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  • Writer's pictureJames Rowlands

Bridging the Divide - Research and Practice in Domestic Homicide Reviews

At the moment I sit between two worlds. I am a practising domestic homicide review chair (among other things), but also a researcher as I work to complete my PhD, itself looking at domestic homicide reviews. The experience of sitting between two worlds has been a real eye-opener, with my practice and research both informing but also challenging the other.

One issue I keep wrestling with is how we do and use domestic homicide reviews, primarily because I am concerned with how we centre a victim and tell their story. Sometimes my interest can be practice focused. So perhaps I’m thinking about the everyday processes and techniques we use to involve people, gather information, try to make sense of a death, and/or identify learning and make recommendations. Other times, my focus is more that of a researcher. That means I might be thinking about what some of these processes and techniques are themselves doing, including the assumptions that underpin them. For example, our assumptions about the purpose(s) of domestic homicide review can shape the processes and techniques we use, and so what we do and do not see.

Of course, these perspectives are useful in their own right. So, a practice perspective helps ground my research. Meanwhile, a research perspective helps me step away from the everyday and ask questions about and/or develop some of the processes and techniques I use. But what’s most productive is when I can bring both these perspectives to bear at the same time.

I guess I am sharing this because that two-way productivity has helped shape an article that I and a colleague called Kelly Bracewell (a researcher at UCLan) have just had published in the Journal of Gender-Based Violence. Our article – called 'Inside the black box: domestic homicide reviews as a source of data’ – is written with both researchers and practitioners in mind. In fact, one of the things it calls for is more of a dialogue between practitioners and researchers.

Part of our discussion is made up of a reflection that there is a lot we don’t know about domestic homicide reviews, or at least where our understanding is incomplete. Meanwhile, some of the systems that support the doing of domestic homicide reviews are not as developed as we might like them to be. Together these present a lot of challenges, some of which we try and address in the article.

But our focus is a reflection on the fact that domestic homicide reviews are a process of interpretation for all of us, whether we are involved in a domestic homicide review directly or if we use them in research.

What we mean by that is that in a domestic homicide review process - in gathering information and scrutinising it, and then trying to identify learning and recommendations - we have to make decisions. Those decisions are sometimes more or less straightforward and based on more or less complete information.

The same is true for researchers when they use domestic homicide reviews to build a picture from multiple cases. But in doing so, researchers face challenges. That’s because, first, each case is unique given it’s an account of someone’s particular story. But second, how that story has been told and what is done with it (for example, how the report is written up, including what information is included, or the kind of recommendations generated) are particular too. That’s because different chairs make different decisions, or maybe the dynamics between review panels vary, or family members are involved in one case but not another.

By thinking through these different layers of interpretation, we can start to recognise what that might mean for how we do DHRs, including the processes and techniques we are using, and the assumptions we are making. By doing that, whether we are practitioners or researchers, and ideally together, we can hopefully take a critical look at how the domestic homicide review system is working. That’s both in terms of how we complete individual domestic homicide reviews, but also how we look at these tragedies in aggregate, as we bring cases together to identify broad patterns.

Ultimately, that kind of critical engagement is one way of making sure domestic homicide reviews, both as individual case reviews and as a system, are making a difference. The differences we might hope to achieve include delivering some justice and memorialisation in the telling of victim’s story, promoting accountability – by identifying a perpetrator’s behaviours, as well as those gaps or problems in professional, agency, and state responses – and also contributing to meaningful change that can help improve responses to domestic abuse in the future, as well as (perhaps) help prevent future deaths.

If you want to explore these issues further, click here to read the article for free. I hope it’s of some use.

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