Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Outcome of Court-Mandated Treatment for Wife Assault: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Outcome of Court-Mandated Treatment for Wife Assault: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation

Article excerpt

This study represents an attempt to assess the effectiveness of court-mandated treatment for wife assault. A quasi-experimental design examined post-conviction recidivism rates for men convicted of wife assault. Fifty men who completed a 16-week treatment program had a 4% recidivism rate for a posttreatment period of up to 3 years. A comparable group who were not treated had a 40% recidivism rate in the same period. Hence, the "success" rate of treatment was 36% according to police records (Rosenthal, 1983). Straus Conflict Tactics Scale scores reported both by the treated men and their wives demonstrated significant posttreatment decreases from pretreatment levels. Treated husbands' average annual use of severe violence dropped from 10.6 to 1.7 times per year (p < 0.01). Eighty-four percent of wives reported no posttreatment violence. Rates of verbal aggression also dropped significantly from pretreatment levels. Comparison with CTS scores of a group of men who were arrested but not treated for wife assault (Jaffe, Wolfe, Telford, & Austin 1986) revealed significant decreases in the use of Physical Aggression subscale tactics (as reported by their wives) as a result of treatment. Interpretative difficulties with the quasi-experimental design used in this study are discussed and a randomized design with appropriate psychological assessment of subjects is recommended.

Treatment groups for wife assaulters originated from public pressure on the criminal justice system to respond more effectively to the problem of wife assault (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1978; Dutton, 1980; Standing Committee of Health, Welfare and Social Affairs, Canada, 1982). As Dutton (1980) pointed out, the hopes for such groups were twofold. First, the groups were seen as a means of improving protection for women who opted to remain in a relationship with a husband who would not seek treatment voluntarily. Second, by providing a viable sentencing option for judges, treatment groups could create a salutory "ripple effect" throughout the criminal justice system by making judges more willing to convict, prosecutors more willing to proceed with cases (where they perceived their chances of gaining a conviction as having improved), and police more willing to proceed with charges that they perceived as being actionable by prosecutors. Clearly, both of these hopes were based on the expectation that treatment groups would be effective. Furthermore, since incarceration for a first offense of wife assault is unlikely (Lerman, 1981; Dutton, 1986), treatment groups represent an addendum to probation that could provide convicted men with a means for managing anger (Novaco, 1975).

The last decade has seen a proliferation of court-mandated treatment groups for men convicted of wife assault. Browning (1984) and Eddy and Meyers (1984) provide descriptive profiles of 24 Canadian and 54 U.S. treatment programs for assaultive males. Both reviews oudine referral processes, treatment procedures, and funding issues for such programs, and agree on the need for an evaluation of treatment effectiveness.

Ganley (1981) and Sonkin, Martin, and Walker (1985), among others, have provided detailed rationales for such treatment programs. Essentially, the treatment has a "cognitive-behavior modification" basis (Meichenbaum, 1977; Novaco, 1975) and has as its main objective the decrease or elimination of the use of violence by the husband as a means of resolving conflict with his wife. A variety of sub-goals exist that includes (a) recognition of one's personal responsibility for the use of violence, (b) termination of externalizing causes of violence to one's wife and minimizing the destructive effects of one's violence, (c) improved ability to detect the warning signs of violence, such as increased arousal or anger, and (d) an expanded behavioral repertoire for dealing with conflict.

The hazard of treatment groups lies in their offering false hope. …

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