Men Who Batter: Recent History and Research

Article excerpt

In 1988 Violence and Victims published a special issue on wife assaulters (Sonkin & Dutton, 1988). Included were a review of abuser types, a study of alcoholic and nonalcoholic batterers, and a comparison of batterers and nonviolent men. Many more studies have been conducted on men who batter since that time. Indeed, research on husband violence has proliferated in the past 10 years. To capture some of the developments in the field, it seemed appropriate to publish another special issue on wife assaulters at this time. By including reports of a variety of studies, this special issue highlights recent substantive and methodological advances in the field. Interestingly, in some ways these studies are quite similar, at least in content, to those published in the 1988 special issue. For example, this issue includes a typology study, studies comparing batterers to nonviolent men, as well as comparing different types of batterers (e.g., community vs. treatment samples rather than alcoholic vs. nonalcoholic samples). Similarly, the studies in this issue, as with those published in 1988, continue to focus primarily on proximal processes at the individual level (e.g., psychological problems, anger, severity of violence), and continue to reflect some of the unresolved issues in the field (e.g., how to measure severity of violence). On the other hand, the studies in this special issue differ from the previous set of papers in ways that reflect important developments in this field. For example, longitudinal research is well represented and most of these studies are theoretically based. As our understanding of husband violence has increased, so has our ability to test theoretical models using increasingly sophisticated methods. The studies here have implications for our theoretical understanding of domestic violence and they have practical implications as well, for example by improving our ability to predict severe violence.


As in many previous studies of men who batter, the studies in this issue focus on personality traits, anger, and the prediction of violent behavior. Personality traits, as measured with the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory, were important factors in three papers. In one (Hamberger et al.), particular personality disorders were associated with violence outside of the home, in a manner consistent with previous research. In another, (Saunders), personality traits interacted significantly with treatment type in predicting treatment success. In a third paper (Jacobson et al.), and contrary to previous studies, researchers were unable by looking at personality traits to predict a decrease in the amount of violence. However, personality variables were related to other important variables, such as the likelihood of divorce. While personality traits continue to provide important information about batterer behavior, more theoretical work, explaining the link between personality and violence, is required. In addition, as one study (Saunders) indicates, the field needs to consider the relevance of personality in the treatment of battering.

Anger and potentially related variables (e.g., hostility, self-perceived ability to control violence) were an important subject in several of the studies and were central in one of them. Anger specifically directed at the spouse was related more strongly to violence than general anger (Boyle & Vivian), but in another study, general anger was related to personality disorders and frequency of violence (Hamberger et al.). Tolman and colleagues showed how self-perceived inability to control violence was also a significant predictor of violence. In another study, a propensity to respond with hostility characterized a community sample of abusers more than abusers in treatment and nonabusers (Holtzworth-Munroe & Smutzler), while violent men entering treatment reported anger more than the other samples in response to a wife's positive statements. …