Accountability Crucial To Batterer Treatment

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Men who batter come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, religions, and walks of life. They may be drinkers, non-drinkers and represent all different personalities, family backgrounds, and professions -- there is no "typical batterer." according to the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project.

Yet, NWAPP concludes there are some behaviors common among men who batter their partners:

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Rim Guidance Center relies on stripping the offender of their excuses and encouraging them be accountable for their actions.

  • Denying the existence or minimizing the seriousness of the violence and its effects on the victim and other family members.
  • Having a belief system which supports the use of violence or abusive behavior to achieve control over a partner. Holding rigid, traditional views of sex roles and parenting or negative attitudes towards women in general.
  • 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.
  • Gaining sympathy by sharing convincing stories about his "difficult partner," about how miserable he is and how hard it is for him.
  • Being "invisible" due to exemplary behavior on the job, and his social role -- appears reasonable.
  • Witnessing abuse at home growing up.

According to the NWAPP, 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, but a learned behavioral choice. Men choose to batter their partners because the choice is there to make, and, until recently, there has been little consequence for their actions.

Gina Elliott, program coordinator for Payson's Time Out domestic violence shelter, said battering is a learned behavior designed to gain power and control over a victim.

"I know a lot of people believe that drugs or alcohol are the cause," Elliott said. "But these men are absolutely in control of what they are doing."

"People will batter when they are clean and sober and do an equally good job of it," Counselor Michael Rinker said.

Rinker and his colleague, Janice Finnie, run the Domestic Violence Offender Treatment program at Rim Guidance Center, a division of Southwest Behavioral Health Services.

"We work with the local courts," Rim Guidance Executive Director Jeffrey Gray said. "We have agreements to get referrals and (domestic violence) offenders must show up for treatment within seven days of the referral."

Until 2001, Rim country did not have a consistent treatment program for batterers.

Those ordered to be in the treatment program are required to attend either an educational lecture about domestic violence and related issues, or participate in group therapy once a week for a minimum of 26 weeks.

Getting a batterer to take responsibility for his actions is a large portion of the treatment program.

"Any behavior that is learned, can be unlearned or relearned," Rinker said. "It's just a matter of a person's commitment to his accountability and responsibility for what he's done and what he's willing to do in the future. A quote I often use is ‘How much of what you've just heard is reality and how much of what you've just heard is your excuse for continuing your behavior.'"

"Before they even start, we let them know that we will not tolerate blaming the victim," Finnie said. "If they do that, I redirect them and when they are reminded of it, they can stop it."

"There is something called an excuse system," Rinker said. "When somebody lets another person off the hook by simply saying, ‘Well you're human and things like that happen,' the person thinks it's OK. We really target their excuse system and have them identify where their excuse systems are and then stop listening."

Both counselors use much of their time educating their clients by defining domestic violence and providing the tools necessary for change.

"We both view domestic violence as not what a man does to a woman or a woman does to a man, but what people do to people," Rinker said. "We approach the domestic violence portion of treatment by having them learn and accept their role in the domestic violence process and accepting responsibility and making some real serious character changes which occur over a long period of time. It doesn't happen overnight."

Rinker and Finnie find that many of their clients either witnessed or experienced violence in their homes growing up. They are encouraged to examine their family history as well as how they may be affecting their own children.

"I would say virtually 100 percent have seen violence in their homes. It is a family of origin issue," Rinker said. "It's what they learned as children. If they had parents that modeled a lot of abusive or aggressive behavior, they find other children who they can relate to who are abusive and aggressive also. They carry it into a relationship with them. That's where it's learned -- it's imprinted."

Although Rim Guidance offers an anger management component to the program, the philosophy is that anger management and domestic violence are two very different things.

"Domestic violence is about power and control which is very different from anger," Rinker said. "I can control people just by manipulation and not be angry at all. People will use their anger and loss of control as an excuse."

Rinker and Finnie said the anger management counseling can help those with anger issues, but is never accepted as a rationale for violence.

"I heard a story in training," Finnie said. "A man had his wife in the corner of the dining room and was choking her. The doorbell rang and he ordered her to stay right where she was, and, of course, she did. He opened the door and it was Girl Scouts selling cookies. He bought a box of cookies, talked to the little girls, waived to the scout leader -- then he shut the door and started right in on her. That had nothing to do with anger."

Offender treatment such as that offered at Rim Guidance is very similar to what is recommended by domestic violence advocacy groups nationwide. Rinker and Finnie have seen some clients make dramatic changes, but agree that until they are willing to change, they won't.

"A person can sit there and comply with therapy all they want, but until they are willing to submit themselves to the issues involved, change will be slight and superficial," Rinker said. "They have to be willing to commit themselves to change."

Gray said Rim Guidance fully supports law enforcement's zero tolerance policy regarding domestic violence. The law stipulates that officers may make an arrest during a domestic disturbance. An arrest is mandatory if there is any evidence that violence has occurred.

"I think zero tolerance is the only way to do business as a community, and certainly as a police department," Gray said. "If you have officers make independent judgments about what might happen if they walk away from a scene, you've just opened your department and city up to massive liability."

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