Can Batterers Be Treated?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

October will be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and while there is often a lot of focus on victims during this month of awareness building, there is often less focus on batterers. As an advocate against domestic violence and the author of a book on transitioning from victim to survivor, I've decided to offer my thoughts on batterers.

The most common form of therapy for batterers is something called Anger Management. This has been a considerable source of frustration for advocates who help battered women.

I contend that the main reason, logically, is because Anger Management doesn't work. Whenever a batterer goes into the program, the chances that he will come out of the program having learned not to batter is less than 10 percent.

For the victim, who places so much hope in the Anger Management therapy, who desperately hopes that this therapy will produce the happy life she yearns for, the results are little more than a cruel joke. The batterer has simply learned to manipulate the system. Any fear he had of being punished has been dispelled, and he feels safer than ever in his violence.

The reason that Anger Management is so ineffective is that it completely misses the problem. It's like someone who goes into the Emergency Room with a broken leg, and receives a flu shot.

Battering is caused by a need for power and control. The batterer doesn't need to learn to manage his anger. Many batterers are world experts in managing their anger. Friends, neighbors, and community leaders will all say that he is the nicest, sweetest guy in the whole world. This masterful level of anger management stands as proof that any Anger Management therapy is missing the problem.

Another worthless solution to the problem is couple's therapy. This attitude also causes a great deal of harm. Engaging in couple's therapy requires the acceptance of the idea that both parties are at fault -- that the victim shares some of the blame. In the case of battering, that simply is not true. But after couple's therapy, the batterer has even more weapons than before. He has the opinion of their therapist, a professional, who is endorsing the idea that the victim is provoking the violent incidents. The result is a further victimization of the victim, a further strengthening of the batterer, and an increase in the suffering without even the slightest improvement in the situation.

There is another problem, of course. Maybe it's related to the question of implementation, maybe not. Despite the pain caused by domestic violence, despite the millions of dollars that it costs American business, it remains to be seen if society will be willing to pay for individual therapy. Group therapy is cheaper, of course. Anger Management counseling is cheaper still. As counties across the nation's 50 states eye budget cuts and struggle to maintain the bottom line, the temptation to dismiss the facts about the failure of Anger Management may be too strong to resist.

There is another caution to keep in mind. If experts do find an underlying wound that is causing someone to batter, we have to carefully control how it is used. Batterers are experts in finding excuses for their actions, and will grab onto a past trauma as an excuse, as a justification, as a way to avoid responsibility.

I contend that the only way to deal with a batterer is to take away their power by leaving permanently and refusing to play victim any longer. Staying with a batterer only enables the abusive behavior to continue. Some victims choose not to believe this, but many of those people have either died at the hands of their batterer or will rank among future statistics.

Victims don't have to become a statistic. Permanently severing ties with a batterer completely is the only solution to appropriately and successfully dealing with a perpetrator.

* Jeannie Claire, Albert City, has been a journalist for more than 18 years and is the author of two books.