Enhancing the experience of procedural justice for domestic abuse survivors by improving the policing response

  • Alison Claire Heydari

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this doctoral study is to critically analyse domestic abuse victims’ experience of the policing response. The thesis draws on Muir’s (1977) typology of police styles and procedural justice theory to answer the following research questions: Can characteristics of 'good policing' be identified in the police response to domestic abuse? What are the issues and barriers that prevent officers being consistently ‘good’? Can the experience of procedural justice for victims of domestic abuse be enhanced? The study is based in a police force in the South of England.
Mixed methods with a focus on Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and a Post-Modernist Feminist framework are utilised to gain a greater understanding of what impacts on police effectiveness. Data was generated from surveys completed by 20 domestic abuse survivors and 157 police officers; two police officer focus groups; semi-structured interviews with four domestic abuse survivors, five senior officers, one police constable and two Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates. Five superordinate themes have been created, Communication, Managing Risk, Awareness of Self, Police Effectiveness and Power and Control.
This study presents an examination of the lived experience of domestic abuse survivors and police officers. Police officers often understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, but are frustrated when victims do not engage, impacting on their self-legitimacy. Barriers to delivering an effective service include lack of time, high workloads and continuous change. The need for police officer training is highlighted by all participant groups as being essential to improving police effectiveness. Coercive controlling behaviour can be a barrier to survivors being able to seek help.
The study makes an original contribution to the knowledge base of domestic abuse, finding that police officers suffer from vicarious trauma, employing a number of survival strategies to combat the effects. It also finds that policing is comprised of diverse cultures and that culture can be fixed at team level, making the sergeant crucial to determining the tone of engagement and expectations of service delivery.
The thesis concludes that in order to improve the policing response and achieve better outcomes for victims, effective leadership is required to dismantle barriers to progression. Responding officers require clear communication, direction, training, scrutiny and support to improve their ability to identify, assess and manage risk. This will have a positive impact on the interaction between victims of domestic abuse and police officers, leading to an enhanced experience of procedural justice for victims, and increased legitimacy for policing
Date of AwardOct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJacki Tapley (Supervisor) & Nathan Hall (Supervisor)

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