The perpetrator sector is unique, in that a great number of the people delivering and leading the work are women, and the majority of service users are men. The work is incredibly specialist, and can be emotionally complex and challenging for the highly skilled workforce delivering it. So why do women do this work? Why is it important for them to be at the centre of this sector? 

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke to four women working at Respect about how they joined the sector, the challenges they’ve faced, and why they think women need to be at the forefront of this work. 

Today, Katy Mutemi, our Training and Development Manager, tells us about her journey into the perpetrator sector.

Why and how did you start working in the perpetrator sector ?

I started my career as a probation officer, so I’d been working more generally with perpetrators for years. Very quickly, I became interested in domestic abuse and realised that was the area I wanted to specialise in. 

My way in was as a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) – meetings where people from lots of different agencies come together to plan for survivors’ safety. I’d attend as the representative from probation, researching the perpetrators on the MARAC list and keeping everyone in the meeting up to date with any changes that might concern us, and advising on ways to manage the risks. Keeping those survivors safe was something I was passionate about, and I wanted to do more in that space.

I was looking for a way out of probation, so I applied to volunteer at the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. It was amazing – I had a 7-day training course and I was assigned a mentor: it was so supportive. I had a shift a week for about three years.

At that point I was still a probation officer, but I was burning out. As fate would have it, I worked on a case with a social worker, who suggested the perpetrator would benefit from a perpetrator programme. I’d never heard of them: I didn’t know there was a whole sector doing this work! The social worker gave me a leaflet for DVIP, a Respect-accredited perpetrator programme in London, and told me “They’re hiring”. I saw a vacancy for a Violence Prevention Practitioner role” and thought “That’s me, they’re looking for me”.

I worked there for a few years and loved it. Even when I left to work at Solace, I continued to do sessional work for them, which meant there was a long time when I was spending part of my time supporting survivors, and part of it delivering perpetrator programmes.

During those years, Respect was always at the back of my mind. I’d hear about it when I worked on the helplines, and when DVIP were going through the Respect accreditation process. Lots of great people I worked with were heading to Respect, and I thought, one day I’d like to end up there.

What keeps you doing this work?

I consider the VAWG sector my spiritual home, I could never go anywhere else. But more specifically I’d find it hard to ever move away from perpetrator work. I think it’s a calling, and the people who do it are very special, because you're doing so much good for survivors and their children. 

It’s not easy work, and you have to strike a difficult balance: creating enough of a relationship with the perpetrators to move forward with the work, whilst also holding them to account for their behaviour. I think the most common misconception about perpetrator work is that we're on their side or we sympathise with them. That’s not the case. Every time I do perpetrator work or train others to do it, I've got the survivor in mind, I've got their children in mind. As a feminist it’s very satisfying.

Why do you think it’s important that women continue to play such a significant role in the perpetrator sector?

There are a few reasons.

Whenever I’ve run perpetrator programmes, it’s become obvious how important it is for men to see positive relationships with women modelled by facilitators. Many of them have seen few or no examples of equal relationships between men and women, and most of them have deeply ingrained expectations and beliefs around women. My presence in a position of authority challenges those beliefs. Often, at the beginning of a programme they’d shake my male co-facilitator’s hand, and not mine. It was only by modelling an equal relationship throughout the programme that they gave me respect. And you can tell over the course of a programme, that their growing respect for me permeates their other relationships outside the programme. It helps them see their partners as fully realised people, who they should speak to and interact with on an equal footing.

Another reason why women are crucial to this work, is because perpetrators need to be confronted with the sight of women living, working and speaking. If they are used to controlling the women in their lives, forcing them into a submissive position, then it’s vital that we challenge that “order”. We are agents for change, and to get women in the room, delivering these programmes and being assertive with perpetrators, that’s important.

Are there any particular challenges you’ve faced whilst working in the sector?

I think one of the challenges I face in my role is the perception that our sector is biased against men. There are still lots of assumptions made about feminists and about anybody working in the domestic abuse sector. Research tells us that domestic abuse is a gendered crime, and our evidence-based programmes reflect that. Unfortunately, that is still experienced as bias by some men who attend our training, so I often feel myself working very hard to make them feel comfortable, to get their buy in. It’s a shame, because we desperately need men to be our allies in ending violence against women and girls.

How do you care for your own wellbeing in a sector that can be emotionally complex and challenging?

I’d say that one of the reasons I’ve stayed in the sector so long is because of the focus on staff wellbeing. In previous jobs I’ve had people squaring up to me, shouting at me, and at times I’ve been under so much pressure that it felt like there was no time to look after myself.

Nowadays, people call me the Self-Care-Queen. I’ve built a great work-life balance, and Respect are great at supporting that. When they say we have a flexible working policy, they actually mean it, and I think that makes all the difference.

What message would you like to share with other women working in our sector this International Women's Day?

You go Glen Coco! No – really - it’s a special thing to be a woman in the perpetrator sector. My message is that you're needed, you're appreciated and you're reducing the suffering in the world. 

Respect is a registered charity in England and Wales, number 1141636, in Scotland, number SC051284 and a company, number 7582438. Registered address: VAI Second Floor, 200a Pentonville Road, London N1 9JP
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