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. 

For this blog, Tina Patel, Head of National Systems Change on the Drive Partnership, spoke with us about the importance not only of having women in the sector, but also of having diversity within that group.

Why and how you started working in the perpetrator sector?

So, I’ve always been interested in understanding human behaviour: the way we think and the way we behave. Behind every action is a thought process mixed with emotion that comes from our map of the world. Since graduating in Forensic Psychology, I worked in various forensic settings across the criminal justice sector for over 15 years. I worked in the prison service in the field of addiction, delivering psycho-social interventions. This allowed me to understand how childhood trauma and environment can result in harmful offending behaviours. Following my journey within the criminal justice sector, I worked in refuge and safehouses, and could see the direct impact of domestic abuse on women, children and men. I could see a revolving door cycle in both the prison service and the refuge where the same clients were coming through the door. Behind every victim/survivor is a person who uses harm, and I knew I wanted to work at the root of the issue. That’s why I moved back into working with clients who use harmful behaviours.

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

It’s vital that women play key roles in the sector, but it’s just as vital to have diversity, equity and inclusion within that group. Representation matters. It’s easy for people to see an Asian woman like me and think “Oh, she must work with victims and survivors” – but it’s just as important for women like me to be involved in perpetrator work, so we can fully understand what’s going on in different communities, and how we can address abuse in each one. I was 30 years old when I met an Asian woman who was the Governor of a prison, and this really inspired me. However, I felt sad that it had taken that long to see someone like me in a powerful position. I want better for the younger generation, so they see themselves in influential roles from a young age.

How does that look in practice: ensuring those voices are represented and lead the way in developing our approaches to perpetrator work?

A great example of this is our work in National Systems Change on the Drive Partnership, where we are working alongside by-and-for organisations to co-design an intervention for those who use harm in racialised communities and LGBT+ communities. Generic domestic abuse programmes are usually tailored for white heterosexual men, so listening to voices from Black African, Caribbean and Mixed Heritage communities; South Asian communities; and LGBT+ communities has been essential in co-designing a culturally responsive intervention that meets the needs of the people it’s working with.

For example, in our co-design meeting we are looking at co-designing through the lens of our own direct experiences of racism and discrimination, transforming the language that services use to describe Black African, Carribean and Mixed heritage men compared to White counterparts. Our Drive data shows that people from ethnic minority backgrounds get labelled ‘aggressive and violent’ by professionals across the sector, with more punitive measures, whereas language used about white counterparts focuses on their need for support. We are also looking at how generational trauma in our communities impacts our attachment styles and how this can manifest in domestic abuse. We want to create something innovative and effective, something that is life changing and will positively impact the generations to come.

Being part of the co-design group is a beautiful blessing and one which is transforming our approach to domestic abuse interventions for those who cause harm. The co-design groups also offer a safe space for all of us from diverse backgrounds to speak our minds and call things out without us being labelled aggressive or ‘a trouble maker’, and without having to code switch.

Have you faced any challenges working in the sector, or before moving into it?

Yes of course! We need challenges to build our emotional, psychological and mental resilience, but it's also important to know your support system and who you can speak to. Never struggle alone as there will be people around you who can help.

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

Practising gratitude is number one for me, being grateful helps me to shift my focus to what I have rather than what I don’t have. This aligns with perspective, so I believe in an abundance mindset rather than a scarcity one, which helps me look at the bigger picture rather than just the here and now. Also I value exercise! Moving the body and the lymphatic system is essential, so I walk, run, and practise pranayama breathing, meditation, and yoga. When I commit to exercise I am in a stronger position to serve people on a higher level. Also, emotional intelligence is key in managing well-being so being aware of my emotions and how to manage this really helps, as does understanding other people’s emotions. And finally, it’s important to know when you need time out away from work so you can reset.

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

It’s going to take 132 years to reach gender parity, even longer when we include race, sexual orientation, and disability. So I want to leave here asking ‘What can you truly do to have an impact on someone’s life?’ Is there someone you can guide, coach or mentor, and if so, reach out to them. We are all interconnected and are powerful together so keep lifting someone up.  

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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