Otago Polytechnic
CORP staff GlendaDixon 005

Domestic violence narratives

Glenda Dixon

“A big part of what we do is to work with the language used around domestic violence,” says Dr Glenda Dixon, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Services.

Traditionally, men’s behaviour-change groups are designed to educate and produce a change in the way men act. The group format challenges and confronts participants who minimise and justify their behaviour. However, facilitators can inadvertently reproduce power relations and practices that replicate the context for abuse within the group. Men often feel shamed and therefore disengage.

In response to this, Glenda Dixon and Rob Andrew (Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at RAWA, Perth), co-wrote a new practice framework. One of the tools in that framework is a large diagram called The Mat. It is placed on the floor in the centre of the group.

“This provides the men with a visible and accessible language – a new territory in which to stand. ‘Preferred ways’ in the face of a long history of ‘prescribed ways’,” Glenda explains. “We lead each man around the diagram and get them to recount and deconstruct the abusive event through language and conversation.”

The Mat invites the man to move from the general ‘we were arguing’ response to the specifics of his actions and intentions. Glenda believes this approach “introduces action and choice and is political as it deconstructs the attitudes that support men in privileging themselves over women and children.”

“Many men oversubscribe to dominant discourses of masculinity,” Glenda says. “We call this The Prescription and it is enforced by ‘dangerous ideas’ of self-centeredness, exaggerated entitlement and abdication of responsibility.”

The Mat provides the men with a means and a language to move from an ‘ethic of control’ to an ‘ethic of care.’


Dixon, G.L., Andrew, R (2015) From prescribed ways to preferred ways. A language of change for men who perpetrate abuse. European Conference on Domestic Violence, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 6-9 September 2015.