The following framework, arising from the battered women’s movement and supported by research, informs BWJP’s approach to understanding and working with offenders to hold them accountable for their violence.

Key Understandings about Battering

  1. The choice to use violence and tactics of coercive control (battering) against an intimate partner is purposeful, serves the function of maintaining dominance in the relationship, and is grounded in beliefs of entitlement. 1
  2. Social norms that reflect male dominance and historical gender roles embedded in the culture of the abuser reinforce battering behavior.2

Context is Everything

Responding effectively to stop intimate partner violence (IPV) requires obtaining enough information to understand the context of the violence, the intent of the violence, and the impact and meaning of the violence to the victim. Research has identified four common contexts for intimate partner violence:3

  • Battering, defined as the use of physical and/or sexual violence accompanied by a pattern of coercive control (using or threatening…negative consequences for non-compliance). This offense often comes to the attention of the criminal justice system and is mostly committed by males.4 The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program’s Power and Control Wheels describe these dynamics.
  • Use of violence in response to, or to resist, a pattern of ongoing violence. This resistance may be in self-defense (legal) or in retaliation for the ongoing violence (illegal). Most women who use violence against their male partners are resisting a pattern of ongoing violence and need a program that addresses their specific situation. These programs are slowly becoming more widespread. Many communities misidentify these women and send them to batterer programs for women, which puts them at greater risk from their abusive partners. Some women are predominant aggressors in their intimate relationships with men. Although the comparative numbers are small, they also need program intervention.
  • Use of violence absent a pattern of coercive control. This is the most common type of intimate partner violence, almost as often initiated by women as men. Incidents of violence in these couples may be an anomaly or rare; while in a relatively small number of cases, it may be a chronic problem, though less frequent in occurrence than in battering. Research suggests that men engage in more frequent violence than women, and female partners are far more likely to be physically injured, to fear for their safety, and to experience negative psychological consequences of the violence. While severe violence occurs at a lower rate in this context than in battering, serious injuries do result, especially for women.5
  • Use of violence stemming from an organic physical or mental condition. This is not common, but may occur. For instance, when a veteran with significant PTSD symptoms abuses his partner, screening and assessment is necessary to determine if PTSD played a role in the abuse. Learn more by visiting BWJP’s Resource Center.

While not all cases are equally dangerous, violence used in any of these contexts may be lethal.

Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Offender Accountability

The CCR model places a primary focus on the safety and autonomy of victims, while holding offenders accountable, and creating a climate of deterrence for further violence.

Implementing effective offender accountability policies and practices within each part the criminal justice response is a strategy to increase victim safety. Criminal justice institutions have been tasked with implementing policies and practices that enhance their ability to hold offenders accountable, while accounting for risk and danger. Learn more about system coordination.

Law Enforcement

Ensuring a response that holds offenders accountable requires:

  • Asking the right questions to determine the context of violence. Learning to identify the context of the violence provides the basis for making accurate self-defense and predominant aggressor determinations. Effective application of history and context of violence to arrest decisions can prevent victims of ongoing abuse from being inappropriately arrested.
  • Documenting the information clearly in their report so that other practitioners who rely on these reports can also respond appropriately and effectively to that case.
  • Identifying behaviors that indicate increased or escalating risk to the victim and applying that information to the intervention. For example: research has shown that offenders who flee the scene are more dangerous and more likely to reoffend than those who remain on the scene.6 A policy that directs the officers to follow up aggressively to find those offenders attends to offender accountability as well as victim safety.

Probation

Probation agencies must develop interagency policies, procedures, skills, and understandings to manage their ability to be trustworthy allies of victims, while maintaining their role to hold offenders accountable to the conditions of their release.

Promising practices in specialized corrections responses include:
  • Recognizing that many justice-involved women have been domestic violence victims and building that knowledge into how they are supervised as offenders.
  • Encouraging probation to develop more effective responses to victims of violence by building a trauma-informed victim-interviewing process that is linked to community advocacy resources.
  • Exploring group-based probation responses to domestic offenders as a way to target scarce resources and manage the most dangerous offenders more effectively.
  • Devoting resources to maintain partner contact and ensuring that victim’s voices and concerns are built into managing offenders through conditions of pre-trial release, supervision, sentencing, and any situation where an offender is has an opportunity to continue control over family members.
  • Learn more about Probation

Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP)

Offenders are most often court-mandated to attend a BIP through a misdemeanor conviction for assault. Some referrals to BIPs come via a protection order through the family court. Offenders typically attend weekly 1.5 hour open-ended group sessions for between 12 to 56 weeks (depending on the statutes of individual states). Generally BIPs utilize a cognitive behavioral group process led by one or two facilitators.

BIP curricula cover topics such as: the power and control wheel, the difference between anger and violence, how men learn to be violent, how to take a “time out” and some “communication skills.” Some programs also teach mental health concepts; others examine issues of entitlement and learning to value equality and non-violence.

If participants fail to comply with the BIP contract they are referred back to court and may face sanctions, including jail. Failing to complete the program can be a good indication to the victim that their partner is not receptive to change. Many BIPs have a relationship with a victim services program that will contact the victim, offer information and support, and assist the victim with risk assessment and safety planning.

There are major differences across jurisdictions in the consistency of the institutional response to sanction participants who fail to attend or who reoffend while attending the program. Failing to impose consequences for behavior that is criminal, including the violation of court and probation conditions, reinforces batterers’ belief that they can use violence with impunity. These key forms of accountability must be in place to maximize victim safety.

The degree to which these BIPs are connected to their coordinated community response, and how that CCR operates and shares information is a measure of how effective offender intervention is in each community. This information-sharing can save lives when monitoring high-risk offenders, and the BIP’s ability to monitor offender risk effectively over time is an important role, especially when they work closely with their partner agencies.

Most BIPs use models based on research on heterosexual IPV. There are a significant number of LGBTQ men, women and gender-nonconforming people ill-served by these programs. Mainstream programs may have little consideration for the different experience of this community, and the generally poor response from the criminal justice system. Resources to assist in developing appropriate responses are available from the NCAVP network.

Research Controversies about Batterer’s Intervention

There is disagreement among researchers about the effectiveness of BIPs. This disagreement relates to the methodology used to measure success and whether BIPs effectiveness are considered on their own or as part of a wider intervention (CCR).

Researcher Dr. Edward Gondolf conducted a five-year multi-site research project that showed a significant success effect for BIPs when they were part of an effective CCR, and victim interviews showed that 80% felt significantly safer as a result of BIP participation. The BISC-MI Aquila Site has a range of useful reading on these topics. Dr. Gondolf outlines his concerns about this in his latest book, The Future of Batterer Programs: Reassessing Evidence-Based Practice.

The prevailing cognitive-behavioral approach appears to be appropriate for most of the men, but the following enhancements are warranted: swift and certain court response for violations, intensive programming for high-risk men, and ongoing monitoring of risk. Program effectiveness depends substantially on the intervention system of which the program is a part.7

Offender Re-Entry and Community Partnerships

As offenders come out of incarceration and back into the community, partners and families need safety planning, assistance and support, as do those offenders who are adjusting to life back in the community. Responsible fatherhood programs and trauma rehabilitation programs need to be integrated into CCRs with links to BIPs, corrections, and victim advocacy programs. Culturally specific programming in this area has been shown to build trust when there is an acknowledgement of historical alienation and oppression. There are many communities that have developed resources for fathers that partner effectively with services for battered women.

Conclusion

Prosecutors and judges may have the most obvious role in holding offenders accountable, however, the most effective interventions coordinate the actions of the rest of the system to work together on behalf of victim safety and offender accountability. Effective offender intervention requires the application of knowledge about individuals, society (how culture shapes us) and the ways in which history has shaped both offenders and institutions, such as the courts, judiciary, corrections and community agencies that partner with them.

The acts of all those who intervene in domestic violence cases impacts not only the offender, but also victims and their families. Research shows major disparities in outcomes in institutional responses due to gender8, culture9, and identity10. Holding offenders accountable also includes seeking solutions that address these disparities involving carefully crafted partnerships between institutions and marginalized communities built on listening, trust and patience.

  1. Yllo, K., and Strauss, M.A. (1990). Patriarchy and violence against wives: The impact of structural and normative factors. In M.A. Strauss & R.J. Gelles (Eds.), Physical violence in American families. (pp. 383-399). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  2. Levinson, David. Family violence in a cross cultural perspective, Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, Inc., 1989
  3. Johnson, Michael. A Typology of Domestic Violence: Intimate Terrorism, Violent Resistance, and Situational Couple Violence, Northeastern University Press, 2008.
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Hirschel, D., Buzawa, E., (2015) Intimate Partners Who Flee the Scene are Likely to Reoffend. Domestic Violence Report, Vol.20 No.2
  7. Gondolf, E., Evaluating batterer counseling programs: A difficult task showing some effects and implications. Aggression and Violent Behavior 9 (2004) 605 – 631
  8. Family violence researchers agree that low income is a risk factor for partner violence. It is not only severe poverty and its associated stressors that increase the risk for partner violence; in addition, the higher income is, the lower are reported intimate violence rates (Carlson, B.E., Worden, A.P., van Ryn, M., & Bachman, R. (2003). Violence Against Women: Synthesis of Research for Practitioners. National Institute of Justice.). Having a need for domestic violence services significantly impaired women in finding employment under welfare reform (Goodwin, S.N., Chandler, S., Meisel, J. (2003). Violence Against Women: The Role of Welfare Reform. Final Report. National Institute of Justice.; Meisel, J., Chandler, D., Rienze, B.M. (2003). Domestic Violence Prevalence and Effects on Employment in Two California TANF Populations. Violence Against Women, 9, 1191-1212. NCJ# 202457. Reductions in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits have also been associated with an increase in intimate partner homicide (Dugan, L., Nagin, D.S., & Rosenfeld, R. (2003). Do Domestic Violence Services Save Lives? In Intimate Partner Homicide, NIJ Journal, 250, 20-25. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Dept. of Justice.)
  9. A black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life, a Hispanic male has a 17% chance, and a white male has a 6% chance. Bonczar, T. P. (2003). Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974–2001. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  10. In 2011, the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs found that transgender people of color were 1.85 times more likely to experience discrimination, 1.28 times more likely to experience physical violence, and 2.38 times more likely to experience police violence than other survey respondents. The survey also found that transgender people were more likely than other survey respondents to experience severe violence, and less likely to receive law enforcement assistance.