Domestic abuse is a pernicious and complex crime. Individuals can experience abuse for years before seeking help. Perpetrators use tactics to remain under the radar, their abusive behaviour existing behind closed doors. Frontline services such as Hampton Trust are left to decode the secrets. It perhaps comes as no surprise that such a context does not lend itself to media requests.
Hampton Trust has been delivering frontline services for the last 25 years. Established in 1996, our key aims were to prevent young people entering the criminal justice system as well as to provide rehabilitative programmes to prevent reoffending. With a gap in provision for adult domestic abuse perpetrators, we researched national and international approaches, delivering specialist perpetrator interventions. Gaining national awards, we have continued to identify gaps and to design and test a range of specialist early intervention and rehabilitative programmes for female offenders, adult offenders and young people in a range of settings.
Over many years working for Hampton Trust, I receive regular enquiries from well-intentioned filmmakers, but for reasons I’ve outlined it’s complicated. They invariably want to film perpetrators talking about their abusive behaviour. This storytelling process brings into sharp focus the nuances of domestic abuse. Is there a reason that people behave in this way and can they change?
Producer Charlene Osuagwu and Director Dan Dewsbury from Brooke Lapping Productions Limited, contacted me last July with details about a documentary they were filming with Ian Wright. It involved Ian sharing his experience of being a child victim of domestic abuse and how it has impacted on his life. Charlene and Dan were keen to include what is being done to tackle domestic abuse and how organisations are working directly with perpetrators. They wanted to film our work and individuals in our service who would be willing to be involved.
I shared the request with my colleagues and got the usual eye roll. That’s the subtext for ‘it won’t happen as no one will want to be filmed’. Delivering services remotely, in response to the pandemic was also a consideration. The team were receptive to a socially distanced meeting with Charlene and Dan convened in an oversized hotel conference room. Perhaps they were simply keen to trade zoom for a ‘real life’ meeting.
A cautious person by nature, my warning flags go into overdrive with documentary makers wanting to film people in our service. I’m nervous of how it will be edited, how it will impact on those whose lives we actively seek to improve, what spin they will put on things and how will the organisation be positioned.
Charlene and Dan were genuinely interested and curious to learn about our work. They were reflective, considered and honest, clearly mindful of the challenges for those in our service and the organisation in general. Politically, the Domestic Abuse Bill was passing through various committee stages, within the House of Lords and Hampton Trust was part of a Call to Action with 80 other organisations calling on Ministers to ensure the Bill included the importance of a National Perpetrator Strategy. I have worked in the sector for over two decades and perpetrator work has remained controversial for most of my career. Together Charlene, Dan and I discussed how we might work together and raise awareness of the importance of our work.
For those who have seen Ian Wright Home Truths an individual called Wes who is in our service featured in the documentary. I happened to phone him last week to check in with him on something. “Chantal, I can’t fault Charlene and Dan as they were amazing from the start and have always been really honest with me, they were brilliant.”
I reflected on this. That was my experience of Charlene and Dan too. I had many conversations with Dan on Hampton Trust’s part in the documentary, during filming, editing and the various BBC ethics stages. He, like Charlene, was authentic throughout the whole process. The documentary has helped to raise awareness of the importance of our work and since transmission perpetrators have reached out to Hampton Trust from various areas of the country. We have been able to put them in touch with localised services.
If you are working with vulnerable people and your organisation is approached by film makers to be involved in a documentary, useful things to consider are:
- The aim of the film makers and how the organisation will be portrayed?
- Access to previous work of the Director/Producer for due diligence purposes
- Are the individuals with lived experience fully aware of the potential impact for themselves and all members of their family? Consider whether taking part will have a negative impact
- What are the risks to the service users, staff and whole organisation if any?
The experience of working on the documentary was very positive, both personally and for the organisation. Of course, the downside is I become a risk taker, throw caution to the wind, and assume all producers and directors match Charlene and Dan’s professional integrity. Fear not, when working with people, prepared to be honest about their lived experience, our professional duty of care can’t be underestimated. Charlene and Dan may have set the bar high, but this is one area in which I’ll never take risks.
About the Author:
Chantal has worked in the voluntary sector for over 20 years. Her career has involved designing a range of interventions aimed at breaking the cycle of abuse, offending and exploitation. Chantal taught Psychotherapy at University of Southampton for six years, whilst holding various psychotherapy posts.
Chantal joined Hampton Trust in 2006 as the Domestic Abuse Services Manager before progressing to Deputy Chief Executive. Taking up the role of CEO in 2013, Chantal has led the expansion of a range of domestic abuse and criminal justice interventions. She remains firmly committed to tackling the root cause of domestic abuse by holding perpetrators to account and ensuring the voice of victims and children are at the forefront of the work.
You can watch Ian Wright: Home Truths on BBC iPlayer here.