Can People Who Batter Change?

This is a common question with a complicated answer. Some people do make changes in their actions and the beliefs that underlie the violence. Such change takes a long period of time. And some people may not change, even if they attend a batterer intervention program. In fact, thousands of people attend this program, often against their will. For example, everyone convicted of a domestic violence offense in California is required to attend a 52-week batterer intervention program.

These programs should not be called "treatment" because people who batter are not "sick" or "ill" but must change their belief system that justifies violence in their relationships. Effective batterer intervention programs are not "anger management" programs because abusive behavior comes from beliefs justifying power and control, not from anger.

Just because an abuser attends a batterer intervention group, abusive behavior may not stop. In most research many people in these groups do commit violence after they have enrolled. Victims should continue to determine whether or not they feel safe.

Successful batterer intervention programs rely on the coordinated community response that includes law enforcement, the courts, probation department, and domestic violence advocates. Only when a community takes domestic violence seriously with clear and consistent consequences, do batterer intervention programs exist in the environment where people can change.

In all measures (surveys, reports to police, injuries in hospitals, calls to hotlines), men commit most incidents of domestic violence. Most batterer intervention program focus on men and address issues of male socializations that contribute to violence beliefs and behavior. While some women are arrested for domestic violence, most of them are primarily victims of domestic violence who have committed a violent act. While there are some programs for lesbians, gay men and women who batter, the majority of research focuses on heterosexual men who batter.

It is difficult to measure success. Good research should not be limited to one factor. Look at many measures over a long period of time, such as: change in attitudes, re-arrest/police/probation records, self-reports of abuse, and partner reports of abuse.

There are many types of programs. Some prominent organizations that provide training and have developed a curriculum are:

Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project
206 West Fourth Street
Duluth, MN 55806
(218) 722-2781

2380 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 101
Cambridge, MA 02140
(617) 547-9879

30 Monterey Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 239-8050

Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE)
1385 Mission Street, Suite 300
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 626-MOVE

Volunteer Counseling Service (VCS)
Community Change Project
77 S. Main Street
New City, NY 10956
(914) 634-5729