Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 289–302 | Cite as

Implicit Theories in Intimate Partner Violence Sex Offenders: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

  • Sarah WeldonEmail author
Original Article


An increased understanding of the cognitive characteristics of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Sex Offenders would have implications for clinical intervention and risk assessment in this distinctive offending behaviour group. The improved understanding of cognitions in violent offenders, sex offenders, and IPV offenders has led to the development and implementation of specific offender behaviour programmes taking these cognitive characteristics into account. Recently, empirical investigations have focussed on qualitative exploration of cognition to propose implicit theories (ITs), that is distinct sets of schemas that offenders hold in relation to themselves, the world, and others. The current paper utilises Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to explore cognition in 11 Intimate Partner Sex Offenders. Five superordinate and 14 subthemes were identified, which are representative of Implicit Theories present in this specific offender group. These ITs are discussed in relation to other offending behaviour groups in addition to their clinical implications in the development of effective interventions and risk assessment tools.


Qualitative Cognition Schemas Domestic violence Intimate partner violence Sexual offending Intimate relationships 


  1. Agar, S.E. (2002) Manual for the Child Abuse Risk Evaluation (CARE) Professional Guidelines for Assessing Risk of Physical Child Abuse and Neglect.Google Scholar
  2. Beech, A., Fisher, D., & Ward, T. (2005). Sexual murderers’ implicit theories. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20(11), 1366–1389.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Beech, A. R., Bartels, R. M., & Dixon, L. (2012). Assessment and treatment of distorted schemas in sexual offenders. Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 14(1), 54–66.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Blagden, N. J., Winder, B., Thorne, K., & Gregson, M. (2011). “No-one in the world would ever wanna speak to me again”: an interpretative phenomenological analysis into convicted sexual offenders’ accounts and experiences of maintaining and leaving denial. Psychology, Crime and Law, 17(7), 563–585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, J., & Beail, N. (2009). Self-harm among people with intellectual disabilities living in a secure service provision: A qualitative exploration. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 22, 503–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burrowes, N., & Needs, A. (2008). Time to contemplate change? A framework for assessing readiness to change with offenders. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 14, 39–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell, J. C. (2007). Prediction of homicide of and by battered women. In J. C. Campbell (Ed.), Assessing Dangerousness: Violence by Batterers and Child Abusers (2nd ed., pp. 85–104). New York: Springer Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  8. Collie, R. M., Vess, J., & Murdoch, S. (2007). Violence-related cognition: Current research. In T. A. Gannon, T. Ward, A. R. Beech, & D. Fisher (Eds.), Aggressive offenders’ cognition: Theory, research and practice (pp. 179–197). Chichester: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dempsey, B., & Day, A. (2010). The identification of implicit theories in domestic violence perpetrators. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 55(3), 416–429.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Dobash, R. E., & Dobash, R. P. (2011). What were they thinking? Men who murder an intimate partner. Violence Against Women, 17(1), 111–134.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Dutton, D. G. (2002). The neurobiology of abandonment homicide. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 7, 417–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fisher, D. & Beech, A.R. (2007) The implicit theories of rapists and sexual murderers. Aggressive offenderscognition: Theory, research and practice (pp. 31–52.) Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Gilchrist, E. (2007). The cognition of domestic absuers: Explanations, evidence and treatment. In T. A. Gannon, T. Ward, A. R. Beech, & D. Fisher (Eds.), Aggressive offenders’ cognition: Theory, research and practice (pp. 247–266). Chichester: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gilchrist, E. (2009). Implicit thinking about implicit theories in intimate partner violence offenders. Psychology, Crime and Law, 15(2–3), 131–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hester, M., Pearson, C., Harwin, N., & Abrahams, H. (Eds.) (2007). Making an impact. Children and domestic violence. London and Philadelphia:Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  16. HM Government (2007) Cross government action plan on sexual violence and abuse. London: HM Office. Available at: (accessed July 2013).
  17. Kropp, P. D., Hart, S. D., Webster, C. D., & Eaves, D. (1999). Spousal assault risk assessment guide (SARA). Toronto:Multi-Health Systems, Inc..Google Scholar
  18. Mitchell, I., & Gilchrist, E. (2006). Domestic violence and panic attacks-common neural mechanisms? Legal and Criminological Psychology, 11, 267–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Morgan, W., & Gilchrist, E. (2010). Risk assessment with intimate partner sex offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 16(3), 361–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mullender, A. (2006). What do children tell us? “he said he was going to kill our Mum”. In C. Humphreys, & N. Stanley (Eds.), Domestic violence and child protection (pp. 53–68). London: Jessica Kinsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Office for National Statistics (2015) Chapter 4: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences- Intimate Personal Violence and Serious Sexual Assault. Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime & Sexual Offences 2013/2014. Google Scholar
  22. Polaschek, D. L. L., & Gannon, T. (2004). The implicit theories of rapists: What convicted offenders tell us. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 16, 299–314.Google Scholar
  23. Polaschek, D. L. L., & Ward, T. (2002). The implicit theories of potential rapists: What our questionnaires tell us. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 7, 385–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Polaschek, D. L. L., Calvert, S. W., & Gannon, T. A. (2009). Linking violent thinking: Implicit theory based research with violent offenders. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24(1), 75–96.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Rabin, R. F., Jennings, J. M., Campbell, J. C., & Bair-Merritt, M. H. (2009). Intimate partner violence screening tools: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 36(5), 439–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Reid, K., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2005). Exploring lived experience. The Psychologist, 18(1), 20–23.Google Scholar
  27. Silverman, D. (2000). Doing qualitative research: a practical hand-book. London:Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  28. Smith, J. A. (2004). Reflecting on the development of interpretative phenomenological analysis and its contribution to qualitative research in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 1, 39–54.Google Scholar
  29. Smith, J. A. (2011). Evaluating the contribution of interpretative phenomenological analysis. Health Psychology Review, 5(1), 9–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Smith, J. A., & Osborn, M. (2003). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J. A. Smith (Ed.), Qualitative Psychology: a practical guide to research methods (pp. 51–80). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  31. Smith, J. A., Flowers, M., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Theory. In Method, and Research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Starks, H., & Brown-Trinidad, S. (2007). Choose your method: A comparison of phenomenology, discourse analysis and grounded theory. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1372–1380.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Ward, T. (2000). Sexual offenders' cognitive distortions as implicit theories. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 5, 491–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ward, T., & Keenan, T. (1999). Child molesters’ implicit theories. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(8), 821–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ward, T., & Stewart, C. A. (2003). The treatment of sex offenders: Risk management and good lives. Professional Psychology, Research and Practice, 34(4), 353–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Weldon, T. (2015). Implicit Theories in Intimate Partner Violence Sex Offenders: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Journal of Family Violence. doi: 10.1007/s10896-015-9774-y.
  37. Weldon, S., & Gilchrist, E. (2012). Implicit theories in intimate partner violence offenders. Journal of Family Violence, 27(8), 761–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Douglas Inch CentreGlasgowUK
  2. 2.University of Edinburgh, Medical SchoolEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations