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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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,
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.
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
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
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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