Programs for Domestic
Violence Batterers:
Per Head, Per Session

By: Christina Johns

A good deal of information comes to me by way of students working on projects. It's one of the benefits of teaching. Sometimes I think people who go into teaching do so not so much from a love of teaching as a love for learning. Teaching makes you a perpetual student.

I now teach a class in Domestic Violence Law, something I said years ago I would never do because it was just too disturbing, but something I have become used to over the years. In this course, one of the things I talk about is options judges have when dealing with men convicted of domestic violence charges. One of these options is to order the man to attend batterers' therapy. I discuss in class the various types of batterers' therapy and the characteristics of each.

One of my students decided she wanted to know more. She went home, opened the yellow pages and began phoning Psychologists. Surprisingly, she couldn't even get through to many of them, and most of the rest didn't bother to return her phone call. Fortunately, one local psychologist not only answered his own phone, but spent over half an hour talking to her about therapy and men who batter.

It seemed to me this had to be a special guy. I wanted to talk to him. When I phoned him he rather sheepishly confessed that he no longer accepted court mandated clients for domestic violence therapy.

"It's just too depressing." He said. "Most men won't admit they've done anything wrong, and don't think they've done anything wrong. They have an extraordinary lack of self reflection, and inability to talk even about their own feelings much less anybody else's. They sit and stare and just do their hour and leave. They don't listen to anything I say, and they don't want to talk about their behavior. I just felt like it was a waste of everybody's time and money."

There are a great many people who feel that court mandated treatment for battering men is a waste of time. Like any other type of therapy, it is rarely successful unless the person receiving the therapy sincerely wants to change, and if the man wanted to change, the court wouldn't have had to order him to get therapy.

In addition, most of these programs which claim to provide therapy for battering men have not been adequately evaluated. In most cases, we just don't know whether they do any good or not.

In instances where evaluations have been done, the evaluations themselves are controversial. For example, how do you define the "success" of a program for batterers? Is it possible to say that a program is "successful" if violent abuse is decreased? Is it better that a man decrease his beatings to once a week from four times a week? Is it "success" if the batterer switches from physical to psychological abuse? And, how do we go about determining what the batterer has actually done after therapy? If we look at official police records, we know that we are not getting the full story. Most incidences of domestic battery are not reported. And, if the batterers who go through therapy are only followed for a month or two, what happens in six months, a year? Some evaluation studies actually use self-reports of the batterers as a measure of repeated beatings. What do researchers expect to get when they ask a batterer is he has continued to beat his wife?

Most evaluation studies focus on the man - his behavior. They rarely focus on the woman and her sense of well-being. Few researchers ask the woman and the children if they feel more secure after the therapy even though this is in fact the goal.

"If you don't do therapy with batterers, who does? I asked the psychologist who preferred to remain anonymous.

He explained to me that most of the court ordered therapy went on in one local Institute, and that the therapist who ran the program refused not only to have the program evaluated, he refused to even allow observers. The "therapy" consisted of a few weeks of sessions conducted with the therapist and a room full of 50-100 men sent there by the court.

"And we pay for this?" I asked.

"We sure do." He replied.

I don't know about you, but if I were handling the public checkbook, I would make damn sure we were getting something for that per head, per session price. The battering of women is a serious problem and it deserves a serious response.

C. J. Johns


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