A Brief History of Batterer Intervention

Domestic violence is probably as old as the human race. For much of human history, male violence against their partners was not only tolerated but sometimes even encouraged.

In the 1960s and 70s the women’s movement focused attention on the lack of resources available to battered women. They also identified the lack of sanctions against men who raped or battered their female partners as the most dramatic example of how women rights were violated in our society.

Organizations such as the YWCA in Grand Rapids and the Center for Women in Transition in Holland, Michigan began providing information, counseling, and housing for battered women.

Programs for Abusive Men

Intervention with male batterers developed as part of this larger movement addressing the rights and needs of battered women.

In 1977, eight men who were friends of women’s activists in the Boston area came together to form a men’s collective called Emerge. They began to provide services to batterers. Their creation of services for batterers responded to the frustration of shelter workers who noted that women were being beaten when they returned home, and to the observation that some men were moving from one violent relationship to another.

Emerge became one of the first organizations to offer group treatment for men who batter. The growth of services for batterers rapidly followed its establishment.

In 1981, a group of individuals in Duluth, Minnesota including Ellen Pense and Michael Paymar became increasingly concerned with the increases in domestic violence and the recidivism among perpetrators. They established the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. They created a curriculum called the Duluth Model which has become the most commonly used approach to working with batterers. The primary mission is to promote safety for victims and accountability for batterers. The program includes eight modules on subjects such as accountability, respect, healthy sexuality, and honesty. Typically, in Duluth Model programs, men are required to attend 26 weekly group sessions; however, 40 and 52 week programs are becoming increasingly common.

During the same period that batterer programs were being established, the dramatic awareness of domestic disputes lead some practitioners to develop family treatment models resulted including couples counseling with men who abused their partners. The use of these models for intervention with batterers has created a great deal of controversy, primarily out of fear that they may put the victim at risk. As a result, family and couple treatment interventions constitute a small minority of interventions.

Court Referred Group Treatment

Since the mid 90s many criminal justice systems began to change their response to battering. Police began to arrest men who abuses in increasing numbers. In the State of Michigan and in many other parts of the country, police are mandated to make an arrest if there is a clear indication that a man has physically abused his partner.

Currently, a large number of batterers appearing in court are mandated to batterer treatment. In this context, batterers intervention is one component of a coordinated community response to battering, which includes the probation sanctions for men who do not attend groups as required criminal justice system response as well as services for battered women and their children. Community intervention projects (CIP) seek to coordinate the response of these systems to provide sanctions for men s violent behavior and to coordinate needed services for victims and their families.

Effectiveness of Batterer Intervention Programs

Most batterer intervention programs are quite effective. Although court-referred clients are often initially resistant, most are willing to take responsibility for their behavior. They adopt tools to avoid further abuse and work to create more egalitarian relationships. In a study with 58th District Court a few years ago, I found that less than 10% of those who completed recidivated.