Treating Female Perpetrators: State Standards for Batterer Intervention Services

By Kernsmith, Poco; Kernsmith, Roger | Social Work, October 2009 | Go to article overview
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Treating Female Perpetrators: State Standards for Batterer Intervention Services

Kernsmith, Poco, Kernsmith, Roger, Social Work

In the past 20 years, domestic violence has received increased attention from policymakers across the United States. Local laws have been strengthened, and legal policies have been enforced more consistently (Martin, 1994). Among the changes has been an attempt to standardize and supervise the operation of batterer intervention services. Most states have developed standards for the treatment of court-mandated and voluntary clients of batterer intervention services by looking to research-based, theoretical, and philosophical perspectives to develop the most effective services possible (Maiuro, Hagar, Lin, & Olson, 2001). However, few states have identified appropriate services for women who have been physically aggressive in relationships.

The goal of this study was to examine the existing standards guiding batterer intervention services and make recommendations for further policy change. The research consists of a qualitative content analysis. The research questions included the following: What are the core components of batterer intervention service standards? To what extent do service standards address services for women? To what extent do standards address the differential needs of men and women?


Identifying appropriate services for female batterers is important in part because of changing police policies and procedures, including mandatory and dual arrests. Prior to the implementation of mandatory arrest, and proarrest, and mandatory prosecution, the legal system did little to enforce laws prohibiting assaultive behavior against an intimate partner (Martin, 1994). Domestic crimes were less likely to be prosecuted than were similar crimes against strangers, and sentences were much more lenient. Police departments generally attempted to mediate situations or send one partner away for a short period of time to "cool off" (Stalans & Finn, 1995). Mandatory and proarrest policies were developed to encourage, if not require, officers to make an arrest if there is reasonable cause to believe that domestic violence has occurred. Furthermore, mandatory prosecution policies require that these cases be prosecuted when the evidence is sufficient, even if the victim chooses not to participate in the prosecution.

The proarrest changes have led to dramatically increasing arrest rates for women in the past decade (Martin, 1997). One factor driving increased arrest rates for women is dual arrest, which refers to the practice of arresting both parties in a domestic violence incident at the same time (Martin, 1997). Because it is often difficult to assess who is the actual perpetrator (Mignon & Holmes, 1995), police opt to leave that decision to the courts by arresting both parties. States report that dual arrests have accounted for between 11 percent and 50 percent of domestic violence arrests since the implementation of mandatory arrest (Martin, 1997).

Men arrested in a dual arrest are significantly different from dually arrested women. Martin (1997) found that such men were significantly less likely to have been a domestic violence victim in the past two years (40 percent for women compared with 0 percent for men). These men were also more likely to have a history of domestic violence arrests than were the women (41 percent and 19 percent, respectively). In comparison, among men arrested in single-arrest situations, only 2 percent had a history of victimization, and 49 percent had a history of prior arrests. These findings may indicate that the contexts and motivations of women arrested for domestic violence are different from those of men arrested for the same crime. Therefore, the needs of women in batterer intervention services may be different from those of men.

Two years following the implementation of mandatory arrest policies, arrest rates for men had doubled, but arrest rates for women were 10 times higher than they had been prior to implementation (Hamberger & Arnold, 1990).

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Treating Female Perpetrators: State Standards for Batterer Intervention Services


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