Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Prevention and Treatment

Close up of black eyeOctober is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and many websites will be featuring information about how victims can escape violent relationships, as well as tips as to how friends and family can help. Many abuse victims are simply unwilling to leave their relationships. Thus, advising them to leave is not necessarily an adequate intervention strategy. And the unfortunate reality is that even if an abuse victim leaves an abusive relationship, the abuser is likely to behave similarly in his or her next relationship.

Many programs are attempting to curb the cycle of abuse by intervening with at-risk children before they become abusers, working with men who have a history of abuse, and helping couples establish safety plans.

Preventing abuse early

While most of society looks at domestic violence as a men’s scourge, women can and do abuse men. In fact, some statistics indicate that women are slightly more likely to engage in low-level violence, such as slapping their partner or breaking things. However, men are significantly more likely to engage in extremely violent abuse, are much more likely to abuse multiple partners, and tend to engage in post-breakup stalking behavior more frequently than women do.

Most research indicates that hostility toward women stems from men’s strong desire for respect, insufficient coping skills, and a belief in traditional gender roles. Early intervention programs target boys to teach them alternatives to abuse. And while these programs can’t stop abuse entirely, they’re highly effective. Some common skills taught in such programs include basic empathy, dispelling sexist beliefs, self soothing, anger management, and relationship problem solving.

Batterer intervention programs

Batterer intervention programs work with people who have an established history of abuse. Although generally targeted at men, some programs cater to women. Unlike traditional anger management programs, these programs specifically target abusive behavior. Where anger management programs might encourage a batterer to talk about his feelings, intervention programs encourage batterers go a step further, emphasizing the lasting effects their abuse has on victims.

Many of these programs require a commitment from batterers to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and other habits that may fuel anger. Group members typically hold one another accountable for their actions, and typically must pledge to avoid violent behavior while in the program. Programs generally last for extended periods. For example, in Atlanta, Men Stopping Violence runs a 22-week intervention program during which batterers learn how to manage conflict, are taught to understand the effects of their abuse, and make amends with their victims.

Individual therapy

Individual therapy can be effective with people who have a history of abuse, provided the batterer admits to the abuse and the therapist is experienced in handling such cases. Therapists may help clients use calming strategies, or employ cognitive behavioral approaches to gradually modify the batterer’s behavior.

Ineffective strategies

Every case is unique, of course, and strategies that work with one person may not work with another. However, the following strategies and programs are generally ineffective in treating domestic violence:

  • Couples counseling: While relationship counseling may help after one partner has ceased abusing the other, as long as the abuse continues, couples counseling may in fact enable it. Abusers often blame victims for their abuse, and couples counseling often allows for a balanced exchange of thoughts and feelings. Couples interested in working on abusive behavior together should seek individual counseling first.
  • Traditional anger management: Traditional anger management classes are typically only one or two sessions. Participants may learn deep-breathing exercises and better ways to express emotions. However, because of the systemic and deeply ingrained nature of abuse, traditional anger management alone is unlikely to lessen abusive behavior.
  • Incarceration: While incarceration can keep victims safe and is an appropriate consequence for many abusers, it is unlikely to end the abuse long-term. In many cases, time spent in prison has been shown to make an abuser more inclined to abuse, not less.

References:

A policy statement on DV couples counseling. (n.d.). Faith Trust Institute. Retrieved from http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/resources/articles/Policy-Statement-on-DV-Couples-Counseling.pdf

Men’s education. (n.d.). Men Stopping Violence. Retrieved from http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/programs/mens-education

Why do abusers batter? (n.d.). The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved from http://www.acadv.org/abusers.html

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  • Chuck

    Chuck

    October 1st, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Tell me about it! “Many abuse victims are simply unwilling to leave their relationships. Thus, advising them to leave is not necessarily an adequate intervention strategy.” Mom, why don’t you leave him? Because I love him. (Fuck does it ever hurt to think how much pain she put us through by not leaving him)

  • ben

    ben

    October 1st, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    I agree that victims themselves being unwilling to walk out of abusive relationships is weird and can stump a lot of people because it goes against logic.but the victim may have difficulties leaving due to something deeper at a psychological level and the connection they have built with the abuser and the relationship that they share with the abuser.but one message I’d like to send out to ll those who continue to stay and suffer in an abusive relationship – if you do not try to protect yourself then nobody else can do much. please help yourself and more will come your way from all quarters.

  • Colleen

    Colleen

    October 1st, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    Those that indulge in domestic violence are nothing but cowards and are not cultured humans.A little bit of anger is something that nobody can get away from.But what you do in response to that anger is what matters and this is where domestic abusers lose the plot.They need to be made aware of the consequences of their actions and seeing as it is jail time may not help.In fact,their punishment should be to learn about the effects of domestic violence,an exam where they prove their learning and also some practical ‘classes’ for them.

  • lila

    lila

    October 2nd, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    If incarceration is so ineffective, then how, in all this time, have we not created a system that does work better? How could we have gone all this time and still be using supposed treatments that don’t work?

  • Paulo

    Paulo

    October 2nd, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    It is not so easy to walk away when this is the only life you know.

  • Frances Cobb

    Frances Cobb

    October 3rd, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Intervention doesn’t do anything for someone who is not ultimately ready to change. You can say all you want, do all you want, but if they aren’t ready to take that next step, then it is all pointless.
    I kind of have that same feeling when it comes to battered women. If they aren’t ready to make that move and get out of the relationship, then no matter what the rest of us do, it will not fix the situation.
    I do not mean to be cynical, because clearly this is a problem that needs to be addressed, and having this type of awareness promotion can be seen as nothing but good, but we just have to keep in mind that when we are on the outside looking in, there could be a whole lot of factores that need to be taken into account than the ones that we normally think about. relationships are complicated and no matter how hurtful or harmful they can be it can still be hard to walk away.

  • Blakely

    Blakely

    October 4th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    Is there truly a consensus that couples counseling is bad for abusive couples to engage in? It helped me and my husband. Granted we were not having problems with abuse but we were having other issues and that helped us work out our kinks and make another go at it.

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