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Trends & issues
No. 558 September 2018
Abstract | Finding ways to reduce
repeat domestic violence requires an
understanding of both violent
relationships and what happens
during violent incidents. The current
study uses crime script analysis to
describe incidents of men’s violence
against women.
The results provide new insights into
the situational factors present when
arguments escalate to violence.
These findings highlight the
important role of third parties (eg
friends and other family members)
and the potential for bystander
intervention. They also show the
significance of emotion and
intoxication. The ability of police to
de-escalate violence is highlighted.
Most importantly, the findings
illustrate how crime script analysis can
be applied to domestic violence to
help identify ways to intervene to
prevent repeat violence and reduce
harm to victims.
in crime and criminal justice
ISSN 0817-8542
Understanding domestic
violence incidents using
crime script analysis
Hayley Boxall, Chloe Boyd, Christopher Dowling
and Anthony Morgan
There is now widespread acknowledgement that reducing
domestic violence requires government, non-government and
the broader community to work together to target risk factors at
the individual, relationship, community and society level (COAG
2011; Heise 1998). Common responses to domestic violence
have included supporting victims to leave abusive relationships
safely (eg shelters, safe at home initiatives; Breckenridge et
al. 2016), integrated responses involving case management,
information sharing and multidisciplinary service delivery
(Trimboli 2017), men’s behaviour change programs (Mackay et
al. 2015) and addressing gendered norms and broader cultures
of violence through awareness campaigns and school-based
education programs (COAG 2011; VicHealth 2007). This is in
addition to criminal justice reforms that aim to better support
victims and ensure perpetrators are held accountable for their
actions (State of Victoria 2016).
Australian Institute of Criminology
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice
Recent research has identified the potential benefits associated with situational approaches to
preventing domestic violence, particularly in reducing the risk of further violence in the period
immediately following an incident (Morgan, Boxall & Brown 2018; Prenzler & Fardell 2017).
Situational crime prevention approaches aim to ‘prevent, constrain or disrupt criminal activity’
by reducing opportunities for crime to occur (Cornish 1994a: 153). This can be achieved using
approaches that increase the risk, increase the effort, reduce the rewards, remove provocations and
remove excuses for offending (see Cornish & Clarke 2003 for a catalogue of situational responses).
This includes measures such as:
GPS tracking of offenders in the community (Carter & Grommon 2016; Erez et al. 2012);
duress alarms (Breckenridge, Walden & Flax 2014; Lloyd, Farrell & Pease 1994);
pre-programmed mobile phones (Natarajan 2016; Taylor & MacKay 2011); and
target hardening (eg changing the locks on doors; Hester & Westmarland 2005; Prenzler &
Fardell 2017).
Criminal justice responses, including arrest (Vigurs et al. 2016) and protection orders (Dowling et
al. 2018), are also geared towards removing opportunity for crime, as are less obvious situational
measures like women’s shelters.
Situational responses have been implemented in isolation or in combination with other initiatives to
address domestic violence reoffending risk. For example, Safe at Home programs involve the delivery
of a number of strategies, including target hardening and protection orders and proactive policing,
which work together to support women to remain in their homes after they have left their violent
partners (see Breckenridge et al. 2016 for a review of Safe at Home programs).
Situational approaches to domestic violence need to be underpinned by an understanding of how
crimes occur—or what Cornish (1994a) calls the procedural aspects of crime. Crime script analysis
provides a framework for identifying the sequential stages of the crime commission process, from
start to end, and for mapping the interactions between an offender, a victim and their immediate
environment (Chiu, Leclerc & Townsley 2011; Leclerc, Wortley & Smallbone 2011). Cornish suggests
that most crimes typically involve the key stages of preparation, entry into the setting, preconditions,
instrumental preconditions, initiation and actualisation, doing (the offence), post-conditions and exit
from the setting (Cornish 1994a). However, this script has been modified by others to better reflect
and accommodate different crime types. As described in Table 1, different levels of analysis allow for
more precise descriptions of crimes that share certain features or occur in similar circumstances.
Table 1: Levels of crime script analysis
Level of analysis
Describes all crimes within the same broad classification (eg domestic violence)
Describes subgroups of crime types that share similar features (eg domestic violence
involving a male perpetrator and female victim)
Describes subgroups that are further subdivided into categories according to certain
features or circumstances that have implications for prevention (eg domestic violence
involving a male perpetrator and female victim when there are other parties present
during the offence)
Script track
Details about the circumstances of individual offences
Source: Leclerc, Wortley & Smallbone 2011
No. 558 September 2018
Australian Institute of Criminology
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice
Capturing the chronological sequence of actions involved in the crime commission process is
important for understanding different crime types (Chiu, Leclerc & Townsley 2011) and identifying
possible intervention points for situational responses (Smith 2017). Similarly to how actors learn lines
in a play, successful crime scripts are learnt and repeated by offenders (Hutchings & Holt 2014).
Crime script analysis can help identify weak spots, where the process of crime can be interrupted
(Chiu, Leclerc & Townsley 2011).
Script analysis is underpinned by a rational choice perspective, which focuses on the decision-making
processes that lead to an offender choosing to commit crime, including weighing up the risks,
rewards and effort associated with offending (Clarke & Cornish 1985). Reflective of its economic
origins, rational choice theory was initially used to understand acquisitive crimes that are motivated
primarily by financial gain (Walters 2015). Crime scripts have been developed for offences such as
robbery (Cornish 1994b; Smith 2017), vehicle theft (Cornish 1994a, 1994b), cheque forgery (Lacoste
& Tremblay 2003), stolen-vehicle resale (Morselli & Roy 2008; Tremblay, Talon & Hurley 2001),
organised crime (Hancock & Laycock 2010), online black markets and stolen data (Hutchings & Holt
2014) and crimes against passengers on public transport (Smith & Cornish 2006).
The rational choice perspective can also be used to explain expressive (or irrational) crimes like
vandalism, child sexual assault and domestic violence. A major difference between acquisitive and
expressive crimes is that the latter are primarily motivated by non-financial goals, like control of
another person, a boost in self-esteem, status, peer acceptance and kudos, thrill or excitement
and emotional release (Farrell 2010). Critics of opportunity theories, especially the rational choice
perspective, have argued that they have limited applicability to expressive crime, because offenders
are less likely in these circumstances to act rationally (Hayward 2007). This argument has been
strongly refuted (Farrell 2010), on the basis that offenders committing expressive crime still make
decisions that they think will benefit them in some way. This holds true even if only some of the
decisions made by offenders (and there are many) can be described as seemingly rational (Cornish
1994a; Farrell 2010; Felson 2013; Jacobs & Wright 2010; Tedeschi & Felson 1994).
In recent years, script analysis has been used to describe expressive crimes like vandalism (Cornish
1994a, 1994b) and suicide bombing (Clarke & Newman 2006). The sexual abuse of children has
also been explored using crime scripts, demonstrating how it can be used for complex expressive
crimes that involve repeated interactions and the development of relationships between victims and
offenders (Beauregard et al. 2007; Leclerc, Wortley & Smallbone 2011). Commentators have argued
that all forms of expressive crimes could, in theory, be subjected to script analysis (Farrell 2010).
As Leclerc and Wortley (2013: 5) said:
If an individual who commits an armed robbery, a sexual offence or an act of terrorism can be
treated as a reasoning criminal then any crime can be studied within a rational choice framework.
To date, domestic violence has not been the subject of script analysis. This reflects a broader lack of
research focused on domestic violence incidents, relative to studies that have attempted to describe
offenders and victims. In the mid-1980s, Dobash and Dobash argued that understanding domestic
violence requires describing how these acts take place, in particular ‘its concrete nature, its dynamic
development and its location within the wider social context’ (1984: 269). In what could be seen
as an early attempt to apply something like crime scripts to the analysis of domestic violence, they
No. 558 September 2018
Australian Institute of Criminology
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice
interviewed 109 female victims of domestic violence and asked them to describe the sequence of
events immediately preceding a violent incident. Analysis of the interview transcripts identified a
number of common precursors to the violence, particularly the female victim ‘challenging’ the male
partner in some way.
Since this study, there has been little research examining the nature of domestic violence incidents
in this level of detail. However, if the potential of situational responses to prevent and de-escalate
domestic violence is to be realised, a better understanding of what happens during incidents of
violence and the stages involved in the crime commission process is essential. While these incidents
may occur within the broader context of an abusive relationship, identifying ways to prevent the
occurrence of domestic violence incidents remains a valuable exercise. One incident can have
significant consequences for a victim and their family, including serious injury, trauma and death.
Further, there is evidence that the risk of domestic violence reoffending is cumulative, meaning that
the likelihood of reoffending increases with each new reoffence (Morgan, Boxall & Brown 2018).
Aim and method
The current study aimed to determine whether crime script analysis could be used to better
understand domestic violence incidents and, if so, to generate a preliminary protoscript for domestic
violence. A protoscript was developed using administrative data extracted from the Family Violence
Management System (FVMS) maintained by Tasmania Police. The FVMS is a purpose-built database
that stores information on all domestic violence matters reported to Tasmania Police that result in a
call-out. Domestic violence matters that do not result in an arrest or charge are included in the FVMS,
as are ‘argument only’ offences—call-outs that do not meet the threshold for domestic violence as
defined under the Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas), s 7. Under the Act, the following types of conduct
committed by a person, directly or indirectly, against their past or current spouse or partner are
classified as domestic violence:
assault (including sexual assault);
threats, coercion, intimidation or verbal abuse;
economic abuse (eg withholding money);
emotional abuse or intimidation; or
contravening an external Family Violence Order (FVO), an interim FVO, an FVO or a Police
Family Violence Order (PFVO).
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) was provided information recorded by police in the FVMS
over a 12-month period. This sample contained domestic violence cases involving first-time offenders—
offenders who came into contact with police for the first time (n=1,206). Random sampling methods
were used to select 100 cases for more detailed analysis. Among the data provided for this smaller
sample was the responding officer’s description of the incident(s) as it occurred from start to finish
(hereafter referred to as police narratives). Responding officers use multiple sources of information to
develop narratives, including victim, offender and witness statements and official records.
No. 558 September 2018
Australian Institute of Criminology
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice
Script analysis requires accurate and detailed information about individual criminal incidents. Cases
were therefore removed from the sample if:
•• the responding officer had concerns about the truthfulness of the account provided by the victim
•• there was insufficient information to allow script analysis (n=21); or
•• it was an ‘argument-only’ offence (n=2).
The remaining 70 cases were coded in accordance with a framework developed specifically for this
study, with information extracted on the parties involved, the characteristics of the violent incident
and each stage of the protoscript. This framework was informed largely by the protoscript of child
sexual offending developed by Leclerc, Wortley and Smallbone (2011)—one of the best examples
of how script analysis has been used to describe expressive violent crime. To account for the role of
emotion in offender decision-making, which is particularly relevant to domestic violence but often
overlooked in environmental criminology (Hayward 2007; Walters 2015), information on the emotional
state of the victim and offender was recorded for different stages of the commission process.
The focus of this study was on male-perpetrated violence against female victims. Therefore, of the
70 cases coded, four were excluded from analysis because they involved mutual violence, 14 because
they involved a female offender and two because they involved male offender domestic violence
within a homosexual relationship. This recognises that female-perpetrated and same-sex domestic
violence may require their own protoscripts, to reflect the unique characteristics of these different
forms of violence.
It is important to note that there are two units of analysis for this study—episodes and incidents of
domestic violence. Episodes could involve multiple acts (incidents) of violence perpetrated against
victims. Episodes started at the point of the victim and offender having contact with one another and
ended with police notification. The period of time that elapsed between these two points ranged
from a few minutes to a few days.
The final sample included 50 episodes of domestic violence involving unique couples (Table 2). The
majority of episodes involved a victim and offender who were in a relationship with one another
(n=30, 60%), and/or had biological children together (n=31, 62%). Almost half of the episodes
(n=24, 48%) involved partners who were cohabiting. The majority of cohabiting couples were in a
relationship with one another (n=21, 88%), although three were in the process of separating. Another
three couples were in a relationship but were not cohabiting.
No. 558 September 2018
Australian Institute of Criminology
Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice
Table 2: Relationship characteristics of the final sample
In a relationship
In the process of separating
1–5 years
6–10 years
10+ years
Relationship status
Relationship lengtha
<12 months Mean length of relationship (years (standard deviation))b 8.2 (9.1) Children Couple has biological children together 31 62 Children living with the victim or offender either part-time or full-timec 6 12 Victim is pregnant 1 2 Living together 24 48 Separate residences 20 40 6 12 Cohabitation status Unclear a: Excludes one episode where this information was missing b: Mean calculated from continuous age variable c: Children other than biological children shared by the victim and offender Source: AIC, Scripting domestic violence dataset 2010–2011 [computer file] Limitations Police narratives provide information about incidents that can be used as part of an investigation and to prepare a brief of evidence. As such, police prioritise collecting and recording information that is most relevant to the investigative process. This means that certain details about the crime commission process may not be recorded and so could not be included in the current analysis. For example, information about what happened after a violent incident was much less detailed than the information about what happened before and during the violent episode. Importantly, the absence of information was not taken to mean something did not occur or was not present in the incident, and was instead treated as missing data. However, a strength of police narratives is that they are based on multiple sources of information— statements provided by the victim, witnesses and offender, information provided to the officer (eg voice messages or emails), observations and physical evidence collected from the crime scene and official police records. This provides officers with an opportunity to cross-reference information and assess the truthfulness of the accounts given by those involved. Including victim accounts is particularly important given that offender accounts have previously been found to ‘excuse, rationalize, justify, and minimize the violence against female partners’ (Anderson & Umberson 2001: 362). No. 558 September 2018 6 Australian Institute of Criminology Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice Finally, the focus on first-time offenders provided the best opportunity to develop a protoscript for a group of offenders and victims at similar stages in their contact with the justice system. It also arguably represents the best opportunity to intervene in some way to interrupt or change behavioural patterns (Boxall, Rosevear & Payne 2015). However, many of the incidents attended by police involve repeat offenders (Boxall, Payne & Rosevear 2015), and the generalisability of this protoscript to offenders who frequently come into contact with police is unclear. Likewise, limiting the analysis only to male perpetrators means that the protoscript described in this paper may not be immediately applicable to other populations. Findings Figure 1 describes the protoscript for male-on-female domestic violence. It is comprised of six stages—contact being made with the victim, conflict with others, a tipping point, violence towards the victim, de-escalation of the violence and the end of contact with the victim. The final components of the protoscript are historical and situational preconditions, which influence the crime commission process at different stages. These are described below. Figure 1: Protoscript for male-on-female domestic violence Historical preconditions • • History of violence Relationship breakdown/stressors Contact made with victim Situational preconditions • • • Intoxication Heightened emotions Prior acts of violence Conflict Tipping point Violence against victim De-escalation of violence End of contact with victim No. 558 September 2018 7 Australian Institute of Criminology Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice Historical preconditions Although crime scripts include information about ‘preconditions’ necessary for crime, ... Purchase answer to see full attachment

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