.

Mothers may:

1. Take responsibility for their partners’ use of violence.

2. Fear the consequences of telling too much.

3. Be affected by their partner’s version of what’s happening.

Using videos and sample questions, the resource provides practical ways social workers can move the conversation away from a focus on the mother or father to the impact FDV is having on children. This enables workers to make plans to support children’s safety and wellbeing.


Training for workers to upgrade their skills and knowledge base prior to embarking on this complex family work is essential. Areas include child psychotherapy, risk assessment, safety planning, verbal de-escalation techniques and non-violent self-defence.


Initial assessment is essential, either through interviewing both parents together to determine the tactics of control, or with single sessions with each parent.


Parenting is the focus, not the relationship.


Multi-agency liaison is essential; no single service will provide for the needs of children, women and men where there is DFV.


Common parenting styles in violent men include: authoritarianism, disinterest/neglect, unrealistic expectations, sabotaging the mother, self-centred, manipulative, performing well under scrutiny. It is important to assess the father’s parenting practices, that may still hurt his children even if violence stops (e.g. corrupting, intruding, emotional cruelty, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abusing others, ignoring, absence and neglecting). See the tool in the “interventions with fathers” section of the Queensland Government resource in the supporting material.


Talk to fathers about how their choice to use violence can have negative impacts on their lives, e.g. loss of trust, intimacy, respect, job and friends, partner and children, possible arrest and jail.

Hold fathers accountable and responsible for their behaviour. For example

  • Ask him what he did and what he is going to do to keep the children safe, how is he going to create stability for the family, nurture the children and promote recovery for the functioning of the family.

  • Report his assaults to the police

  • Give consistent messages to him, his network and other service providers that his violence is not acceptable and that he is responsible. Violence is a choice: they often don’t use violence in other situations (e.g. work) and choose when and how to use violence against their partner.

  • Challenge any social responses that minimise or excuse his violence — including those made by police, other services, friends or extended family

  • Partner with other people in the family’s network

  • Challenge any minimisations, denial or excuses by him (e.g. he was provoked).

  • Use language that clarifies the nature of his violence like: ‘we are worried about your choice to hit, hurt or control your partner’. Not: ‘we are worried about the domestic violence in your relationship’

  • Name his behaviours when you notice his more subtle tactics of control, manipulation or coercion

  • Support the mother in taking out a domestic violence order (DVO), if she chooses to do this.

  • If he breaches a DVO, report this to the police. Do not make reporting the responsibility of the mother.

  • Take the lead in coordinating a response across all agencies.

  • Make referrals to appropriate men’s behaviour change programs.

Recently Chung et al. (2020) suggested more attention be provided to actively teaching fathering skills to FDV perpetrators.They start from the position that children are now victims, not just witnesses of FDV.They acknowledge that fathers often have unsupervised time with their children but also have poor parenting skills, a poor understanding of child development and inappropriate expectations of their children.This comes about through a lack of parenting experience, over-controlling behaviour, a sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy towards others.The authors maintain that men’s behaviour change programs do not necessarily teach parenting skills, and this needs to be addressed.In fact, teaching parenting skills may provide fathers with motivation to change as it has been shown that, for many men who use violence and abuse, becoming a better father is a motivation for change.


A study by Heward-Belle (2018) may be relevant if active teaching of fathering skills is adopted. The study found that there were varieties of harm, resulting from a complex interplay of factors, which shaped men's fathering experiences and practices. The study examined men's constructions of masculinity and the associated level of control they ascribed to their use of violence and other controlling behaviours.

  • High masculinity: believe men should be physically strong, fierce fighters, emotionally detached, action oriented, in control at all times, and should never back down.

  • Low masculinity: believe men should value equality and respectful communication.

  • Being in control of their violence: violence was seen as a rational method to punish wrongdoers or achieve desired outcomes; believe that men are entitled to perpetrate FDV.

  • Being out of control of their violence: experience uncontrollable and explosive outbursts of rage, emanating from an accumulation of unreleased tension.

Men who hold high masculinity beliefs and express a high level of control over their use of violence are likely to be authoritarian in their fathering style. On the other hand, men with low masculinity beliefs and low level of control over their use of violence are often neglectful in fathering style. The study concluded that explanations for family violence that focus exclusively on gender, class, culture, or any other single factor risk oversimplifying human experience. In order to prevent violence against women, efforts must attend to this wider context.


Engaging men: Reducing resistance and building support


A recent publication by Flood et al. (2021) examines how men can be engaged as partners for the prevention of violence against women. It suggests programs conducted with men who are not perpetrators can be successful and are necessary for a societal change to occur. It suggests that these programs start with a strengths-based approach that suggests men can be allies in working for change. However, it does remind us that men in such programs will have a variety of backgrounds around violence. Some may have come to accept the experience of violence as normal, given that violence, overwhelmingly by other males, is part of the life histories of large numbers of Australian men. Flood et al. point out this will lead to resistance in being educated about violence towards women. This resistance can take a number of forms:

  • Denial of the problem: “There’s no problem here.”

  • Disavowal – refusal to recognise responsibility: “It’s not my job to do something about it.”

  • Inaction – Refusal to implement change: “It’s not a priority right now.”

  • Appeasement – Efforts to limit the impact: “Yes. Yes. We must do something (one day).”

  • Appropriation – Pretending to change but undermining it: “Of course we’d appoint more women, if only they were more experienced.”

  • Co-option – Using the language for reactionary ends: “What about men’s rights? Men are victims too, you know.”

  • Repression – Reversing an initiative: “We tried that once and women didn’t want to take it up.”

  • Attack – aggressive response: “These feminists deserve all the abuse they get.”

The article then suggests ways of preventing and reducing resistance (pp 12 ff).


Practice Approach


[In keeping with the dominant patterns of domestic and family violence (DFV), victim survivors are referred to as women and children while perpetrators are referred to as men. It is acknowledged that women can be perpetrators and men may be victims in DFV.]


The three fundamental principles of professional practice with men who use violent and controlling behaviours are:

  • Safety—no harm must be caused by the intervention, not only to the fathers who are participants in the program, but also (and in particular) to the mothers and children affected by the fathers’ behaviours. Worker safety should be considered, e.g. interventions should be centre-based to provide safety for all and structure.

  • Respect—this should be afforded to the fathers who are participants in the program, and also (and in particular) to the women and children affected by the man’s behaviour. With fathers, it is important to ask about, and genuinely listen to, their own experiences of violence, oppression and adversity. Demonstrating interest and empathy, while staying aware of any ‘violence-supporting narrative’, will help them feel listened to and respected.

  • Accountability— services and staff must, within the scope of the law, hold to account fathers who perpetrate domestic and violence.

Use the following table to plan your conversation with a father who is using violence on his partner and children. Be respectful, while holding him responsible for his choice to act abusively (Source: Queensland Government. (2020). Child safety practice manual: Working with fathers. Retrieved September 11, 2020 from https://cspm.csyw.qld.gov.au/practice-kits/domestic-and-family-violence/working-with-men.)

Challenge the following if they arise:

  • sexist opinions that denigrate women and girls.

  • beliefs that children should be disciplined in an abusive way, or punished violently or neglectfully for bad behaviour

  • an overestimation of what a child’s ability should be—physically, mentally or developmentally.

  • a belief that fathers are the head of the household and deserve more respect than other household members

  • signs of remorse. (Be curious about whether these are self-centred, out of concern about the impact for him, rather than genuine understanding about how he is harming his family.)

Note that fathers who use violence or coercion and control often present themselves as having changed when they may not have.

Practice tips for listening and responding

The following practice tips outline some common tactics used by fathers. Use the information to know what you should listen out for and what you can say and do in response.


He blames He blames his partner for the violence. He says things like:

  • she provoked me

  • if she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have done this

  • it’s her fault

Bring the conversation back to his choice to use violent behaviours, what he did and the harm he caused. Ask him to specifically recall what happened. Be consistent and clear in conveying that you hold him responsible for the violence.


He says it wasn’t deliberate or denies any intention to cause harm Avoid using phrases like, ‘you lost it’ or ‘you have lost control’—these phrases strip fathers of their agency and choice in using abuse to control. Highlight his responsibility when talking to him by using words such as:

  • choice

  • planned

  • deliberate

  • purposeful.

Expose the patterns in his violence by using words such as:

  • episodes

  • periods

  • repeatedly

rather than focusing on events and incidents that isolate his abuse.


He hides or minimises the extent of his violence against mothers and children. Concealing the true nature of harm can happen when he uses words such as hit, pushed or knocked.


He uses language that mutualises violence or implies consent He says things like:

  • we had a fight

  • we had an argument

  • we had sex

Correct him and use language both in your conversations and in your reporting that represents how violence is unilateral, unwanted and not erotic. Use words that accurately describe what happened, such as:

  • assault

  • beating

  • attack

  • violation

  • rape

He changes the topic or fails to address the violence in his conversation by using words such as:

  • that

  • it

Be direct when talking about violent actions, and refer to the acts themselves, for example: ‘Why did you punch her in the face?’ not ‘Why did you do that?’ A part of being direct is naming the violence. Avoid acronyms like DV or DFV, or general terms like ‘it’ or ‘that’, that hide the extent and horror of the abuse.


Child Aware Practice

Parents with mental health, addiction, homelessness and family violence issues can cause major difficulties for children. These can have life-long consequences, e.g. suicide, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, high-risk sexual behaviour, violence and criminal offending, homelessness and abuse and neglect of one’s own children.


Therefore, it is important that those supporting adults also assess the impact of adults’ issues on children and take steps to support adults in their parenting role.


This is what Child Aware Practice is about. You will find this topic covered in more detail on the website at https://www.thesocialworkgraduate.com/post/child-aware-practice


Supporting Material

(available on request)


Heward-Belle, S. (2016) The Diverse Fathering Practices of Men Who Perpetrate Domestic Violence, Australian Social Work, 69(3), 323-337. doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2015.1057748


Humphreys, C., & Campo, M. (2017). Fathers who use violence: Options of safe practice where there is ongoing contact with children (CFCA Paper No. 43). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.


Hulme, S., Morgan, A., & Boxall, H. (2019). Domestic violence offenders, prior offending and reoffending in Australia. Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice, 580. Australian Government: Australian Institute of Criminology.


Queensland Government. (2020). Child safety practice manual: Working with fathers. Retrieved September 11, 2020 from https://cspm.csyw.qld.gov.au/practice-kits/domestic-and-family-violence/working-with-men


Department for Child Protection. (2013). Perpetrator accountability in child protection practice: A resource for child protection workers about engaging and responding to perpetrators of family and domestic violence. Perth Western Australia: Western Australian Government.


Healey, L., Humphreys, C., Tsantefski, M., Heward-Belle, S., Chung, D., & Mandel, D. (2018). Invisible Practices: Working with fathers who use violence. Practice guide. Sydney, NSW: ANROWS.


Chung, D., Humphreys, C., Campbell, A., Diemer, K., Gallant, D., & Spiteri-Staines, A. (2020). Fathering programs in the context of domestic and family violence. CFCA Paper No. 56. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/sites/default/files/publication-documents/2010_cfca_56_fathering_programs_in_the_context_of_domestic_and_family_violence.pdf


Moss, D., Mandara, M., & Wendt, S. (2021). Child-focused practice in social work: Beginning the naming journey when family and domestic violence is present.


Flood, M., O’Donnell, J., Brewin, B., and Myors, B. (2021). Engaging Men: Reducing Resistance and Building Support. Melbourne: Eastern Health, Eastern Domestic Violence Service (EDVOS), and Queensland University of Technology (QUT).