UCL Research Domains


Improving responses to domestic abuse in England

2024-25 Pilot Project

Social policy + operational research + policing
In the field of domestic abuse, existing research about informal networks (friends, relatives, and/ or neighbours of victims or perpetrators of abuse) is a small but growing area. Primarily from social science, this literature offers insights that could enhance decision-making and statutory responses to domestic abuse. Such knowledge, however, has not (yet) been explored or harnessed for policy and practice. This project mobilises and builds on the existing knowledge base to address a research question orientated towards practice:  what is the existing and potential role of informal supporters in the current system of responses to domestic abuse in England?

Domestic abuse remains a ‘wicked problem’ that is difficult, complex, and seemingly intractable (Carne et al., 2019). New approaches and innovative thinking are therefore needed to reconsider state and social responses to domestic abuse. This project aims to contribute to this endeavour in three main ways:

1) The project explores the potential of systems science as a novel approach to domestic abuse that can recognise the complex drivers of abuse and promising strategies for intervention (Tracy et al., 2023). Systems analysis helps to build a collective understanding of the parts of a system, interrelationships between these parts and a view of the system as a whole. Such thinking is amenable to issues such as domestic abuse and aims to drive transformative systemic change (Carne et al., 2019). The project aims to explore the possibilities of applying systems thinking specifically to the policing response to domestic abuse, an approach that has not, to our knowledge, been attempted before.

2) The project foregrounds the role of informal network in the system response to domestic abuse, which have hitherto been largely overlooked by current services but recognised as a key part of ‘whole systems’ approaches (Cordis Bright, 2019). This aligns with systems thinking, which recognises the crucial role of the views and experiences of all stakeholders in understanding the whole system.

3) The project embeds stakeholder engagement, recognised as a key pillar in domestic abuse research (Women’s Aid, 2020).

Principal Investigator
Dr. Karen Schucan BirdAssociate Professor, Social Research Institute, Social Science Research Unit, IOE

Non-Social Science Co-Investigator
Professor Sonya CroweClinical Operational Research Unit, Dept. of Mathematics, Mathematical & Physical Sciences

Second Co-Investigator
Professor Jyoti BelurDepartment of Security and Crime Science, Engineering Sciences

Additional UCL Collaborator
Professor Martin UtleyClinical Operational Research Unit, Dept. of Mathematics,, Mathematical & Physical Sciences

Early Career Researcher
Dr Kristyna Skriczka, Social Research Institute, IOE