Exploring the Victim-Perpetrator Dichotomy in Domestic Violence: The Role of Trauma in Acts of Violence.

  • Kerrilee Hollows

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Social learning and intergenerational transmission of violence theorists purport that children who experience or observe violence within the family home are at greater risk of employing violence within intimate relationships later in life, because they have learnt that the use of violence is appropriate in interpersonal settings. Despite there being robust support for this hypothesis within the
literature, researchers have continued to find support for the transmission of violent and coercive behaviour in individuals with histories of only non-violent victimisation, suggesting that the transmission of violence from childhood to adulthood is far more complex than the behavioural transmission of violence through observational learning. This thesis examined the non-behavioural
and internal modifications that occur in response to childhood victimisation and exposure to family violence to elicit the underlying functions of male-perpetrated domestic violence in subtypes of domestic violence perpetrators. It was the objective of this research to construct a comprehensive multi-factor, multi-trajectory model of domestic violence that could account for various pathways to domestic violence perpetration from childhood victimisation. This was achieved in three independent studies. Study one examined how typologies of domestic violence can be utilised in a model for understanding how early trauma manifests in subsequent offence behaviour, by employing criminal
profiling techniques from the investigative psychology field. Study one aimed to explore whether the actions systems model could account for variations in DV perpetrator motives, by exploring the offence actions, individual characteristics and childhood trauma histories of domestic violence perpetrators. Court transcripts from 108 male offenders were subject to content analysis, with the
resultant variables assessed via multivariate analysis in the form of a multidimensional scaling procedure. The results found support for a typology with four distinct subtypes of domestic violence perpetration, each with a differing offence narrative. Study two tested the utility of the domestic violence typology developed in study one, by examining whether it retained its underlying conceptual structure with a forensic sample of 84 domestic violence perpetrators. In addition, study two sought to expand on the typology to demonstrate how childhood adversity differentially influences the development of psychological vulnerabilities to result in manifestations of clinical issues that
distinguish pathways to domestic violence perpetration. Information on past domestic violence behaviour and psychological functioning, collected via well-validated self-report measures, was analysed using multivariate analyses. The results demonstrated further support for the typology of domestic violence perpetration created in study one, and established four corresponding offence
pathways that were functionally linked to a corresponding subtype of domestic violence perpetration. By drawing on the principles of behavioural consistency and distinctiveness from the investigative psychology field, study three sought to identify the psychological factors associated with an increased risk of DV in four subtypes of DV perpetration, after controlling for general aggression and
criminality. Study three did so by comparing the personal backgrounds and domestic violence behaviour of the forensic sample from study two and a non-offending community sample consisting of 42 men who had perpetrated domestic violence but did not have criminal histories. In a final test of the multi-trajectory model, study three investigated whether childhood adversity, in the form of exposure to family violence and experiences of childhood abuse, influenced whether participants from the community sample perpetrated domestic violence or not. Non-parametric mean comparisons and binominal logistical regressions were conducted to elicit the psychological factors most relevant to increases in domestic violence risk in the four subtypes. The results of study three evidenced support for domestic violence to be considered separate from general aggression and violence. A key implication of this research is that it has the potential to encourage future similar research, and inform the development of best-practice interventions and criminal justice responses that target the underlying functions that motivate the perpetration of domestic violence in subtypes of perpetrators. Limitations of the current research are presented, in addition to future directions for research.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKatarina Fritzon (Supervisor) & Bruce Watt (Supervisor)

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