By Phyllis B. Frank, , Director, VCS Domestic Violence Program for Men

Batterer programs often confound even those who work closely with them.  Courts, probation, prosecution, parole, advocates, and the public understandably have unfulfilled hopes about what batterer programs can accomplish.  After thirty years of consistent trial, error and more trial, the NY Model for Batterer Programs has devised a simple list of what we know we can accomplish and measure and what we cannot be certain we can accomplish.

Batterer Programs Can Clearly, Easily and Certainly . . .

  • be used by courts as a meaningful sanction for domestic violence offences.
  • be used by courts to hold defendants accountable for a domestic abuse incident.
  • be used by courts as an appropriate sanction when the seriousness of the crime does not merit a more serious penalty.
  • be used by courts to monitor whether defendants are complying with a court order to attend a batterer program.
  • provide simple, fair policies and procedures that allow program participants to demonstrate compliance through objective behavior.
  • require that participants adhere to program policies and procedures.
  • objectively track compliance with program policies and procedures and provide straightforward, nonjudgmental compliance information to the court.
  • be effective with 100% of the participants – if courts consistently sanction those who do not comply with the court order to attend[1].

 Batterer Programs Cannot, with Certainty and Clarity . . .

  • know fully and accurately how a participant is behaving outside of the program.
  • promise that any participant will end abusive and controlling behavior either during or after his tenure in the program.
  • infer reliable behavior change from  a participant’s apparent understanding of (or apparent enthusiasm for) information and skills presented in the program.

Batterer Programs Should . . .

  • have an ongoing, supportive relationship with local domestic violence services.
  • participate actively in local Domestic Violence Community Coordination initiatives.
  • operate within the criminal justice system .
  • be ordered by courts (or agents of the court)  based on the crime committed, not on the personal or individual  traits of the perpetrator.

Batterer Programs Should Not . . .

  • interact with partners of participants (that is the work of advocacy programs).
  • be ordered by the court if a crime merits a more serious penalty.
  • ever have staff replicate controlling and abusive tactics such as yelling, berating, mocking, shaming, humiliating.

 Batterer Programs Sessions Should . . .

  • impart a sense of confidence that ANY man can end his abusive behavior.
  • understand that men who batter are just regular people, from all walks of life, from all communities.
  • acknowledge that most intimate partner violence committed by men against women (as defined by the domestic violence movement) is not illegal.
  • understand that participants in batterer programs represent a miniscule percentage of the men who are abusing intimate partners.
  • engage participants with state of the art information, material, ideas, data, history, current events, films, etc. relating to domestic violence, sexism and racism.
  • teach about various successful social justice movements in the United States and the connections to the movement to end domestic violence.
  • present an analysis of men’s violence against women and its pervasiveness around the globe.
  • exemplify awareness of sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, ethnocentrism, etc. and the interconnectedness of these oppressions with domestic violence.
  • model absolute respect, at all times, through interactions among staff and between staff and program participants.

Batterer Program Suggestions to Ponder

  • Refrain from referring to programs as “BIPs,” which can be perceived as trivializing the seriousness of the crimes that resulted in the creation of batterer programs.
  • Refrain from referring to men ordered to batterer programs as “the guys” or any other informal, buddy-type language.
  • Do speak about domestic violence in active – rather than passive –  voice; acknowledge agency of abuse in your language. For example, replace ““Eleven women died as a result of intimate partner violence last year,” with “Eleven men murdered their intimate women partners last year.”
  • Consider that batterer programs may not, in fact, play a role in enhancing the safety of the women partners of program participants.  Batterer programs may play a small role in enhancing safety for women, in general, if they contribute to the court’s ability to hold offenders accountable.
  • If domestic violence is universally accepted as a human rights and criminal justice issue, then batterer programs should not provide treatment or rehabilitation. Rather, they should be consistent with effective and appropriate social justice and criminal justice responses.

[1]  100% effective mans that every participant experiences that he has not “gotten away” with the act that resulted in his court appearance.

© Phyllis B. Frank

845 634-5729 ~ ~