Why Do Men Batter?

Who are the Men who Batter?

Why do Men Batter?
Can Batterers Change their Behavior?

Court Mandated Counseling

Men who batter come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races and walks of life. The abuser may be a blue-collar or white-collar worker, unemployed or highly paid. He may be a drinker or nondrinker. Batterers represent all different personalities, family backgrounds, and professions. In summation, there is no “typical batterer.”

The majority of batterers are only violent with their wives or female partners. For example, one study found that 90% of abusers do not have criminal records, and that batterers are generally law abiding outside the home. It is estimated that only about 5 to 10% of batterers commit acts of physical and sexual violence against other people as well as their female partners.

Although there is no personality profile of the abuser, there are some behaviors that are common among men who batter their partners. These include:

  • Denying the existence or minimizing the seriousness of the violence and its effects on the victim and other family members;
  • Showing extreme jealousy and possessiveness which often leads to isolation of the victim from other family members;
  • Refusing to take responsibility for the abuse by blaming it on a loss of control due to the effects of alcohol or drugs, frustration, stress, or the victim’s
    behavior; and
  • Holding rigid, traditional views of sex roles and parenting or negative attitudes towards women in general.

Why Do Men Batter?

Typically, when trying to understand why men batter, people want to look for what is “wrong” with them,. believing they must be sick in some way. However, battering is not a mental illness that can be diagnosed, but a learned behavioral choice. Men choose to batter their partners because the choice is there to make and, until quite recently, there has been no consequence for these actions.

Battering is the extreme expression of the belief in male dominance over women. To understand why men may choose to batter, it is important to look at what they get out of using violence. Men use physical force to maintain power and control over their relationships with their female partners. They have learned that violence ‘works” to achieve this end.

Many batterers grew up in homes where they or a sibling were physically abused or where their mother was abused by their father. In one batterers program, for example, 70% of participants came from violent homes, In fact, witnessing domestic violence as a child has been identified as the most common risk factor for becoming a batterer in adulthood.

While many batterers have substance abuse problems, there is no evidence that alcohol of drugs cause violent behavior. In fact, batterers may abuse their partners when they are intoxicated as well as when they are sober. Battering incidents involving alcohol or drug abuse may be more severe, however.

Can Batterers Change their Behavior?

Because battering is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned. However, the goal of nonviolence is unlikely to be achieved through traditional marital or couples therapy. Programs designed specifically for batterers are the preferred method for addressing abusive behavior. Currently, there are close to 200 programs for men who batter across the country.

Programs for batterers are not the cure-all for domestic violence, but one facet of a coordinated community response to the problem. Before developing a batterers’ program, there must be mechanisms in place to help insure the safety of the battered woman. This includes shelter and other supportive services. The criminal justice system must take an aggressive approach to treating domestic violence as a crime through, for example, pro arrest police policies and vigorous prosecution of offenders. The community must send the message to the abuser that battering will not be tolerated and that there will be consequences for his violence.

The primary goal of a batterers’ program is to eliminate physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The focus is on the victim’s safety and well-being. The following are key elements of successful abuser programs:

• The batterer is held completely responsible for the violence and for changing his behavior to end it.
• The focus is not on treating individual psycho-pathology, but on teaching how to choose and develop nonviolent behaviors, emotions, and attitudes.
• The abuser learns of the social systems and norms that have given tacit approval of battering.

Batterers’ programs cannot operate in isolation, but need to be coordinated with community services for abused women. Ideally, batterers’ programs should not compete for scarce funding for domestic violence programs which provide life-saving services for victims. The batterers’ program should work in the community to change systems’ response to domestic violence, in addition to its work with individual men.

Court Mandated Counseling

Batterers who are convicted in criminal court are frequently mandated by judges to complete special counseling programs as part of their sentence or as a condition of probation, with stated consequences for violation. In civil court, protection orders or divorce/custody determinations may include conditions that the batterer attend counseling sessions.

In some areas, criminal courts give the batterer the option to have charges dropped by completing a counseling program, thereby avoiding the entire trial process. This dangerous practice can reinforce the idea that domestic violence is not a crime and gives the abuser a method of avoiding consequences for his violence. Batterers must not be diverted from prosecution. Court ordered counseling needs to be part of sentencing or probation after adjudication.

Reprinted from The National Woman Abuse Prevention Project.


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