Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Stopping Violence Programmes: Enhancing the Safety of Battered Women or Producing Better-Educated Batterers?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Stopping Violence Programmes: Enhancing the Safety of Battered Women or Producing Better-Educated Batterers?

Article excerpt

Group programmes to help men who batter adopt non-violent ways of relating to women partners have proliferated in recent years, especially with the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, 1995. Such programmes are often seen as the answer to domestic violence. It is appropriate, therefore, to review the literature examining the effectiveness of such programmes. The literature reviewed here reveals a range of methodological and other problems. These include poor programme specification (it is often difficult to tell exactly what was evaluated); wide variation in definitions of "success"; over-reliance on self-report data; short followup periods; and a common failure to distinguish programme effects from other factors in participants' lives (such as separation arrest or prosecution). It is argued that these kinds of problems mean that many evaluations have, over estimated effectiveness. There seems to be, limited grounds for optimism that programmes of themselves will significantly benefit battered women. On the other hand, the literature does reveal a growing consensus about the useful role that treatment programmes for batterers may play as part of a wider intervention.

In 1974, the first women's refuge was established in New Zealand (Glover and Sutton, 1991). For the next decade and more, efforts to end battering focused on battered women. In more recent years, the focus has moved somewhat to the batterer. The police introduced a pro-arrest policy for batterers. Various groups throughout the country have established stopping violence or anger management programmes. Increasingly, the courts have been prepared to make referrals to such programmes. Indeed, under the Domestic Violence Act 1995, referrals are now routine when a protection order has been made (section 32). Moreover, since the 1995 Amendment to the Guardianship Act introduced a rebuttable presumption against a violent parent having the custody of or unsupervised access to a child, completion of a stopping violence programme has sometimes been used to support applications for custody and access (Busch & Robertson, 1997)

It is timely, therefore, to reflect on what is known about batterer treatment programmes. How effective are they in promoting the safety of battered women and their children? The answer is far from clear. While evaluations have become increasingly sophisticated, the debate about the efficacy of treatment programmes is far from resolved. Underlying this debate are conflicting assumptions about the nature of battering and preferred interventions; differing stances on what constitutes "success" and how it should be measured; and significant methodological problems. In this article, I discuss these issues and outline a preferred role for treatment programmes. In doing so, I will draw on both the research literature and my own experiences as a facilitator of stopping violence programmes for over 10 years.

The Problem

One thing is clear: changing the behaviour of batterers is difficult. For one, batterers are rarely self-motivated to change (American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, 1996). They typically receive immediate positive reinforcement for their use of violence (e.g. compliance, chores done, availability of partner for sex), while negative consequences are rare, and when they do occur, usually occur well after the battering (Myers, 1995). Through this use of violence, batterers typically succeed in controlling their partners and no-one has intervened to require them to stop (Lerman, 1992). There are powerful cultural values and beliefs which support men's privileged positions within their families and which condone their use of violence (Russell, 1988). Batterers may explicitly invoke these values and beliefs (e.g. "A man's home is his castle") to legitimate their position (Adams, Towns, & Gavey, 1995) There is a continuity between their personal reality and what Adams (n. …

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