“But she's violent, too!”: Holding domestic violence offenders accountable within a systemic approach to batterer intervention

Date13 July 2012
Published date13 July 2012
AuthorJohn Hamel
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Sociology
‘‘But she’s violent, too!’’: Holding domestic
violence offenders accountable within a
systemic approach to batterer intervention
John Hamel
Purpose – Holding domestic violence perpetrators accountable for their abusive behavior is the
number one objective of batterer intervention programs (BIPs), typically consisting of same-sex
psychoeducational counseling groups. However,such programs have been found to be only marginally
successful in reducing recidivism rates. To be more effective, programs need to take into account the
complexities of intimate partner violence. The purpose of this article is to offer clinicians working in
the field of partner violence suggestions to help them enlist client cooperation and teach responsibility
while taking into account the prevalence of mutual abuse dynamics.
Design/methodology/approach – The article draws on findings from the research literature as well as
the author’s 20 years of clinical experience conducting domestic violence offender treatment groups for
both men and women.
Findings – Among individuals court-mandated to batterer intervention, many are involved in
mutually-abusive relationships. Emerging literature indicates that some are also primarily victims. This
poses a dilemma for batterer intervention group facilitators, who must work within a legal framework in
which individuals are deemed to be either perpetrators or victims.
Practical implications Implications of this article for partner violence policy and practice include a
need for more flexible, evidence-based laws on partner violence.
Originality/value – There are few practice articles on workingwith the various forms of abuse dynamics
within a clinical setting, and this is the first that is focused on group treatment. The article should be of
value to clinicians working directly with domestic violence perpetrators and victims, as well as to the
policy makers who conceptualize, create and fund these programs.
Keywords Mutual abuse, Systemic perspective, Evidence-based practice,
Batterer intervention programs, Abuse cycles, Domestic violence, Individual behaviour
Paper type Viewpoint
With the advent of dominant aggressor laws, mutual arrests in intimate partner violence have
become increasingly rare, and in the overwhelming number of cases only one partner is
compelled to work on their abuse. So what does a batterer intervention group leader, or
facilitator,do withan adjudicateddomestic violence offender who presentsas either a victim
or a co-perpetrator involved in a mutually abusive relationship? Research finds that a strong
facilitator-client alliance increases program completion and reduces rates of recidivism,
and suggests that confrontations based on fixed, ideological beliefs are counter-productive
(Eckhardt et al., 2006; Murphy and Ting, 2010). On the other hand, the primary goal of all
facilitators is to hold their clients accountable for their actions and help them stop their
violence. How, then, does a provider know if a client is telling the truth, and how does he or
she help a client with legitimate mutual abuse issues within the format of typical batterer
intervention group?
Clinicians working with partner violence perpetrators can start by making themselves
familiar with the research evidence, which, notwithstanding the tendency of offenders to
minimize their violence, tells us that a large percentage of intimate partner abuse, even
PAGE 124
VOL.4 NO. 3 2012, pp.124-135, QEmerald Group Publishing Limit ed, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/17596 591211244139
John Hamel is in private
practice in San Rafael,
California, USA.
The brief case studies
presented in this article are
fictitious and/or composites,
and the identities of actual
persons have been disguised.

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