Rethinking Domestic Violence: The Social Work and Probation Response

By Audrey Mullender | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

The men who abuse

What kind of intervention in groups?

Thus far, this book has clearly established men’s responsibility for the grave and protracted abuse of large numbers of women in all sectors of society and throughout the world. It has also shown how this abuse causes untold suffering to the children who live with it and is often linked with direct child abuse. Given that we know this enormous harm is being perpetrated by men, it seems an indictment that, in the past, there has been so little concern or direct intervention focused on violent men. Now, this is beginning to alter. The $64,000 question is being asked in Britain: can anything effective be done to help, persuade or require these men to change their unacceptable behaviours and attitudes?

There are practical as well as ethical reasons for seeking such solutions. The criminal justice system is arresting and prosecuting increasing numbers of abusive men (though still only a tiny proportion of those who constitute the problem), in line with the decision to regard domestic violence as a crime like any other (see, for example, Home Department et al., 1993, Cm 2269, para. 76 and Chapter 1, this volume), and consequently a greater range of disposals is needed to deal with them. Courts welcome more constructive sentencing options and, as a bonus, may learn more about domestic abuse through utilising them (Smith, 1989, p.70). Women may be more inclined to pursue incidents through the criminal justice system if they believe this will lead to treatment for their abusers (ibid., citing Canadian sources: Sinclair, 1985 and MacLeod, 1987). Probation officers in England and Wales, social workers in Scotland, workers in men’s projects throughout the UK, and academic observers (Dominelli et al. 1995) also feel that something should be done about men who abuse and reabuse in the same or sequential relationships. As a result, practitioners are increasingly establishing groups and projects to which abusers can be sent by professional colleagues, by the courts, and/or by their own volition. Government backing has been given to a continuation and cautious increase of probation and related work with perpetrators, and to work with abusers in prisons (Home Department et al., 1993, Cm 2269, paras 71 and 76-7, though see below for a discussion of problems with the model suggested).

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