Hayley Boxall Oral: ‘I planned to survive’: The role and experiences of women in supporting the desistance of intimate partner violence


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is one of the most common and harmful forms of violence in Australia and internationally. However, despite 40 years of research, evidence regarding the effectiveness of common responses to IPV is at best, mixed. To improve responses to this form of violence and increase the safety of victims/survivors and their children, it is necessary to look at different schools of thought to see if the learnings from other disciplines can be applied to IPV. One such discipline is the criminal careers framework of developmental and life-course criminology, specifically desistance research.

The core focus of desistance research is in improving understanding of the processes by which offenders stop or reduce their offending and maintain these changes over extended periods of time. To date, the research has relied predominantly on in-depth narrative interviews with male property offenders who are identified as having ceased their involvement in offending. Considering the unique dimensions associated with IPV, the applicability of desistance frameworks to this form of crime is unclear. In particular, IPV occurs within a dyadic and domestic context, meaning that women who experience IPV are not only in a unique position to observe their partners’ behaviours (and how these change over time), but also to implement strategies to initiate and support their abuser’s desistance.

This study involved in-depth qualitative interviews with 41 women who self-identified that they had experienced IPV within a current or former relationship and that the violence had either ceased or decreased significantly for a period of six months or more (ie, apparent desistance by their partners). Women were asked about their experiences of violence and the strategies they were using to keep themselves safe, as well as the impact of these strategies on their partners’ behaviour.

Respondent narratives identified that women were highly agentic actors within their relationships and implemented a range of strategies to both mitigate their day-to-day risk of violence, and also support long-term behaviour change within their partners. Critically, women suggested that even in situations where the violence did not stop entirely, the strategies they implemented were important for inhibiting what were described as escalating patterns of violence and abuse within their relationship. Women were also conscious of their role in men’s behaviour change, and evoked what could be described as prospective or aspirational redemption narratives for their partner.

However, it appeared that abuser desistance was primarily attributable to the actions of women, as opposed to agentic decision-making or identity change on the part of offenders. Women suggested that the absence of identity change explained why the violence either resumed after a period of desistance, or alternatively did not desist until the relationship had ended. Further, it was very rare that women would report the complete cessation of all forms of violence within their relationship; while a reduction in physical violence was frequently reported, so to was the persistence or escalation of coercive control and the onset of other forms (eg systems abuse).

The findings from this thesis highlight a number of ways in which desistance theory can help us to understand the processes by which male-perpetrated IPV may cease or reduce significantly. However, they also demonstrate the limits of current frameworks in their application to IPV, and criminal offending more generally.

NB: If you can attend in person, the presentation will be held in the new RSSS Building - 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton. RSSS, Room 4.69, PG Meeting Room on Monday 1 October 2020 at 11am. For in person attendance, please advise Hayley Boxall or Naomi Snowball (02 6125 1301). Note that the COVID capacity of the room is strictly a maximum of 15 people.

Date & time

Thu 01 Oct 2020, 11am–12pm


Building 146, RSSS, Room 4.69, PG Meeting Room


Naomi Snowball
02 6125 1301


Updated:  23 September 2020/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications