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Back To Vidyya Male Batterers

Characteristics, Incidence Of Violence And Batterer Types


Estimates from survey research conducted in 1995 indicate that at least three out of every 100, or 1.8 million, men severely assaulted their female partner or cohabitant during the preceding 12 months.(1) These assaults included punching, kicking, choking, threats with a knife or gun, or use of a knife or gun.

Characteristics Associated With Batterers

Witnessing intimate partner violence (IPV) as a child or adolescent, or experiencing violence from caregivers as a child are the risk factors which have been most consistently identified with the perpetration of IPV.2

Men who are physically violent towards their partners are also likely to be sexually violent towards their partners, and are likely to use violence towards children.(2)

Chronic alcohol abuse by the male batterer may be more strongly associated with IPV than acute intoxication.(3)

High levels of marital conflict and lower socioeconomic status have been consistently associated with the occurrence and persistence of IPV.(4) (5) (6) (7) However, findings from studies with representative samples indicate that IPV is not exclusive to those with lower SES.(8)

Perpetrators of IPV may have interpersonal skills deficits (such as lack of communication skills, poor spouse-specific assertion) in comparison with nonviolent men, particularly in the context of problematic marital situations.(9)

Research findings are mixed on the association between anger and the perpetration of IPV. Some research reports that men who perpetrate violence towards their partners have higher levels of general anger/hostility than the men who are non-violent.(10) Others report that anger and hostility felt towards a partner is associated with perpetration of violence, while generalized feelings of anger and aggression are not. (11)

A high proportion of batterers identified through court-ordered or other clinical populations have been found to have traits consistent with diagnoses of personality disorders, such as schizoidal/borderline, personality, antisocial or narcissistic, passive dependent/compulsive disorders.(12) (13) As these data come from clinical populations, however, it is not clear that psychopathology causes battering.

Comment: Further theory-driven consensus on the variables which may distinguish batterers from nonbatterers would be helpful for guiding future research.

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Batterer Types

A number of researchers have suggested that batters are a heterogenous group. Clarification of the variables which distinguish violent from non-violent men, or type-specific treatment effectiveness might be explored if different types of batterer could reliably be identified. (14) (15) A review of typology research on batterers suggest that three types can be distinguished on the basis of: severity of IPV perpetrated, generality of the violence (toward the woman and toward others), and psychopathology/personality disorders.(16) The three types proposed are:

The family-only batterer: may perpetrate less severe violence, use relatively little psychological or sexual abuse, and display few or no symptoms of psychopathology.

The dysphoric/borderline batterer: may perpetrate moderate to severe violence, mostly confined to the family, and be generally distressed, dysphoric, or emotionally volatile.

The generally violent/antisocial batterer: may engage in moderate to severe IPV, the most extrafamilial violence, and have the most extensive history of criminal involvement, alcohol and drug abuse, and antisocial personality disorder or psychopathology.

Further research is necessary to: 1) replicate and establish the validity of these proposed types, 2) to develop simple and efficient assessment tools which can reliably distinguish among batterer types, 3) determine how these subtypes differ from nonviolent men, and 4) identify the developmental and situational factors associated with individuals and society which may contribute to the development of different batterer types.

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Criminal Justice Interventions


Research findings are mixed regarding the effectiveness of police arrest policies as a deterrent to IPV. Some studies have reported deterrence effects from arrest policies when compared with strategies such as counseling or short separation.(17) Other studies, however, have failed to replicate these findings. (18) (19) Additional studies have suggested that the deterrent effects of arrest may vary depending on factors such as length of time in police custody and the characteristics of the individual arrested. (20)

Comment: While arrest in and of itself may not act as a deterrent to the perpetration of IPV for all individuals, it is important that arrest policies and practices be evaluated in the context of an integrated criminal justice response, in which arrest for IPV is followed by the laying of charges, and the appropriate administration of sanctions by other criminal justice agencies.

Prosecution policies

To date, there has been little investigation of the deterrent effects of prosecution for IPV. One study, which compared reassault rates for prosecution versus alternative interventions (police only or social service contacts) reported that prosecution lead to no overall preventive effects on reassault. (21) Later analyses suggested that criminal justice interventions may be most effective at reducing chances of re-assault by perpetrators with a history of less severe violence.(22)

Another study assessed rates of reassault for men randomly assigned to one of three court outcomes (pretrial diversion to counseling for perpetrators of IPV, prosecution to conviction with a recommendation of counseling as a condition of probation, or prosecution to conviction with presumptive sentencing). Findings indicated that all conditions showed a drop in the rates of reassault in the six months following arrest. Under conditions of victim initiated complaints, permitting victims to drop charges significantly reduced their risk of future violence. This reduced risk was attributed to the increased empowerment which the victim may have gained by having the criminal justice system in alliance to maintain her safety, although actually dropping the charges may not have increased the woman's safety.(23)

Batterer Intervention Programs

Batterer intervention programs, which seek to educate or rehabilitate known perpetrators of IPV to be nonviolent, have proliferated since the 1980s, under the auspices of both the criminal justice system and mental health system. Three theoretical approaches to the conduct of these programs have been consistently documented.(24) These theories influence the content and delivery of interventions:

Society and culture: attributes battering to social and cultural norms and values that endorse or tolerate the use of violence by men against their women partners. The feminist model of intervention educates men concerning the impact of these social norms and values, and attempts to resocialize men through education, emphasizing nonviolence and equality in relationships.

The Family: family-based theories of IPV focus on the structure and social isolation of families. The family systems model of intervention focuses on communication skills, with the goal of family preservation and may use couples counseling/conjoint therapy.

The Individual: psychological theories attribute perpetration of IPV to personality disorders, the batterer's social environment during childhood or biological predispositions. Psychotherapeutic interventions target individual problems and/or build cognitive skills to help the batterer control violent behaviors.

Many programs adopt components of each approach. Currently there is little evidence to suggest the effectiveness of one approach over another, or of the differential effectiveness of different programs with different "types" of batterers, although one study has suggested that process-psychodynamic groups may function better for men with dependent personalities, while cognitive-behavioral groups may be more effective for those with antisocial traits.(25)

The most widely evaluated intervention model for men who batter are group interventions using cognitive-behavioral techniques, often in combination with feminist content. One review of these studies reported that percentages of successful outcomes (i.e., reduced or no reassault) from these programs varied from 53% to 85%.(26) However, other reviews have pointed out that methodological problems in the studies limit conclusions about the effectiveness of such programs.(27)

Comment: At present, several large evaluation studies of batterer intervention programs are underway which compare a variety of treatment modalities.(28) (29) These studies may clarify our understanding of the effectiveness of these programs.


The majority of intervention or education groups for men who batter report high attrition rates,(30) with as many as 50% - 75% of men failing to complete the mandated program.(31) Factors which have been found to be associated with attrition include: lifestyle instability (e.g., youth, low education, unstable work histories) and incongruence between the batterer's self-identified problems and the treatment provided.

Evidence of the efficacy of court-mandating men to treatment as a means of increasing program completion are mixed. Some studies report increased completion, while others suggest reduced completion.31

Comment: Further research on the interaction effects between the characteristics of the offender, the treatment program, and the criminal justice system in relation to treatment completion is needed.


Despite the limited evidence for the effectiveness of batterer intervention programs, many states have or are in the process of developing standards for the conduct of these programs. At the present time, 25 states have county and/or state standards; five states have drafted standards and 13 states and the District of Columbia are developing standards. These standards vary in how they are implemented, and may be voluntary or mandatory. However, the majority support the use of progams based on cognitive-behavioral principals, some to the exclusion of other approaches.(32)

Comment: It is possible that the legislation of standards at this time may restrict necessary enquiry into alternative approaches.

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1.   Straus MA, Gelles RJ. (1990). How violent are American families? Estimates from the National Family Violence Resurvey and other studies. In: Straus, M.A.; Gelles, R.J. (editors). Physical violence in American Families: Risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families (pp. 95-112). New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

2.   Hotaling GT, Sugarman DB. (1986). An analysis of risk markers in husband to wife violence: The current state of knowledge. Violence and Victims, 1, 101-124.

3. Tolman RM, Bennett LW. (1990). A review of quantitative research on men who batter. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5 (1), 87-118.

4. Sugarman DB, Frankel SL. (1996). Patriarchal ideology and wife-assault: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Family Violence, 11 (1): 13-40.

5. Aldarondo E, Sugarman DB. (1996). Risk marker analysis of the cessation and persistence of wife assault. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64 (5), 1010-1019.

6. Hotaling GT, Sugarman DB. (1990). A risk marker analysis of assaulted wives. Journal of Family Violence, 5 (1), 1-13.

7. Sugarman DB, Hotaling GT. (1989). Violent men in intimate relationships: An analysis of risk markers. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 19: 1034-1048.

8. Straus MA, Gelles RJ, Steinmetz SK. (1980). Behind closed doors: violence in the American family. New York: Anchor/Doubleday.

9. Holtzworth-Munroe A. (1992). Social skill deficits in martially violent men: Interpreting the data using a social information processing model. Clinical Psychology Review. 12: 605-617.

10. Holtzworth-Monroe A, Bates L, Smutzler N, Sandin E. (In press). A brief review of the research on husband violence. Part 1: Maritally violent versus non violent men. Aggression and violent behavior.

11. Boyle DJ, Vivian D. (1996). Generalized versus spouse-specific anger/hostility and men's violence against intimates. Violence and Victims, 11: 293-317.

12. Hamberger KL, Hastings JE. (1988). Characteristics of male spouse abusers consistent with personality disorders. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 39, 763-770.

13. Hamberger KL, Hastings JE (1986). Personality correlates of men who abuse their partners: A cross-validation study. Journal of Family Violence, 1 (4), 323-341.

14. Gondolf EW. (1988). Who are those guys? Toward a behavioral typology of batters. Violence and Victims, 3, 187-203.

15. Saunders DG. (1992). A typology of men who batter women: Three types derived from cluster analysis. American Orthopsychiatry, 62, 264-275.

16. Holtzworth-Monroe A, Stuart GL. (1994). Typologies of male batterers: Three subtypes and the differences among them. Psychological Bulletin, 116 (3), 476-497.

17. Sherman LW, Berk RA. (1984). The specific deterrent effects of arrest for domestic assault. American Sociological Review, 49, 261-272.

18. Dunford FW, Huizinga D, Elliott DS. (1990). The role of arrest in domestic assault: The Omaha Police experiment. Criminology, 28: 183-206.

19. Hirschel JL, Hutchinson IW, Dean CW. (1992). The failure of arrest to deter spouse abuse. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 20, 7-33.

20. Sherman LW, Schmidt, JD, Rogan DP, Gartin PR, Cohen EG, Collins DJ, Bacich AR. (1991). From initial deterrence to longterm escalation: Short custody arrest for poverty ghetto domestic violence. Criminology, 29: 821-850.

21. Fagan J, Friedman E, Wexler S, Lewis VL. (1984). National family violence evaluation: Final report: Vol 1. Analytic findings. San Francisco: URSA Institute.

22. Fagan J. (1989). Cessation of family violence: Deterrence and dissuasion. In L. Ohlin & M. Tonry (Eds.), Family violence (pp. 377-426). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

23. Ford DA, Regoli MJ. (1993). The criminal prosecution of wife assaulters: Process, problems and effects. In: N.Z. Hilton (Ed.), Legal Responses to wife assault: Current trends and evaluation (pp. 127-163). Newbury Park: Sage.

24. Healey K, Smith C, O'Sullivan C. (1997). Batterer intervention: Program approaches and criminal justice strategies. Paper presented at Meeting the Challenges of Crime and Justice: The annual conference of criminal justice research and evaluation. Washington DC, July 20-23.

25. Saunders DG. (1996). Feminist-cognitive-behavioral and process-psychodynamic treatments for men who batter: Interaction of abuser traits and treatment models. Violence and Victims, 11: 393-414.

26. Tolman RM, Bennett LW. (1990). A review of quantitative research on men who batter. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 5: 87-118.

27. Hamberger LK, and Hastings, JE. (1993). Court-mandated treatment of men who assault their partners: Issues, controversies, and outcomes. In N.Z. Hilton (Ed.), Legal Responses to wife assault: Current trends and evaluation (pp. 188-229). Newbury Park: Sage.

28. Gondolf EW. (1997). A multi-site evaluation of batterer intervention systems: A summary of preliminary findings. Indiana, PA: Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute.

29. Dunford FW. (1997). History of the San Diego project and baseline data, the San Diego Navy Project. Working draft, the University of Colorado.

30. Gondolf EW, Foster RA. (1991). Pre-program attrition in batterer programs. Journal of Family Violence, 6, 337-349.

31. Cadsky O, Hanson RK, Crawford M, Lalonde C. (1996). Attrition from a male batterer treatment program: Client-treatment congruence and lifestyle instability. Violence and Victims, 11 (1), 51-64.

32. Austin J, Dankwort J. (1997). A review of standards for batterer intervention programs. Harrisburg, PA: National Resource Center on Domestic Violence - VAWnet.

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