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Batterer Intervention- Program Approaches and Criminal Justice Strategies 
Chapter 3

Chapter 2:
The Causes of Domestic Violence:
From Theory to Intervention

 The origins of domestic violence are the subject of active debate among victim advocates, social workers, researchers, and psychologists concerned with batterer intervention. More than in most fields, the theoretical debate affects practice. Over the last two decades, a number of practitioners representing divergent theoretical camps have begun to move toward a more integrated "multidimensional" model of batterer intervention in order to better address the complexity of a problem that has psychological, interpersonal, social, cultural, and legal aspects. Two practitioners who advocate an eclectic approach to batterer intervention describe the dilemma of practitioners looking for a single explanation for battering as follows:

During a recent conversation, a respected colleague of ours suggested that marital aggression was rooted in a need for control. "Men," he said, "use aggression to control their female partners." We agreed. Control is certainly an important factor in the dynamics of marital violence. His treatment approach, well known and effective, focused on helping abusers relinquish control and share power with their spouses. Several weeks later, we discussed the same topic with the director of a treatment program for wife abusers, who stated that "poor impulse control" and "defective self-concept" were the critical factors. We agreed. Abusers are certainly impulsive and often have poor self-esteem. Her treatment program, which focused on these factors was, she claimed, very successful. Sometime later, one of our graduate students, well aware of these previous conversations, reported on a workshop she had attended. The model presented at the workshop conceptualized marital violence as a couples' problem and suggested that communication between spouses was the critical factor. Conjoint couples' counseling was suggested as an effective intervention for violent couples. Again, we could agree. The safest conclusion would appear to be that there are numerous routes by which husbands come to be wife abusers and a multitude of variables that increase the likelihood of violence.[1]

In practice, few batterer programs represent a "pure" expression of one theory of domestic violence; the majority of programs contacted for this report combine elements of different theoretical models. As a result, when discussing program theory with batterer intervention providers, criminal justice professionals need to understand not only the primary theory the program espouses but also the program's content, because programs may identify with one theory but draw on or two more theories in their work. Experts caution criminal justice agencies against accepting an eclectic curriculum uncritically: program components borrowed from different theoretical perspectives should be thoughtfully chosen to create a coherent approach, not a scattershot attempt hoping to hit some technique that works.

Criminal justice professionals are likely to encounter programs based on one or more of the following theories of domestic violence. Each theory locates the cause of the violence differently:

o Society and culture -- Social theories of domestic violence attribute the problem to social structures and cultural norms and values that endorse or tolerate the use of violence by men against women partners. For example, the feminist model of intervention educates men concerning the impact of these social and cultural norms and attempts to resocialize them emphasizing nonviolence and equality in relationships.

o The family -- Some sociologists locate the cause of domestic violence in the structure of the family, the interpersonal interactions of families, and the social isolation of families. For example, family systems theory attributes the cause to communication problems and conflict within intimate relationships and teaches communication skills to help partners avoid violence. As noted below, couples counseling, an intervention based on family systems theory, is controversial because of its failure to assign blame for the abuse to one person and to identify a victim. Couples counseling is also considered dangerous to the victim because it encourages the victim to discuss openly issues that may spark later retaliation by the batterer.

o The individual -- Psychological theories attribute domestic violence to the individual batterer's predispositions and experiences. Battering may be attributed to personality disorders and biological dispositions to violence or, as social learning theory suggests, to the role of the batterer's social environment during childhood. Attachment theory, a form of social learning theory, focuses on the interaction of caregivers with their children and the impact of that first attachment on an individual's ability to establish safe and healthy relationships later in life. Batterer interventions based on this theory attempt to facilitate secure attachments between batterers and loved ones (intimate partners, children, and parents). Psychodynamic approaches target the underlying psychological cause of the violence, while cognitive behavioral approaches teach batterers new patterns of nonviolent thinking and behavior.

It is important for criminal justice professionals to understand the assumptions and goals of service providers whose interventions have divergent theoretical bases, because not all intervention approaches employ techniques that are equally compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system -- protecting the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender.

Overview of Theories and Related Interventions

Feminist (or profeminist; see box, "The Language of Batterer Intervention"), family systems, and psychotherapeutic theories of domestic violence offer divergent explanations of the root causes of battering and lead to distinct intervention models. The following section outlines the basic tenets of each theory, illustrates how these assumptions influence the choice of intervention strategies, and notes the advantages and disadvantages of each theoretical and treatment approach. As noted previously, however, examples of programming based exclusively on one theory are becoming increasingly rare.

Feminist Approaches: The Social Problem Approach

Batterer intervention programs originated in the early 1970's, as feminists and others brought to public attention the victimization of women and spawned grass roots services such as rape hot lines and battered women's shelters.[3] According to Anne Ganley of Seattle's Veteran Administration Medical Center and David Adams of EMERGE in Boston, providers of services to battered women felt that victims who had received services either returned home to face the same destructive environment or left the relationship -- and the batterer found a new victim. To help victims, advocates realized, it was also necessary to address the root cause of their problems -- the perpetrators of violence. Profeminist men concerned with sexism in themselves and society felt a particular responsibility for working with male abusers. As a result, some of the first systematic interventions for batterers developed from a profeminist perspective.

What Is a Feminist Model of Battering?

Central to the feminist perspective on battering is a gender analysis of power.[4] According to this view, domestic violence in intimate relationships mirrors the patriarchal organization of society in which men play a dominant role in most social institutions. Along with verbal, emotional, and economic abuse, violence is a means of maintaining male power in the family when men feel their dominance is being threatened. Economic roles have left women dependent on men and unable to escape abusive situations.[5] Men's superior physical strength may enable them to dominate women through violence.

Feminists argue that a consequence of the social arrangement in which men hold the positions of respect and power is that men and women alike devalue the feminine and over-value the masculine. To the batterer, women are childlike and incompetent. It is not uncommon for batterers to convince their wives that they are not capable of adult activities, such as driving a car or holding a job.[6] For example, a former victim reported that her husband had convinced her that she could not turn on the washing machine without breaking it, so she had to wait until he returned from work before she could do the laundry for their seven children. Similarly, in disputed custody cases when a batterer and partner separate, the husband often contends that his wife is incapable of taking care of the children.[7]

In the feminist view, batterers feel that they should be in charge of the family: making decisions, laying down rules, disciplining disobedient wives and children, and correcting unsatisfactory performance of duties.[8] Batterers may typically exercise control over the family in nonviolent, coercive ways and only sometimes resort to violence. As men, batterers feel entitled to gender-based respect and obedience; therefore, what they perceive to be disrespect and disobedience infuriates them. Batterers often rationalize their violence on the grounds that it was necessitated by their partner's actions: she provoked or caused it, and they simply reacted as any man would.

Feminist programs attempt to raise consciousness about sex role conditioning and how it constrains men's emotions and behavior (through education around sexism, male privilege, male socialization). Programs with a feminist philosophy present a model of egalitarian relationships along with the benefits of nonviolence and of building relationships based on trust instead of fear (see exhibit 2-1, "Equality Wheel"). Most feminist approaches support confronting men over their power and control tactics in all domains of the relationship, including verbal and psychological abuse, social isolation, the undermining of the victim's self- confidence, and sexual coercion (see exhibit 1-1, "The Power and Control Wheel"). A particular concern of profeminist male group facilitators is the constant risk and temptation of colluding with batterers. For example, a male facilitator at Family Services of Seattle reported that when his female cofacilitator was absent at one session, the men in the group expected him to drop his profeminist "guise" and participate in or agree with their negative characterizations of women.

Advantages and Criticisms of the Feminist Model

Perhaps because work with batterers was originated by battered women's advocates and feminists, the feminist perspective has influenced most programs. A national survey conducted in 1986 found that 80 percent of programs attempt to change sex role attitudes, stop violence, and increase self- esteem.[9] Even programs adopting a family systems model (see below) may advocate an egalitarian and democratic relationship to couples in treatment. Support for the feminist analysis of the role of power in domestic violence comes from the observation that most batterers are able to control their anger and avoid resorting to violence when "provoked" by someone more powerful than they, such as their work supervisors, police officers, or judges. Further support for the feminist analysis comes from research showing that batterers are less secure in their masculinity than nonbatterers[10] -- the theory being that men who do not feel masculine will need to assert their masculinity more forcefully to compensate for their sense of inadequacy. Other studies have documented the sense of entitlement batterers feel in controlling their partners' behavior and in justifying violence if these women deviate from the female sex role.[11]

Critics have claimed that the feminist perspective overemphasizes sociocultural factors, such as patriarchal values, to the exclusion of individual factors like growing up abused.[12] Men's behavior in intimate relationships varies across individuals, and broad cultural factors cannot explain this variability. Feminist theory predicts that all men in our society will be abusive, claim its critics, adding that besides being untrue, this theory makes it impossible to predict which men will be violent. To make individual predictions, a model must assign a role to other factors including, but not limited to, psychological deviance.

Other criticisms center not on the validity of feminist explanations of battering but on the translation of that theory into programming. For example, some observers argue that feminist educational interventions are too confrontational in tone and, as a result, are ultimately self- defeating, alienating batterers, increasing their hostility, and making them less likely to become engaged in treatment. It is possible that the goal of the feminist model -- to rebuild the batterer's belief system in order to achieve nonviolence -- may be unnecessarily ambitious and adversarial. Batterers' existing value systems may be more easily fine-tuned to emphasize nonviolence (e.g., building on religious convictions or humanism) without a feminist overlay.

Another concern is that educational programs may effectively transmit information without deterring violent behavior. A 1991 evaluation of three short-term psychoeducational batterer programs in Baltimore found that while batterers considered the curriculum helpful, they recidivated at a higher rate than batterers who did not receive treatment.[13] A study of graduates of Duluth's Domestic Abuse Intervention Project found that completion of the feminist educational intervention had no impact on recidivism after five years.[14] Outcomes such as these point to the need for broader evaluations that examine the impact of systemic factors -- arrest and prosecution policies, court procedures, and probation supervision -- on intervention effectiveness, as well as a clarification of the goals of feminist-based interventions. If deterrence is not a likely outcome of an intervention, other goals, such as punishment, education, behavioral monitoring, or social change, must be explicitly advanced. (A few practitioners are in fact shifting their primary focus away from individual change in batterers in favor of social change through a coordinated community response. See chapter 5, "Criminal Justice Response").

The Family Systems Model

The family systems model regards individual problem behaviors as a manifestation of a dysfunctional family unit, with each family member contributing to the problem. Rather than identifying one individual as the cause of the violence and removing that person from the home or singling that person out for treatment, the model advocates working with the family or couple together, providing support with the goal of keeping the family intact.

According to the family systems (or "interactional") model,[15] both partners may contribute to the escalation of conflict, with each striving to dominate the other. Family systems theorists believe that most abuse is verbal and emotional, but as the conflict escalates, either partner may resort to violence. Because, from this perspective, interactions produce violence, no one is considered to be the perpetrator or victim, even if only one person is physically violent. Family systems theory also suggests that interactions may permit or facilitate abusive behaviors in one person, such as a nonabusive parent's failure to intervene in child abuse or a family member's failure to establish appropriate personal boundaries, thus setting the stage for their own victimization. Family systems therapists criticize psychological approaches that focus on individual deficits (low self-esteem, dependence, anger) while neglecting to teach interpersonal skills that could promote safety. Family systems theory leads to treatment that involves improving communication and conflict resolution skills. Both members of the couple can develop these skills through "solution-focused brief therapy" that:

o locates the problem in the interaction rather than in the pathology of one individual;

o focuses on solving the problem, rather than looking for causes; and

o accentuates the positive -- for example, examining occasions when the couple avoided violence.

Advantages and Criticisms of the Family Systems Model

Advocates of the family systems approach note that many violent couples would like to remain together and that there may be positive aspects to the relationship that counseling can build on. However, while some observers report that over half of domestic violence couples remain together,[16] a study of abused wives whose husbands did become nonviolent found that most of the women subsequently terminated the marriage because of other marital problems that became apparent after the violence ended.[17]

Both feminist and cognitive-behavioral approaches agree that partner abuse does not involve shared responsibility. Both approaches firmly hold that batterers bear full responsibility for the violence, victims play no causal role, and no one incites violence. Of particular concern to both feminist and cognitive-behavioral proponents is the format of couples counseling: encouraging each partner to discuss problems openly with the other partner can put the victim at risk after the session if the woman expresses complaints. Furthermore, no frank exchange between counselor and victim concerning the abuse is likely to be possible in the presence of the batterer. Moreover, the format is conducive to victim- blaming. Finally, if the court prohibits the batterer from contacting the victim, the family systems approach will violate the court order. For these reasons, couples counseling is expressly prohibited in 20 State standards and guidelines (see box, "Controversial Approaches to Batterer Intervention" and appendix A.3). Judges involved with partner abuse cases that also involve child abuse need to pay particular attention to safety issues raised by family systems interventions, which may be the treatment approach recommended by child welfare workers who are working toward a goal of family reunification. In such cases, issues of victim and child safety must be weighed carefully, and if a family systems approach is chosen, close monitoring is needed.

Psychological Approaches: A Focus on Individual Problems

Psychological perspectives hold that personality disorders or early experiences of trauma predispose some individuals to violence.[18] Being physically abusive is seen as a symptom of an underlying emotional problem.[19] Parental abuse, rejection, and failure to meet a child's dependence needs can be the psychological source of battering. People with these underlying problems may choose partners with whom they can reenact the dysfunctional relationship they had with their parents. Two forms of batterer intervention have evolved from this perspective: individual and group psychodynamic therapy and cognitive-behavioral group therapy.

Individual and Group Psychodynamic Counseling

Psychoanalysis can be undertaken not only in individual counseling but also in unstructured batterer groups that allow members to explore their life experiences. Psychodynamic therapies involve uncovering the batterer's unconscious problem and resolving it consciously. Proponents of psychodynamic therapy for batterers believe that other interventions are superficial: since other therapies are unable to eliminate the abuser's deep-rooted and unconscious motive for aggression, they cannot end violence but only suppress it temporarily. Long-term change requires exposing and resolving the root cause of the violent behavior.

Advantages and Criticisms of Psychodynamic Approaches

Browne and Saunders recently conducted a study comparing a "process psychodynamic treatment model" with a feminist/cognitive-behavioral intervention and found no difference in recidivism rates based on partners' reports. Nevertheless, they argue:

[T]here were two advantages to the process- psychodynamic model. It retained a significantly higher percentage of men in treatment and it was more successful with men who had dependent personality disorders. Regardless of the treatment approach used, more self-disclosure and less lecturing were related to greater group cohesion, which in turn was related to lower recidivism rates.[20]

Critics argue that psychodynamic therapy merely assigns a psychiatric label to people who batter (e.g., insecure, narcissistic, dependent, compulsive, or suffering from intermittent explosive disorder) without explaining how they got that way or what can be done about it.[21] The psychodynamic approach has also been criticized for allowing batterers to continue the behavior until the underlying psychological problem is resolved.[22] David Adams, director of EMERGE, gives the example of a batterer mandated to treatment who had already learned in individual psychotherapy that he battered because he was insecure. At the intake interview for the batterer program, the counselor asked the man whether he was going to continue to choose to be violent until he resolved his insecurity. The man said that he had never thought of battering as a choice, but now he would reconsider the notion.[23] Feminists argue that labeling batterers as having psychological problems not only exonerates them in their own eyes but also ignores the cultural acceptability of male dominance in the family and how it serves to keep the batterer in control of his partner. The approach pays attention to internal psychological functions of abuse for the batterer but ignores the interpersonal function of controlling the other person's behavior.

In practice, many psychologically oriented programs have moved away from the original stance that battering is caused primarily by psychological disorder and always indicates an emotional problem. Instead, they have integrated social explanations with psychological explanations. For example, some psychologically oriented theorists propose that it is the combination of a man's low self-esteem and a cultural expectation that men should be dominant and successful that produces a batterer.

Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Change

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used in the treatment of violent offenders. Whereas the psychoanalytic tradition focuses on psychological disorders based in the unconscious and early childhood experiences, the cognitive-behavioral model focuses on conscious material in the present: therapy is intended to help individuals function better by modifying how they think and behave in current situations. The theory behind cognitive-behavioral batterer interventions maintains that behaviors are learned as a result of positive and negative reinforcements (rewards and punishments) for engaging in particular behaviors under particular circumstances (e.g., parental pride or praise for aggressive behavior). Behavior is also influenced by how people mentally construct and interpret their environment and experiences -- that is, the way they think about themselves,other people, and their relationships. The cognitive-behavioral theory postulates that men batter because:

o they are imitating examples of abuse they have witnessed during childhood or in the media;

o abuse is rewarded;

o it enables the batterer to get what he wants; and

o abuse is reinforced through victim compliance and submission.

Cognitive-behavioral interventions focus on "cognitive restructuring" and skill building. Counselors focus on identifying the chain of events that lead each batterer to violence, starting with beliefs and "self-talk" -- the way we talk to ourselves in our minds (see exhibit 2- 2, "A Cognitive Model of Woman Abuse"). For example, a batterer whose partner is ten minutes late may tell himself, "She's out with her boyfriend" or "She can't be trusted." The programs attempt to restructure the beliefs and "self-talk" that lead to violence; for example, "I don't know why she's late, but I'm sure she's trying to get here." The programs help batterers to analyze the thought patterns underlying violent reactions (e.g., "Dinner isn't ready because my wife doesn't respect me") and learn new ways of understanding situations that trigger violence (e.g., "Dinner isn't ready because my wife had a busy day"). The program teaches nonviolent alternative behaviors, such as conflict-resolution tactics, relaxation techniques, and communication skills.[24]

Advantages and Criticism of the Cognitive- Behavioral Models

One advantage of the cognitive-behavioral model is that its analysis of battering and its intervention strategy are compatible with a criminal justice response to domestic violence. The approach holds the batterer fully responsible for his violence and fully responsible for learning and adopting nonviolent alternatives. Without trying to solve larger issues of social inequality on the one hand, or delving into deep- seated psychological issues on the other, the cognitive-behavioral approach simply focuses on the violent acts themselves and attempts to change them. The model also offers a straightforward intervention that can be implemented in a limited period of time.

The feminist perspective criticizes the cognitive- behavioral approach for failing to explain why many men with thought patterns or skills deficits that allegedly explain their domestic violence are not violent in other relationships, how culture or subcultures influence patterns of violence, and why some men continue to abuse women even when the behavior is not rewarded.[33] These criticisms are usually moot because most cognitive-behavioral programs integrate the feminist analysis of domestic violence, both in the cognitive component (for example, by examining thoughts that encourage wife-beating, such as "She should obey me. I'm the man of the household.") and the social learning aspects (for example, by discussing how sexism in the media and in society provides models of social support for abusing and degrading women). (See exhibit 2-3, "Example of an Integrated Feminist/Cognitive-Behavioral Strategy.")

Compatibility of the Models With Criminal Justice Goals

The feminist educational approach to batterer intervention is theoretically more compatible with a criminal justice perspective than either the family systems or psychotherapeutic approaches in several respects.[34]

o The feminist educational view of domestic violence is that the behavior is criminal, not just the result of faulty couple interactions or mental illness.

o The feminist educational view is that consequences are appropriate. By contrast, the psychotherapeutic explanation results in a treatment approach that is designed to modify the inner emotional life of the batterer through insight and possibly medication. Changing the inner person and prescribing medication to alter behavior may be considered by some to be beyond the scope of a criminal justice intervention.

o The primary goal of feminist educational programs is to hold batterers responsible for their violence. While most psychological programs also make this claim, feminists believe that the psychotherapeutic view of batterers as victims of childhood trauma or other mistreatment undercuts a program's ability to hold batterers responsible. The family systems approach -- unlike the criminal justice system -- holds the victim as well as the batterer accountable.

o The explicit goal of feminist educational approaches is to end the abusive behavior rather than to heal the batterer (the psychotherapeutic goal) or to improve relationships (the family systems goal).

A case can be made, however, that psychological interventions can also meet the needs of the criminal justice system. The aim of the criminal justice system in sending men to batterer programs is to reduce recidivism; for this to happen, the intervention has to be effective. While advocates of the feminist educational model criticize the psychotherapeutic model for failing to hold batterers responsible for their behavior, advocates of the psychotherapeutic approach respond that educational interventions are not successful in deterring or rehabilitating batterers because they are too short and superficial and do not address the needs of batterers with severe mental illness, who may comprise up to 25 percent of all batterers.[35] Indeed, the "confrontational" and didactic process of the feminist model -- as well as the feminist rhetoric in which it is framed -- may alienate the batterer and increase his hostility and resistance. For example, an assistant group facilitator for the Compassion Workshop in Silver Spring, Maryland, reported that, when he was in treatment, feminist interventions had only increased his anger and denial, while subsequent, nonconfrontational, compassion-based treatment had helped him become nonviolent. His wife, a cofacilitator of the group whose role was to give the perspective of the victim, agreed that the feminist education model had exacerbated her husband's abuse but that after psychologically oriented counseling, he was now violence free.

While the narrow treatment goals of the strictly educational feminist programs are compatible with the criminal justice view -- simply stopping the abusive behavior as expeditiously as possible and holding the batterer responsible -- the feminist theory of domestic violence also has broad social goals that may be seen as going beyond the purview of the criminal justice system. Because feminist theory locates the cause of domestic violence in social structures and the organization of society, social change may be seen as the ultimate goal of the curriculums. In a sense, though, even this broad goal is consistent with a criminal justice agenda in that it suggests that broad-based community education and a coordinated community response are necessary for preventing domestic violence. In contrast, it is difficult to identify a broad prevention strategy that follows from either the individualistic psychotherapeutic theory of domestic violence or the family systems model.

Finally, some practitioners and criminal justice professionals are beginning to regard any form of batterer intervention as a proxy for intensive probation. While the curriculum may not deter reoffenses over time, at least during program participation batterers are being monitored closely, and their victims are receiving at least minimal attention and referrals. This heightened vigilance with regard to the batterer's behavior and the victim's welfare is compatible with criminal justice goals.

As will be seen in the following chapters, however, theoretical compatibility with the criminal justice system is not the only important factor in selecting a batterer intervention. On a practical level, interventions must be able to retain batterers in treatment and address any obstacles to program participation.

Conclusion: Multidimensional Models Dominate the Field

Many practitioners accept that there are compelling features in more than one theoretical model. In practice, regardless of their primary perspective, most programs have adopted some tenets of the feminist model. For example, they view sexual inequality and masculine role expectations of dominance as core issues to address -- along with cognitive-behavioral techniques for modifying behavior -- and they teach batterers to use "time-outs" (a behavioral technique for controlling emotional outbursts). Longer-term programs may progress through the feminist and cognitive models in stages, and some even progress to a psychotherapeutic group process model for aftercare. These programs have a brief initial phase using a feminist educational model to tackle denial of responsibility, a longer second phase teaching cognitive-behavioral techniques for skill-building, and a third phase delving into individual psychological issues in an unstructured format for those men identified as having psychological problems contributing to battering. (See chapter 3, "Pioneers in Batterer Intervention: Program Models," for a detailed description of various program models.) Other programs blend treatment modalities and approaches by combining individual, group, and couples treatment sequentially over an extended period of two to three years.

Programs may also use different models or materials to accommodate the special needs of specific types of batterers, most commonly substance abusers, African Americans, Asians, Latinos, recent immigrants, female offenders, gay and lesbian batterers, or batterers with poor literacy skills. (See chapter 4, "Current Trends in Batterer Intervention," for a discussion of culturally specific interventions.)

Some practitioners may resist incorporating consideration of individual psychology and cultural differences in interventions because they are concerned that the individual approach will eclipse consideration of the sociological factors emphasized by the prevailing feminist model. However, the critical issue from a criminal justice perspective is simply "what works"; if mixed-model interventions that incorporate psychotherapeutic elements or cultural competence are shown to be more effective in retaining and engaging batterers in treatment, questions of theory are likely to become secondary.

Discussions such as these are rapidly being translated into experiments in practice. Chapter 4, "Current Trends in Batterer Intervention," discusses a range of innovations in batterer treatment that attempt to link individual characteristics of batterers to specific interventions or combinations of interventions in order to increase program retention and effectiveness.


1. Rosenbaum, A. and R.D. Maiuro, "Eclectic Approaches in Working With Men Who Batter," in Treating Men Who Batter: Theory, Practice, and Programs, ed. P.L. Caesar and K.L. Hamberger, New York: Springer, 1989: 65-195.

2. Mary Russell, for example, justifies her use of the expression "wife assault" on the grounds that "domestic violence" and "family violence" ignore the "male to female direction" of most violence between partners. See Russell, M., "Wife Assault Theory, Research, and Treatment: A Literature Review," Journal of Family Violence, 3 (3) (1988): 193-208.

3. Schechter, S., Women and Male Violence: The Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women's Movement, Boston: South End Press, 1982.

4. Pence, E. and M. Paymar, Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model, New York: Springer, 1993.

5. In support of the point that women may remain with men who abuse them because of economic dependence, Ida Johnson found in a study of 426 battered women leaving a Central Florida battered women's shelter that a woman was more likely to return home if the batterer had a high income and the woman was unemployed; if she had an independent income and his income was insufficient to support a family, the woman was unlikely to return home. Johnson, I. M., "Economic, Situational, and Psychological Correlates of the Decision-making Process of Battered Women," Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, (March 1992): 168-176.

6. There is disagreement over whether batterers actually believe that women are incompetent or whether promoting that notion merely serves their needs to control their wives in order to restrict their activities. Rusbult and Martz, in a study of women leaving a domestic violence shelter in Lexington, Kentucky, found that the strongest predictor of whether women would return to the batterer was whether they had a driver's license and access to a car. Rusbult, C.E. and J. M. Martz, "Remaining in an Abusive Relationship: An Investment Model Analysis of Nonvoluntary Dependence," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21 (1995): 558-571.

7. O'Sullivan, C. and B. Birns, Contested Custody Cases When Violent Marriages End, Paper presented at the First National Conference on Children Exposed to Family Violence, Austin, Texas, June 1996.

8. Browne, K., D.G. Saunders, and K.M. Staecker, "Process-Psychodynamic Groups for Men Who Batter: Description of a Brief Treatment Model," University of Michigan, January 26, 1996.

9. Gondolf, E. W. and J. Hanneken, "The Gender Warrior: Reformed Batterers on Abuse, Treatment, and Change," Journal of Family Violence, 2 (2) (1987): 177-191.

10. Gondolf and Hanneken, "The Gender Warrior." The measure is Bem's Sex Role Inventory.

11. Browne, Saunders, and Staecker, "Process- Psychodynamic Groups for Men Who Batter."

12. Dutton, D., "Patriarchy and Wife Assault: The Ecological Fallacy," Violence and Victims, 9 (2) (1994): 167-182.

13. Harrell, A., "Evaluation of Court Ordered Treatment for Domestic Violence Offenders," Final Report, Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 1991.

14. A 1990 evaluation of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) found that program participation had no impact on recidivism. She, M., "Predicting Batterer Recidivism Five Years After Community Intervention," Report, Duluth, Minnesota, 1990.

15. Giles-Sims, J., Wife-battering: A Systems Theory Approach, New York: Guilford, 1983.

16. While it is true that many victims who seek services want to maintain the relationship while eliminating the abuse, and that most programs report that 30 to 40 percent of the men in treatment are separated, no long-term data show what percent of relationships in which there has been battery last. See Sirles, E.A., S. Lipchik, and K. Kowalski, "A Consumer's Perspective on Domestic Violence Interventions," Journal of Family Violence, 8 (3) (1993): 267.

17. Bowker, L., Ending the Violence: A Guidebook Based on the Experience of 1,000 Battered Wives, Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications, 1986.

18. Russell, "Wife Assault Theory."

19. Specific disorders that have been found in batterers are post-traumatic stress disorder (probably due to childhood trauma), depression, low self-esteem, and personality disorders. Personality disorders usually mentioned by therapists who work with batterers are antisocial personality disorder, narcissism, and borderline personality disorder. In addition, passive- aggression, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder have been said to foster aggression. A psychotherapeutic reference describes the personality disorders as follows: People with antisocial personality disorder are irresponsible, irritable, and aggressive; they are not sadistic but are reckless and have no remorse; they are unable to maintain friendships or romantic relationships. Narcissists are hypersensitive but lack empathy; they have difficulty with relationships because they expect others to meet their special needs. Borderline personalities are characterized by instability of identity, self- image, and relationships; they want to be alone but fear abandonment; they are often moody and depressed and, in severe cases, self-destructive and suicidal. Reid, W.H. and M.G. Weise, The DSM- III-R Training Guide, New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1989. See also Dutton, D., "Trauma Symptoms and PTSD-like Profiles in Perpetrators of Intimate Abuse," Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8 (2)(1995): 299-316; and Maiuro, R., T.S. Cahn, P.P. Vitaliano, B.C. Wagner, and J.B. Zegree, "Anger, Hostility, and Depression in Domestically Violent Versus Generally Assaultive and Nonviolent Control Subjects," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56 (1) (1988): 17-23.

20. Browne, Saunders, and Straecker, "Process- Psychodynamic Groups for Men Who Batter."

21. See Dutton, "Patriarchy and Wife Assault."

22. Adams, D., "Treatment Models for Men Who Batter: A Profeminist Analysis," in Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse, ed. K. Yllo and M. Bograd, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1988: 176-199.

23. Adams, "Treatment Models for Men Who Batter," 176-177.

24. Hamberger, K.L. and J. E. Hastings, "Recidivism Following Spouse Abuse Abatement Counseling: Treatment Program Implications," Violence and Victims, 5 (3) (1990): 160.

25. Information provided by Roland Mauiro.

26. Hamberger, K.L. and J. E. Hastings, "Court- Mandated Treatment of Men Who Assault Their Partner: Issues, Controversies, and Outcomes," in Legal Responses to Wife Assault, ed. Z. Hilton, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993: 188- 229.

27. Tolman, R. M. and D. G. Saunders, "The Case for the Cautious Use of Anger Control With Men Who Batter," Response, 11 (2) (1988): 15-20.

28. Tolman and Saunders articulate this concern, while accepting anger management as part of a cognitive-behavioral intervention: "The use of anger control techniques with batterers is problematic when battering is framed exclusively as an anger problem, when the issues of dominance and control of women by men are ignored in treatment, and when practitioners fail to address societal reinforcements for battering." Tolman and Saunders, "The Case for the Cautious Use of Anger Control With Men Who Batter," 19. See also Ptacek, J., "The Clinical Literature on Men Who Batter, A Review and Critiques," in Family Abuse and Its Consequences: New Directions in Research, ed. B.T. Hotaling, D. Finkelhor, J.T. Kirkpatrick, and M.A. Straus, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1986: 149-162.

29. Dutton, D., The Domestic Assault of Women: Psychological and Criminal Justice Perspectives (revised), Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1995.

30. Two studies showing a recurrence of violence among program participants who said they used anger management to reduce their violence are: Gondolf, E., "Men Who Batter: How They Stop Their Abuse," Paper presented at the Second National Conference for Family Violence Researchers, Durham, NC, 1984; and Kelso, D. and L. Personette, Domestic Violence and Treatment Services for Victims and Abusers, Anchorage: Altam, 1985.

31. Daniel O'Leary's studies comparing single-sex group and couples-group interventions were unable to retain couples when the batterer had a history of severe violence. Rosenbaum, A. and K. D. O'Leary, "The Treatment of Marital Violence," in Clinical Handbook of Marital Therapy, ed. N.S. Jacobsen and A.S. Gurman, New York: Guilford, 1986. Gondolf studied 12 men who had been through a men's group program and were deemed to be fully reformed (versus 38 who were not). Several of these highly motivated men had sought professional help before coming to the batterer program but they had found no improvement after individual or couples therapy. According to their self-reports, the batterer group they subsequently attended gave them what they needed to stop battering. Gondolf and Hanneken, "The Gender Warrior."

32. Edelson, J. L. and M. Syers, "Relative Effectiveness of Group Treatments for Men Who Batter," Social Work Research and Abstracts, (June 1990): 10-17.

33. According to social learning theory, a retaliatory attack should decrease future abuse. However, two national surveys found that when women resist violently, the batterer's violence usually increases in severity. This result is consistent with the feminist view that the intent of physical abuse is to punish resistance and disobedience. Bowker, L., Ending the Violence: A Guidebook Based on the Experience of 1,000 Battered Wives, Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications, 1986; Feld, S. L. and M.A. Straus, "Escalation and Desistance From Wife Assault in Marriage," in Physical Violence in American Families, ed. M.A. Straus, and R.J. Gelles, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1990: 489-505.

34. Edelson and Syers, "Relative Effectiveness of Group Treatments for Men Who Batter." This article reports an experiment in which all comers to a program were assigned to a brief or intense intervention and to one of three models: the Duluth "educational" model, a self-help group, and a combined group process-educational model. The results showed no difference between the brief and intense programs, except for the few men of color who were less likely to recidivate if they completed the long program; the structured feminist educational model was found to be most effective.

35. Gondolf, E., "Multi-Site Evaluation of Batterer Intervention Systems: A Summary of Preliminary Findings," Working Paper, Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute, October 24, 1996.


Key Points

o Most interventions employ a mixture of theories in their curriculums, the most common of which is a psychoeducational model that encourages profeminist attitude change while building interpersonal skills using cognitive-behavioral techniques.

o Three categories of theories of domestic violence dominate the field. Each locates the cause of domestic violence differently, and each theory leads practitioners to employ different approaches to batterer intervention:

-- Society and Culture. Social and cultural theories attribute the problem to social structure and cultural norms and values that endorse or tolerate the use of violence by men against women partners. The feminist model of intervention educates men concerning the impact of these social and cultural norms and attempts to resocialize them emphasizing nonviolence and equality in relationships.

-- The Family. Family-based theories of domestic violence focus on the structure of the family, interpersonal interactions within the family, and the social isolation of families. The family systems model of intervention focuses on developing healthy communication skills with a goal of family preservation and may use couples therapy, a treatment approach prohibited by 20 State standards and -- guidelines regulating batterer intervention (to protect the safety of the victim).

-- The Individual. Psychological theories attribute domestic violence to personality disorders, the batterer's social environment during childhood, biological disposition, or attachment disorders. Psychotherapeutic interventions target individual problems and/or build cognitive skills to help the batterer control violent behaviors.

o Both feminist educational and cognitive- behavioral interventions can be compatible with the goals of the criminal justice system -- protecting the victim as well as rehabilitating the offender. However, feminist educational programs offer some advantages. By contrast, family systems interventions conflict with criminal justice goals by failing to identify a victim and a perpetrator, an identification the law requires.


The Language of Batterer Intervention

The shift in providers of help to batterers and their partners from psychotherapists to feminist social activists to professional mental health providers has created tensions in the field that are exhibited in the language of batterer interventions. Criminal justice professionals need to be aware of the connotations of various terms so that they can communicate effectively with service providers.

For example, the term "domestic violence" itself has a gender-neutral connotation. A number of feminists, seeing a link with other violence against women and noting the severity of injuries inflicted on women by male partners, prefer such terms as "wife abuse" and "woman abuse."2 Programs based on feminist theories of battering are often described as "profeminist," indicating male support for feminist goals. Mental health professionals may talk about "counselors" or "therapists" providing "treatment" to "clients," while profeminist "facilitators" or "teachers" provide an "intervention" to "batterers" using a didactic format described as "classes." Feminist- based programs object especially to the word "treatment" and may not consider rehabilitation the program's primary goal, as Red Crowley of Atlanta's Men Stopping Violence program explains:

Let's start with the word treatment. We do not see our work as therapy. Battering is the natural outgrowth of patriarchal values. We want to change those values. Batterers' intervention classes serve a number of purposes: they, like shelters, make visible what has been systematically concealed, that is, the horrendous problem of violence against women; create an opportunity to engage the community and the criminal justice system in the effort to stop the violence; and contribute to research. Giving men who want to change the opportunity to do so is just one purpose of the intervention.

The three most widely used intervention approaches -- "educational" or "psychoeducational classes," "couples therapy," and "group process" -- are each associated with a theory of the cause of domestic violence. Thus, "educational programs" are most often based on feminist theory; "couples therapy" may suggest a link with family systems theory; and "group process" programs base their work on either psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral theories. Some practitioners -- especially those with eclectic programming -- may use terms interchangeably; others harbor strong objections to mislabeling their approach and consider some terms to have great symbolic meaning. Criminal justice professionals need to be sensitive to the language used by intervention providers and to ask practitioners to explain the importance of unfamiliar terminology.


Attachment Abuse

A small number of practitioners base batterer interventions on psychological theories of attachment, affect, and individuation. These interventions consider battering to be "attachment abuse" -- that is, abusive behaviors toward intimates arising from the individual's insecure attachment to his or her caregivers as a child. Attachment theory describes two broad categories of attachment relationships: secure attachments that result from the caregiver's responsiveness to the child's emotional and physical needs, and a range of insecure attachment patterns that may develop if a child's emotional and physical needs are not met by caregivers. Insecure attachments in childhood may lead, in adult relationships, to emotional distress, anxiety, anger, depression, and emotional detachment when the specter of loss or separation arises in an intimate relationship. These feelings may lead to attachment abuse.

Batterer interventions based on theories of attachment, such as the Compassion Workshop (see chapter 4), seek to enhance the batterers' ability to regulate their own emotions and to stimulate a sense of "compassion" for both themselves and their intimates (partners, children, and elders) using cognitive behavior techniques that are designed to interrupt the batterers' violent emotional response to guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment.


Controversial Approaches to Batterer Intervention

The following approaches, although commonly used, are controversial. Criminal justice professionals referring batterers to programs that feature these techniques must be careful to learn how these approaches are being integrated into the programs and be wary of programs using these methods as their primary intervention.

Anger Management

While some researchers have suggested that a small percentage of battering may be attributable to a psychological disorder involving uncontrollable rage,[25] the "anger management" model attributes battering to out-of-control (rather than uncontrollable) anger. Anger management programs offer a short-term intervention that teaches batterers to recognize the physiological signs of anger and to then implement relaxation techniques to defuse the anger.[26] The intervention may also teach stress management and communication skills.[27] Many batterer treatment providers disavow the single-focus "anger management" treatment, instead incorporating anger management as one component of their intervention, sometimes under another name.

Critics have raised several concerns about the anger management approach -- even as a component of more comprehensive treatment:

o Anger management programs address a single cause of battering, ignoring other, perhaps -- more profound, causes.[28]

o According to the feminist model, although they may claim to feel out of control, batterers -- are not out of control: battering is a decision, a choice. The social learning model adds that -- batterers choose to use or threaten violence because of its effectiveness in controlling their -- partners. The violence persists because it is rewarded.

o Anger management programs teach batterers nonviolent ways to control their partners. If -- the underlying issue of batterer control of the victim is not addressed, critics maintain, men-- will misuse the techniques used to "control" anger -- stress management and communication skills -- to continue to control the victim. For example, a batterer could refuse his -- childcare responsibilities on the grounds that it is stressful.

o According to "misattribution of arousal" theory, men learn to label all strong emotional states -- as anger when they are, in fact, experiencing feelings of betrayal or hurt.

o Interventions therefore need to focus on identifying the underlying emotion men are feeling -- in situations in which they batter rather than on means of controlling the mislabeled anger.[29]

o Two studies of anger management interventions that were parts of comprehensive batterer treatment programs found that men who completed the programs but whose violence continued reported that they had used anger management techniques to attempt to control their violence, whereas men who were successful in avoiding violence after the program said they ended their abuse through empathy, a redefinition of manhood, and cooperative decisionmaking.[30]

Finally, some practitioners are concerned that any short-term, single-focus approach can be dangerous because it gives victims, judges, and batterers the illusion that the problem has been solved. Some practitioners feel that the availability of brief, inexpensive anger management programs even undermines the credibility of the more difficult, lengthy, and expensive treatments other programs provide. One-time "Saturday Afternoon Special"- style anger management programs arouse particular concern among practitioners who feel that such short-term programs trivialize the severity of the problem in the eyes of the batterer and are unlikely to have any deterrent effect.

Individual and Couples Counseling

Many practitioners disapprove of -- and at least 20 State standards and guidelines expressly prohibit -- couples counseling for batterers. In addition, a number of program directors disapprove of individual counseling as the sole intervention for battering. Group work is considered important in helping abusers to overcome their denial by hearing other men acknowledge and deal with their behavior, and to break the isolation that is considered part of the syndrome of abuse.

Although systematic research comparing couples and group interventions has not been conducted,[31] anecdotal evidence and the beliefs of providers (many of whom serve on committees to draft or approve State standards or guidelines) have limited the utilization of couples therapy for domestic violence. The practitioners' disapproval is based on a belief that victims of abuse are intimidated and cannot fully participate in therapy in the presence of their abusers. If victims do reveal the batterer's violence or disclose other problems, they face the threat of reprisal. Restrictions on couples therapy and individual psychotherapy for battering are a point of contention between feminist-oriented batterer intervention providers and mental health providers in many communities.

Self-Help Groups: Batterers Anonymous

Self-help batterer groups are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and Parents Anonymous. Member-run support groups are facilitated by former batterers who have been nonviolent for at least a year.[32] Although there are some ground rules and facilitators may introduce specific topics, the approach is unstructured, with members setting the agenda, usually addressing their personal concerns.

Self-help or support groups are an accepted model of follow-up for batterers who have completed a program and want continued support to prevent relapse, to continue the change process, or to have a place to address ongoing problems. Self- help groups are controversial as an initial intervention, however, because it is questionable whether former batterers -- especially those who have been nonviolent for only a year -- are qualified to conduct groups, unless they have been extensively involved with a program, have been trained, and are supervised. In addition, facilitators tend to use an aggressive, even belligerent, style of confrontation that more traditional programs view as inappropriate modeling of antagonistic behavior that borders on abuse. By contrast, other professionals are concerned that support groups run by former batterers may be insufficiently confrontational about members' excuses for violence and too supportive of batterers' hostility toward women.

Batterer Intervention- Program Approaches and Criminal Justice Strategies 
Chapter 3