Information About Batterers
If you are looking for information on a batterers intervention program in your community please contact your local crisis center for more information.
You may be hoping your partner will change. Our experience shows that once a person begins to be abusive, the problem is likely to get worse. It is important to understand and pay attention to the warning signs of abusive behavior or what is sometimes referred to as the cycle of violence. Abusers may feel guilty and apologetic after an abusive incident, and often promise themselves and their partners that they will change. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, most batterers do not stop being abusive without outside assistance.
What's Going On With Batterers?
It is important to know and point out to batterers that most men do not abuse their partners and their children. Dr. David Adams, a batterer's counselor in Boston for over twenty years, estimates that about eighty percent of batterers grew up in a home in which they watched their father beat their mother. Therefore, they likely have the skewed notion that most, if not all, men use violence to control their families. A former abuser, now batterer's intervention program director Hamish Sinclair likes to tell the men in his groups, "Real men do not abuse their partners and children." Dr. David Adams reports that while there exists a range of behaviors among batterers, most share similar beliefs and traits.
The following represents some of those common characteristics Dr. Adams has found in two decades of running batterers' intervention programs.
- Public vs. Private Behavior: Many batterers work hard to create the public image of being the concerned, decent "family man." Often nobody else has seen the violent, controlling side of him, resulting in victims being accused of exaggerating or lying about the abuse.
- Abusing Power, Control and Manipulation: The batterer's goal is to achieve power and control over his victim. Domestic violence is not simply random, isolated acts of violence. Rather, Dr. Adams tells us, it is "a planned pattern of coercive control that includes verbal abuse, threats, psychological manipulation, sexual coercion, and control over economic resources." The batterer's incessant criticism and allegations of infidelity ravage the victim's self-esteem, keeping her on the defensive and isolated from her family, friends and co-workers. Part of the manipulation is to keep changing the list of rules and demands the victim must meet to avoid abuse.
- Projecting Blame: One of the most widespread forms of batterer manipulation is to blame the victim for his abuse. Similar to alcoholics, the batterer portrays himself as the victim, arguing that she "drove me to it," "pushes my buttons," or "provoked me." Frequently, outsiders are then deceived into focusing on the victim's actions. This does the batterer no favor; for in failing to hold him accountable, he has no means to analyze options to the violence.
- Claiming Loss of Control: For some time mental health professionals believed that most batterers suffered from poor impulse control. Thus, when batterers said, "Well, I just lost it!," most of us believed them. Dr. David Adams and other reputable batterer experts now report that less than five to ten percent of batterers have poor impulse control or an anger problem; rather it is, as described above, a planned pattern of coercive control. Most men who batter their partners and children do not exhibit "generalized violence." They do not assault the police officer who gives them a speeding ticket or their boss who yells at them for being late to work. Clearly, many batterers believe there will not be sanctions for partner violence. For those batterers who do exhibit generalized violence, extra caution should be taken, as they tend to be more dangerous to their families and law enforcement officers.
- Claiming a Problem with Anger: Similar to the excuse of poor impulse control, many abusers allege difficulty controlling their anger. However, Dr. David Adams asserts that only a small minority of batterers, he estimates five to seven percent, cannot control their anger. We have learned this from listening to batterers as they explain their abuse. For example, one batterer said that he puts the children in the next room before assaulting his wife, to prevent them from witnessing the abuse. Another abuser reported taking off all his rings "so I wouldn't hurt her too bad." Dr. Adams tells us that such explanations are typical of abusers. This planned behavior constitutes pre-meditation and obviously does not indicate someone whose anger is uncontrollable.
- Attributing to Substance Abuse: Dr. Murray Strauss, in his article "Alcohol Abuse and Family Violence," reports that in spite of the high correlation between domestic violence and alcohol/ drug abuse, experts agree that such substances do not cause the violence. Doctors Strauss and Adams say that the alcohol or drugs may function as disinhibitors and a convenient excuse, but batterers who abuse substances have two separate problems for which they should receive treatment, education and be held accountable.
- Minimizing and Denying the Abuse: Batterers' education specialists report that few batterers, even the most brutal, consider themselves as such, and will, invariably, under-report or deny their abuse. Researchers found that even when directly questioned by law enforcement, judges or therapists, most batterers simply lied about the abuse, with some attempting to rationalize it. Dr. David Adams reports that, when prodded, the majority of batterers will minimize their actions with comments such as "I only gave her a little shove," when, in fact, he pushed the victim down a flight of stairs. Batterers typically consider even serious abuse (punching, choking, beating up) as self-defense, when it is clearly retaliation for the victim's failure to do what the batterer wanted. Often, even severe batterers express shock when arrested, for it has not registered that their violence constitutes a crime.
- Failure to Take Responsibility for Own Actions: Most batterers blame outside forces for their violent behavior; the victim's "mouthiness" for example, alcohol or a bad day at work.
- External Motivation: Dr. David Adams and other experts have found that most batterers are externally motivated. That is, they care very much what others, particularly men, think of them. When men in our communities are willing to stand up and say, "Real men don't beat their partners and their children," abusers can get the message that their behavior is closer to that of an immature bully and coward.
Batterer Intervention Programs
Establishing batterer intervention programs is an effort to provide comprehensive programs that address the impact of domestic violence on individuals and in communities. Batterer’s programs are one piece of a coordinated community response involving law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, judges, communities of faith, schools, victim services, health care professionals, corrections, etc. The primary purpose of programs for batterers is to maximize safety for victims of domestic violence and to hold perpetrators accountable for their violence and abusive choices.
- Batterer Intervention Standards, State of New Hampshire, Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence (2002)
- The Batterer as a Parent by Lundy Bancroft (2002)