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The Case for Batterer Intervention Programs

Domestic violence (DV) is a pattern of abuse and coercive behavior that includes physical, psychological, sexual, verbal, economic, and spiritual abuse.1 Power and control are the underlying purposes of the batterer over his victim. Further, misogyny is the norm in patriarchal societies, hence men who abuse justify using force to maintain their dominance and power over women.2 The effects of DV adversely impact all of society.1  Medical and mental health treatment costs for acute DV-related issues run over 8 billion nationally per year.3 Victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety attacks, and other physical and mental issues.4 DV perpetration may occur by any gender, however, male-to-female perpetration will be discussed due to the severity of harm and injury. An estimated three women are killed by their intimate partners daily.5  Over 75% of family violence is committed by men1, accounting for 20% of all violent crimes.6 Per the U.S. Department of Justice, about 84% of the defendants had a prior history of a misdemeanor or felony, either DV-related or unrelated.7 

Due to grassroots efforts by DV advocates, a rise in pro-arrest laws for DV-related offenses, and prison overcrowding, batterer intervention programs (BIPs) were court-mandated by the U.S. Attorney General’s task force on family violence.8,9  Many states passed policies to court-order BIPs, including the California State Legislature passing Penal Code Section 1203.097 into law in 1994. The law mandates convicted batterers on probation to a 52-week BIP, for which the batterer must bear the cost. BIPs that implement the Duluth model10,11,12  and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)13 through a community coordinated response14,12 is an evidence-based intervention to help batterers resolve their abusive behaviors, thus reducing recidivism. The Duluth model is built upon the feminist theory1, stating that violence towards women is a manifestation of patriarchy, therefore, the model focuses on psychoeducation to break down a batterer’s sexist ideology that encourages power and control over his intimate partner10,1. CBT focuses on counseling and teaching effective interpersonal communication skills13 through a biopsychosocial perspective; this model examines batterer behavior through the lens of his environment, family dynamics, intrapersonal disposition, culture, and society10, 13,15, 16, 14, 17  through a community-coordinated response, including law enforcement (the police, probation, prosecutors, courts), DV advocates, and BIPs providers; 14,12  it is also important to include community leaders. Systems theory explains community-coordinated response where each system is interrelated and interdependent.18  In essence, each system affects all parts of our lives, from an individual perspective to the community and society at large, thus, strengthening interprofessional collaboration and communication is essential in ensuring the safety of victims, survivors, and their families, and accountability for batterers.

BIP is a non-punitive accountability intervention utilized to help batterers resolve their abusive behaviors, consequently reducing recidivism.15,14  Though power and control are the underlying intentions of the batterer,19,1 DV does not happen in isolation but in the context of many risk factors, such as intergenerational abuse and trauma, unemployment, criminal history, and substance abuse dependency.10,13;15,3,16,14,17  Therefore, having an intervention that views batterers holistically will effectively reduce recidivism instead of using one paradigm that addresses one aspect of the batterer. Racial and socioeconomic disparities also need to be acknowledged in the criminal justice system. Although DV plagues every community, irrespective of race, class, religion, culture, and gender, most batterers arrested and convicted are disproportionally from marginalized communities.20,21  Additionally, convicted batterers from lower economic backgrounds have financial barriers to paying for the BIP. A fair financial incentive should be implemented for BIP participation so that those convicted have the motivation to register and complete the BIP since there is a high attrition rate as well.22 

DV is an urgent public health crisis negatively affecting all communities. We are in a dire predicament as DV continuously wreaks havoc on the lives of millions of individuals daily worldwide. We must rely on evidence-based approaches for clinical and policy interventions. While the safety and well-being of victims and survivors are of utmost priority, we also need to look into ameliorating the risk factors of batterers. Research shows that non-punitive accountability for batterers is one of the best ways of reducing abusive behaviors, thus recidivism. It is imperative to rely on interventions that examine the intersectionalities of a batterer’s life that contribute to his abusive behavior and teach him practical tools to cease his abuse towards his loved ones. Evidence-based interventions have the potential to save the lives of every individual, including the elderly, children, women, and men in every community the world over, by addressing and treating the root causes of domestic violence. Therefore, it only makes sense if community leaders adopt this type of intervention, without a court mandate.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing or witnessing domestic violence, help is available:

NISA Helpline: 1-888-275-6472

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233, SMS:  Text “START” to 8878

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Sexual Assault Hotline – RAINN: 1-800-656-4673

Malalai Olomi is a writer, teacher, domestic violence advocate, and HR professional. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with Bachelor’s degrees in Social Ecology and Women’s Studies. Through her activism, she aspires to educate about injustices while giving voices to the oppressed. She enjoys spending time with people who inspire her to be the best version of herself.