Widening the lens of control: How perpetrators influence informal contacts during victims help-seeking journeys.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Drawing on data from a qualitative, longitudinal study (Dewis Choice 2015-present), this paper examines the influence of perpetrator behaviour on older female victims’ help-seeking journeys. It uses case examples from both intimate partner abuse and adult family abuse to show the different ways perpetrators seek to influence informal contacts (family, friends and community members) when formal help-seeking commences. The findings suggest that when victims sought help from formal contacts (police, safeguarding and health professionals) perpetrators widened their focus of control beyond the victim to control informal contacts. Perpetrators sought to create allies with informal contacts by constructing new narratives about the victims and the abuse, to undermine victims’ help-seeking efforts and diminish the victims’ informal sources of support.

The analysis reveals that the effectiveness of the perpetrator tactics appeared to be linked with the perpetrators’ power and status within the family and community. When the perpetrator was successful in their attempts to create allies with informal contacts, victims described increased isolation at a point where they felt most vulnerable influencing the victims’ formal help-seeking priorities.

The paper provides new insights into perpetrator behaviour across time and space at key intersections of the victims’ help-seeking journey and demonstrates how informal contacts can intentionally or unintentionally aid perpetrators in their abuse to control and undermine victims’ formal help-seeking. The paper concludes with recommendations for practice professionals to consider the role of informal contacts in victims decision-making regarding accessing safety, justice and wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 07 Sept 2023
EventEuroCrim2023: 23rd Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology - Palazzo dei Congressi and Palazzo degli Affari, Florence , Italy
Duration: 06 Oct 202209 Oct 2023
Conference number: 23


Period06 Oct 202209 Oct 2023
Internet address


  • domestic abuse
  • adult family abuse
  • intimate partner abuse
  • Coercive control
  • Qualitative
  • lived experiences

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