Are abuse and crime connected?

Joanna Roberts, 23, is doing an MScEcon in social research, specialising in the study of domestic violence.

I've always been interested in people and why they behave in certain ways. I also like looking at how things such as gender affect people's opportunities in life. Last year I worked for the national charity Women's Aid in England, where I became interested in the link between women who suffer domestic abuse and those who commit crimes such as shoplifting, theft and drug-dealing.

There is a misconception that domestic violence is purely about physical abuse, but what struck me was the emotional and psychological control. A man might withhold money, cut a woman off from her family and friends, or not let her out of the house. If a partner withholds money then a woman might go out to steal in order to feed her children. The question I'm trying to ask is whether there is a connection between abuse and crime.

Working at Women's Aid opened my eyes. I had been aware of domestic abuse but when I saw it with my own eyes I was astounded. People say, "Why doesn't she leave?". But it's not about being weak, it's that she can't leave, often because of psychological and emotional manipulation.

I first studied sociology at A-level. For my first degree I did English literature and sociology. I wasn't going to do a Masters because of the cost. But I got an academic bursary from Swansea, which covers some of my tuition fees, and for the rest I work part-time as a clerical assistant at a local school.

The sociology department here is very supportive and the teaching is excellent. The course has six modules and so far we've studied methods of data collection such as surveys, interviews, and ethics.

Because I'm taking a feminist perspective, I want to empower women and give them a voice to explain things in their own words; so far they have not been given that opportunity.

I thought there would be a wealth of literature on this topic, but it hasn't been tackled in this way before. Existing research is more concerned with domestic abuse as a social problem, or looking at women in prisons. The results of my research may have consequences for policy. If women are forced into crime, there are implications for women's aid groups, such as the need for solicitors to defend women involved in crime.

In the future I might apply to be a university women's officer, but I'd also like to do more research and I've been asked to go on and do a PhD here. I'm from a quite working-class background; it's not being able to afford these things that holds me back.