Gender representations of female perpetrators of intimate partner violence

Date09 July 2018
Published date09 July 2018
AuthorJenna Walker,Jo Ashby,Neil Gredecki,Emma Tarpey
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Gender representations of female
perpetrators of intimate partner violence
Jenna Walker, Jo Ashby, Neil Gredecki and Emma Tarpey
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to understand the constructions of female-perpetrated intimate
partner violence (IPV) among postgraduate (PG) students studying and preparing for a career in forensic
psychology. A social constructionist methodological framework was adopted in order to explore students
dominant discourses surrounding gender and IPV. Of particular interest was how female perpetrators of IPV
within heterosexual relationships were constructed and subsequently positioned by students in terms of
social and gender identity. Implications regarding future practice for graduates in relation to risk assessment
and treatment interventions are discussed.
Design/methodology/approach Six female PG forensic students took part in a qualitative focus group
and discussed their understanding of IPV and views regarding perpetration. Focus group members were also
asked to discuss details of a vignette depicting a violent relationship where gender identity was purposefully
removed. The focus group interview data were analysed using Foucauldian discourse analysis.
Findings The studentsconstructed IPV as a behaviourthat was predominantlyperpetrated by men towards
women. Students acknowledged that female-perpetrated IPV occurred; however, such behaviour was
constructed as non-threatening, and subsequently, less serious than male-perpetrated IPV. Moreover,
the analysisrevealed that the overall discoursesdrawn on by the students projecteda feminine representation
of female IPV that positioned women as emotionally unstable,vulnerable and acting in self-defence.
Research limitations/implications Studentsconstructions of female-perpetrated IPV appeared to
minimise aggression. It is argued that the positioning of women in terms of vulnerability serves to undermine
any responsibility for perpetrating violence among this group of students. In terms of implications for practice,
oversimplified assumptions in relation to gendered constructions have the potential to inhibit female IPV from
being recognised as a serious form of aggression, and it is argued that this could potentially bias
assessments of risk leading to an under-estimation of threat. Female perpetrators of IPV may subsequently
receive inadequate supervision and intervention and inadequate levels of victim safety planning may occur.
These gendered constructions may also inhibit male victims from seeking help and help being offered.
Originality/value This paper highlights the importance of understanding constructions of IPV among
studentswho are preparing for careersas a forensic psychology practitioner.Female IPV is clearlychallenging.
With respectto the social constructionof IPV, the students in thisstudy made many assumptionsabout female
identity by linking this to feminine and essentialistideas that constrain women as emotionally and biologically
vulnerable.Such findings raise questionsabout whether future trainingand study programmes are equippedto
criticallychallenge the dominant discoursesand subsequent constructionsof gender and IPV. Thus, this study
has highlighted theneed for further research around constructions of IPV in this field of work in order to fully
examine potentialknowledge gaps in training and teaching of future forensic practitioners.
Keywords Gender, Identity, Intimate partner violence, Positioning, Foucauldian discourse analysis,
Social constructions
Paper type Research paper
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is often widely constructed as an offence perpetrated by men
towards women (Dutton and White, 2013). Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (2015)
showed that in 2013/2014, 6.8 per cent of women (aged 16-59) experienced IPV within the past
year, and 28.3 per cent within their lifetime. Within the same period, 3 per cent of adult men
reported experiencing aggression from a current or ex-partner within the previous year,
Received 20 February 2017
Revised 28 May 2017
Accepted 12 June 2017
Jenna Walker is a Forensic
Psychologist at HMP
Dovegate, Uttoxeter, UK.
Jo Ashby is a Senior Lecturer in
Psychology at the Department
of Psychology, Manchester
Metropolitan University,
Manchester, UK.
Neil Gredecki is a Regional
Lead Psychologist for HM
Prison and Probation Service,
and a Clinical Lecturer at the
University of Manchester,
Manchester, UK.
Emma Tarpey is a Senior
Lecturer at the Department of
Psychology, Manchester
Metropolitan University,
Manchester, UK.
VOL. 10 NO. 3 2018, pp.170-180, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-02-2017-0273

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