Domestic violence is prominent issue today’s society that affects most of the society. It is not only a nationwide problem, but it is a Maine problem, with almost half of homicides stemming from domestic violence situations (Marchese, 2018). Numerous programs have shown to be ineffective and not worthy of the cost they accrue. Batterers Intervention Programs have attempted to rehabilitate offenders who are convicted of domestic violence. The program is inclusive and are tailor made to individual offender. When evaluating the effectiveness of the program it has shown to be difficult to do so. The results have shown to be not effective however with recommendations on how to possibly make the program better for the future. The key takeaway was that every offender must be treated as an individual and they must be given counseling/therapies that appropriate to them.
One of the most prevalent problems in the United States is domestic violence. It is believed that more than one in three women and more than one and four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner (Black et al, 2011). It is estimated that 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year (Black et al, 2011). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2006 and 2015, law enforcement were “notified in more than half (56%) of the 1.3 million nonfatal domestic violence victimizations that occurred each year” (“Police Responses”, 2017). On average there were nearly 600,000 unreported nonfatal domestic violence victimizations each year between 2006 and 2015 (“Police Responses”, 2017). One of the most common reasons for nonreporting was the victims stated the personal nature of the incident (“Police Responses”, 2017). However, in serious domestic violence victimizations, the cases were more likely to be not reported because of the fear of reprisal. These national statistics are overwhelming; However, the next question becomes does Maine have the same issue?
Maine is considered an overall safe state but that does not mean it is exempt from domestic violence issues. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic violence, in 2013, there were 5,487 domestic violence incidents reported to law enforcement (“National Coalition”, 2015). According to the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, in 2016 there were sixteen homicides in Maine; seven of which were considered domestic homicides (Marchese, 2018). In 2017, there were twenty-one homicides in Maine; nine were considered domestic homicides (Marchese, 2018). In two years, there were sixteen domestic homicides where made forty-tree percent of Maine’s total homicides (Marchese, 2018). One of the things that the panel found was that of the fifteen cases that were reviewed, in three of the cases the victim was actively working with a community domestic violence organization (Marchese, 2018). Of the fifteen cases reviewed, “in two cases, the perpetrator was ordered to complete a Batterers Intervention Program, either as part of the current case or in a previous criminal case” (Marchese, 2018). These statistics make it clear it is a national problem that Maine also has prevalent in its communities as well.
These staggering statistics shows there needs to be an effective treatment program for offenders. Numerous studies have shown that anger management and counseling is “ineffective for domestic abuse and may cause more harm than good by providing a false sense of action by the offender and security for those surrounding an offender” (Rhoda, 2015). This is because domestic violence is often about power and control and not about anger management issues or psychological issues (Rhoda, 2015). One treatment program that is underutilized in the state of Maine is Batterers Intervention Program. This program is an intensive forty-eight education and intervention program for men that have been abusive to intimate partners (Rhoda, 2015). This intervention does not believe that one type of counseling can help all offenders. The program not only helps the offenders but also helps serve the victims. There are more specialized approaches, which include “interventions tailored to a specific type of batterer (based on psychological factors, risk assessment, or substance abuse history) and interventions designed to enhance program retention and efficacy with specific populations (based on socio-cultural differences such as poverty, literacy, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation)” (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998).
There are three theoretical approaches that are used in batterer intervention to help explain the reasons for domestic violence (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). The theories are social and control theories, family-based theories, and individual-based theories (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). Social and cultural theories believe that domestic violence is caused by social structures (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). The cultural value of male control and dominance over their domestic partners creates domestic violence (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). When using this theory, the focus of the intervention is on the “women’s experience of these social and cultural factors and use education and skills-building to re-socialize batters, emphasizing equality in intimate relationships” (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998).
The next theory, family-based theories believe that violence behaviors are due to the structure of the family and the family interactions (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The focus is on the family not on the individual (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). Batter interventions focus on building communication skills; this can include couples counseling with the ultimate goal of family preservation (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). This practice is the least common of the three because it does not assign blame to the batter (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). According to the family systems model, both partners may contribute to the escalation of conflict with the goal of dominating the other (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). It also identifies the victim, during the intervention it also can put some of the responsibility on the victim (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). If this type of theory is not preformed properly it can place the victim in danger; due to all these reasons twenty states had created guideline that prohibit couples counselling in batterer treatment (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998).
The last theory is individual-based theories which believe that domestic violence is caused by psychological problems (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). These problems can be personality disorders, the offender’s childhood experiences, or biological predisposition (Healey, Smith, ; O’Sullivan, 1998). It is often believed that being, “physically abusive is a symptom of an underlying emotional problem; parental abuse, rejection, and failure to meet a child’s dependence needs can be the psychological source of battering” (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The offender may choose a partner who can help reenact the relationship that they had with their parent. Those who disagree with this theory believe that it helps assign a psychiatric label for those who commit domestic violence (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). It is believed it almost gives them an excuse for the way that they are.
Batterers Intervention has eight steps: intake, assessment, victim contact, orientation, group treatment, leaving program, and follow-up (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The intake and assessment begin with the offenders first contact with the criminal justice system. The offender signs the necessary release forms and terms and conditions (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). In this stage they begin to assess the nature and extent of the offender’s abusive behavior (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). They also began to screen for other problems; these problems are things like substance abuse, mental illness, and anger management (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The goal is to begin to establish a rapport between the clinician and the offender. By establishing this rapport is key for success in the program, it helps foster an open, honest dialogue between the clinician and the offender. During the assessment, the clinician identifies problems that might need further counseling. Often the clinician will refer the batter to other counseling. Therefore, each batterers intervention program is tailored to the individual offender, there is no one size fits all program.
The next phase of victim contacts. The victim is notified at four points at minimum: “when the batterer begins attending the program, if and when he has been terminated from treatment for noncompliance, when he has completed the program, and if an imminent threat to victim safety arises” (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). Most programs try to keep the victim up to date while they are in the program. Often offenders attempt to minimize or deny their abusive behavior, assessments, and ongoing monitoring often has separate interview with the victim to help gain valuable information about the relationship (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). These contacts with the victim are usually done by a victim advocate. They also create safety planning and keep the victim informed of limitations of the program.
During the orientation and group treatment phase, the offender is taught the program rules and expectations of the program. The counselor will explain the consequences of the batterer’s abusive behavior for his children (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). This can often be found to be one of the best motivations of change. The counselors “build empathy for their partners among batters by discussing the consequences of abuse for the victim” (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). Orientation is more like classes not like a session which is more therapeutic. Most programs require that the offender admit to his violence by describing to the group the abusive incident that led to the enrollment (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). If the offender does not admit to their wrongdoing and says he has been falsely charged, they will be sent away. The program is meant for those wanting to change. If the offender refuses to admit or is disruptive or resistant behavior during class they will be dropped from the program (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998).
Leaving the program can occur for numerous reasons. The offender can lead for noncooperation, violence, nonpayment of program fees, or other failure to follow program rules (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The most common way to fail the program is failure to attend group regularly (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). Another way is when the offender is disruptive or aggressive in group or coming to group under the influence of alcohol or drugs (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). Failing to complete individual treatment like substance abuse, mental health, or anger management is seen as a serious infraction (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). If any more domestic violence or violating a protection order occurs, it will be immediate termination. These rules are outlined during the orientation phase. The program does everything in its power not to terminate, they may issue a warning or have the offender start the program again (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The program reports all termination to the court or probation officer. Another way to leave the program is the completion of the program. Each individual program may have specific exit criteria (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). One of the common requirements is writing a responsibility letter or an empathy letter (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The offender pretends he is writing the responsibility letter to his partner and his children, often “accepting full responsibility for his abusive behavior and identifying and acknowledging the painful consequences to them” (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). In the empathy letter, the offender “writes as though he were the victim, describing his feelings (as the victim) about the abuse” (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). Often the offender reads the letter out loud to group and shares them with his family.
The final phase of the program is the follow up or after case phases. This is ongoing support for those who successfully complete the program (Healey, Smith, & O’Sullivan, 1998). The goal is recidivism prevention and continued support. The follow up is dependent on the offender and what they want for continued support. They are given all necessary resources to help keep them from recidivating.
Batterers intervention program sounds good in theory but what is needed to know is it if effective. There are a small number of experimental and rigorous quasi-experimental studies and a relatively larger number of much less well-designed studies that were reviewed. It was found that “the more rigorous the methodology of evaluation studies, the less encouraging their findings” (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). The conclusion after reviewing small studies and meta-analyses is “there is no solid empirical evidence for either the effectiveness or relative superiority of any of the current group interventions” (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). However, there are interesting results both about the “possible positive effects of couples counseling interventions for selected subgroups of batterers and partners and also about the safety of victims who engage in couple’s intervention with an abusive partner” (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). Through the research of evaluating program effectiveness, it was often found that offenders attending the program lack motivation for treatment (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). The main explanation for this could possibly be that this treatment is often court ordered. They did not volunteer for the treatment making it difficult to be motivated.
Although the batterers intervention programs have had some negative results, they are “more likely to improve their services by adding components or tailoring their treatments to specific clientele, than by rigidly adhering to any one curriculum in the absence of empirical evidence of its superior efficacy” (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). These take away is key because when researching Batterers Intervention programs one of the keys of it was to focus on the individual. If programs have gotten away from this strategy, it could easily take away from the program effectiveness because it is changing the program.
It was also noted that batterers intervention programs are difficult to study. One researcher who had studied the effectiveness of Batterers Intervention Programs stated “evaluating the effectiveness of Batterers Intervention Programs is a difficult and complex task that complicates the interpretation of evaluation results” (Gondolf, 2004) One of the noted reasons it that offenders who are court-mandated to the program cannot be randomly assigned to a no-treatment control group (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). Another challenge is to obtain accurate recidivism rates, those who complete the program must be followed for a significant period (Bodea & Cluss, 2011). This is important because only a small percentage of those who are rearrested for domestic violence do so within a few months after completion of the study (Bodea & Cluss, 2011).
Although experiments on the effectiveness are often inclusive there are two reasons to have offenders complete the Batterers Intervention Program (Moyer, 2004). The first being the reduction of reoffending; “when more offenders complete batterer education programs there will probably be fewer victims of domestic violence” (Moyer, 2004). One of the issues that is often seen with this program is the completion rate, getting offenders to successfully complete the program has been the main issue. Dropping out of the program often predicts reoffending; research suggests that more studies should examine this to see if this could be an indicator of potential future violence (Moyer, 2004). The second reason is the improvement of risk management; “monitoring Batterers Intervention attendance will improve risk management of domestic violence offenders” (Moyer, 2004). By completing the program, offenders are showing a commitment to change (Moyer, 2004). This program is not a quick and easy program, it takes dedication and a drive to change.
Maine underutilizes Batterers Intervention; even though it has mix results about its effectiveness it appears to be more effective than other programs that are being used. Often district attorneys and judges use anger management and counseling to treat offenders. Both programs are often covered by health insurance (including MaineCare) while Batterers’ Intervention is not (Rhoda, 2015). Maine does not have a coordinated plan for domestic violence. Right now, it depends on where the offender and the victim live will determine the type of punishment and rehabilitation is received (Rhoda, 2015). Some district attorneys are more likely to recommend anger management in plea agreements due to knowing the offender is likely to agree to a shorter and less expensive program (Rhoda, 2015). Maine does a poor judge in keeping data on what programs offenders are referred to (Rhoda, 2015). This makes it difficult to know if they complete it and whether they reoffend (Rhoda, 2015). By not having any of this data it becomes impossible to know what is working and which program to recommend.