Young people's attitudes towards domestic violence and the role of schools in prevention

  • Stephanie Maguire

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Globally, nationally, and locally, domestic violence is an endemic social problem and an enduring human rights issue within all societies and cultures. The international literature highlights how this phenomenon is complex and transversal to all age groups, however, attitudinal research has typically focused on adults, so much less is known about children and young people’s attitudes towards domestic violence. Over the past decade there is increasing awareness that young people experience greater levels of violence and abuse in their relationships, yet domestic violence prevention is still in its infancy and much remains to be accomplished, not least in better understanding young people’s attitudes. The current study aims to explore young people’s attitudes towards domestic violence with a view to generate evidence that can be used to inform and improve domestic violence prevention efforts. Additionally, despite education being the principal mechanism by which society can influence future generations, the role of schools in preventing domestic violence remains largely unexplored across the globe. Therefore, the study also seeks to explore the potential role of schools in both the formation of attitudes towards domestic violence as well as its prevention. The study is a mixed methods model using a combination of survey based and qualitative interview-based methods. The study adopts the World Health Organisation ecological model and employs a two phase, explanatory sequential mixed-methods design. A secondary analysis of the 2013 Young Persons Behaviour and Attitudes Survey was conducted (n=1446), followed by a principal qualitative data collection phase. The qualitative analysis drew upon data generated from 30 focus group discussions with 188 pupils (aged 16-18) and 14 semi-structured interviews with teachers from a convenience sample of 14 post-primary schools across Northern Ireland. These data were analysed using a thematic approach to address the research objectives. Once all quantitative and qualitative data were collected, analysed and discussed, the findings were integrated through a narrative approach to report the results. The results of the combined data revealed a gender gap in young people’s attitudes towards domestic violence with young males more likely to express attitudes supportive of domestic violence than young females. Both data also revealed that post-primary schools currently do not play a role in the formation of young people’s attitudes towards domestic violence, and schools are doing very little to prevent domestic violence. Based on the quantitative and qualitative findings, the study concludes that there is a need for gender-tailored interventions to change attitudes towards partner violence in Northern Ireland. Moreover, one particularly urgently needed step is the substantially increased provision of opportunities for young people to have explicit and compulsory domestic violence preventative education during schooling. Overall, the findings of the study provide important areas for future prevention. After all, it is important that the public develop an attitude that domestic violence is unacceptable in every regard, for as long as domestic violence is tolerated it will not be possible for the goal of eradicating the occurrence of domestic violence to be achieved.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorSarah Miller (Supervisor) & Maria Pentaraki (Supervisor)

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