Applying the Transtheoretical Model to Female and Male Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Violence: Gender Differences in Stages and Processes of Change

By Babcock, Julia C.; Canady, Brittany E. et al. | Violence and Victims, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Applying the Transtheoretical Model to Female and Male Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Violence: Gender Differences in Stages and Processes of Change


Babcock, Julia C., Canady, Brittany E., Senior, Ashley, Eckhardt, Christopher I., Violence and Victims


The Transtheoretical Model has been recently applied to men seeking services at battering intervention and prevention programs (Eckhardt, Babcock, & Homack, 2004; Murphy & Baxter, 1997). This study considers whether women arrested for intimate partner violence differ from male perpetrators in terms of stages of change and processes of change. No gender differences were found regarding stage of change. In general, all individuals presenting for treatment were in the early stages of change. The use of various processes of change was strongly related to stage of change, with individuals in the more advanced stages of change using more behavioral and experiential strategies to become nonviolent. However, except for the use of social liberation strategies, there were no gender differences in the use of the various processes. These findings suggest that the Transtheoretical Model may apply to female perpetrators equally as well as to male perpetrators. Intervention programs designed for male batterers using the Transtheoretical Model may also be helpful in the treatment of women arrested for domestic violence.

Keywords: domestic violence; battering; interventions; female perpetrators; abusive women

Because women are the victims in the vast majority of criminal cases involving intimate partner violence and intimate homicides, the Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that "intimate violence is primarily a crime against women" (National Crime Victimization Survey Summary, 1999). On the other hand, national surveys based on frequency counts of physically aggressive acts find that men and women's rates of perpetration of intimate partner abuse are roughly equal (Straus, 1999). The discrepancy arises because few female-to-male assaults come to the attention of the authorities. Four comprehensive reviews of the literature (Archer, 2000; George, 1994; Macchieto, 1992; Straus, 1993) have concluded that women use violence as frequently as men in intimate relationships, but that men inflict more injury (Archer, 2000). Moreover, data indicate the rates of severe assaults by men toward women have decreased, while severe assaults by women toward men have stayed the same. A number of researchers (e.g., Berk, Berk, Loseke, & Rauma, 1983; Saunders, 1986) have suggested that women's aggression is primarily self-defensive or reactive in nature. However, the motivations of women arrested for intimate partner violence in some cases involve the desire to control or cause harm, especially among those women with a prior history of violence (Babcock, Miller, & Siard, 2003; Hamberger, Lohr, Bonge, & Tolin, 1997). Thus, while intimate partner violence remains primarily a crime against women, there is increasing awareness that women are also sometimes the perpetrators of intimate partner abuse.

When female-perpetrated abuse is reported, the appropriate legal action is sometimes unclear, especially in communities without mandatory arrest policies. In many communities, on the scene of a family violence call, police officers must establish probable cause and arrest the partner established to be the primary aggressor. Following the implementation of mandatory arrest policies, community studies have found that the number of women arrested for domestic violence increases 10- or 12-fold (Hamberger, 1997). These women may be referred to group treatment programs created for male perpetrators of intimate partner violence. However, practitioners comfortable in treating male batterers are not confident in their abilities to assess and treat women who use physical violence (Adams & Freeman, 2002). The Duluth Model is the unchallenged treatment of choice for most communities (Healey, Smith, & O'Sullivan, 1998). The Duluth Model asserts that the primary cause of men battering women is patriarchal ideology and the implicit or explicit societal sanctioning of men's use of power and control over women (Pence & Paymar, 1993). …

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