Even Groups for Batterers run by private or social service agencies that are not mainly mental health staffed and oriented are unlikely to have any real effect on the abuse, and may in some ways make it worse for the abused woman.
When an abusive man is required by a Judge to attend a weekly local group “for batterers” for six months or a year, his partner and everyone who knows the situation is likely to breath a “Whew!” of relief, and think that now he is “getting the help he needs.” It is a sad reality that, (self-serving claims and anecdotal stories to the contrary), there is no solid empirical evidence that any such groups have in fact ever significantly reduced or even altered the incidence of violence. Men attending these programs have severely battered and even murdered their female partners, while attending and seemingly doing “fine” in the weekly group. So a false and misleading hope is given, and because he is now “getting help,” some women may be persuaded to remain with a man who is actually a great danger to them. In addition, many of these programs have “partner contact” policies, whereby they seek information by phone or mail from the battered partner (“to see if he’s still hitting”). Women who reported that their partner was still being abusive have often been brutalized, “for getting [him] in trouble.”
There is probably a valid role for weekly supervised groups for men who have abused their partners, but that role is not as a substitute for the criminal justice system. It is instructive to look at the example of the societal response to the crime of driving an automobile while intoxicated (DWI). When a motorist is found guilty of drunk driving, a wide range of social and legal penalties are in place. Depending on the number and egregiousness of the offences, the penalties include small fines, medium fines, gigantic fines, loss of driving rights, confiscation of the car, prison time, and public shame and condemnation. And also, in some communities, there are required “DWI classes,” which offenders are required to attend for a period, as part of their punishment, before being allowed to drive again. In these classes, offenders are taught highway safety, the effects of alcohol on the brain, drunk-driving statistics, and so forth. The classes probably serve a useful function, as a small part of a stern system-wide response to the crime of DWI; but no one would ever expect that by itself, without all the more serious penalties and policies, a weekly class would solve the problem of DWI.
It is similarly outlandish to imagine that attending a weekly class said to be designed “for batterers” will, by itself, have any significant effect on the behavior of men who have been accustomed to dominating, controlling, and abusing their partners. Such classes may be useful, but only when part of a coordinated, system-wide legal and social response to the crime of Domestic Abuse, including the possibility of real prison time.
An especially important aspect of an effective social response is probably the element of condemnation and shame that a really “serious” crime evokes, and the withdrawal of all social support for cultural norms and traditions that might justify it. Drinking-and-driving has had a long colorful history, and there were once countless jokes (Dean Martin, Red Skelton) and popular songs about driving drunk. But when society decided to get serious about combating DWI, those jokes and songs became unfashionable, and gradually disappeared from public airwaves. When society is truly serious about the huge tragedy of Domestic Abuse, all the aspects of popular culture that implicitly approve and encourage male dominance of women, from beer commercials to misogynistic song lyrics to mail-order brides, must also be systematically challenged.
The perspectives summarized above are not unique to NOMAS, and are shared among a large number of battered women’s advocates and feminist women leaders and writers across the U.S. and the world. One collaborative effort among domestic violence leaders has sought an alternative social policy, one that puts the safety of women central at all times, that avoids “psychologizing” about batterers’ inner motives and problems, that treats what they have done as a crime, with legal and other sanctions from the broader community, the police and the courts. Since this realistic feminist approach has now been officially adopted and endorsed by the State government of New York, including progressive Republican Governor George Pataki, it is generally now being called “the New York Model.”
NOMAS has officially adopted and endorses as social policy the New York Model for Batterer Programs. Many details of the New York Model are now available on the web site: www.nymbp.com