When encountering domestic violence women have two choices, leaving or staying. If they leave they often become the sole bread winner and enter the secondary labor market with low pay, no medical benefits, and encounter a “glass ceiling” if they do rise in economic status. Being economically discriminated against as a result of the “feminization of poverty,” often results in the need for assistance (Karger & Stoesz, p.79). For some it means trying to access the shrinking welfare system that now has time limits, further hindering their ability to gain training or education to maintain or move up in economic status. Others can become impoverished when their partner leaves or is removed, and turn to illegal means for survival for themselves and their children.
Program One: The Violence against Women Act
In 1994 as a result of feminist’s outcry Congress produced a bill that President Clinton signed, the Violence against Women Act (VAWA). The law only 16 years old continues; it has strengthened state laws for protection to women in numerous ways. It defines domestic violence to include same sex or cohabitating couples and made restraining and stalking orders available nationwide. It has special safety provisions for the elderly and disabled. It seeks to keep women safe by funding programs to end sexual assault; its laws protect against violence and discrimination in public, at home, and work. In addition it covers immigrant women and their children (Hyunkag & Wilke 2005, p.126). It additionally provides funding for battered women shelters, hot lines, and community justice efforts to prosecute and hold financially responsible perpetrators for victimizing women (Karger & Stoesz, p.78). The VAWA instituted comprehensive methods to protect victims through a community coalition of prosecutors, advocates, judges and police. Methods enacted forbid the ownership of guns by persons with restraining orders, mandated arrest, and most importantly made intimate partner violence against the law. Moreover it strengthened law enforcement providing equal justice for women, and funded tracking DV perpetrators in a national crime data base. Funding and implementing the VAWA promoted education and training for judges and had them remand perpetrators to batterer intervention programs which had started in some locals in the late 1970s (Hyunkag & Wilke 2005, p.126).
Hyunkag and Wilke studied the VAWA program in 2005 for the College of Social Work at Florida State University using 2,368 victim incident files, and data from the National Crime Victims Survey from 1992 through 2003. A limitation was that only half of the victims reported something worth considering (Hyunkag & Wilke, 2005 p.128-129). The study used an interrupted time series design comparing four variables (age, race, marital status, and education) to yearly DV incidence reports. Research questions were: Did VAWA reduce DV and increase perpetrator arrest? Did it cause more incident reporting and contact with criminal justice? The study used U.S. Census population data and divided it by Bureau of Justice Statistics of DV incidents. The same method was used for contact with other support services (Hyunkag & Wilke 2005, p.130-131). The samples from individuals over 18 years old showed rates have gradually lowered through the trend started prior to VAWA. Since VAWA’s enactment funding has taken a devolution track with states given more responsibility with funding through block grants. In its first year Burt et al found (as cited in Hyunkag & Wilke, 2005 p.127) by five years $1.6 billion had been granted to states.
The authors attribute the minimal change after VAWA’s implementation to an implausible lag of effect or changes ongoing before VAWA such as available safe shelters. Furthermore it seems criminal justice intervention via batterer programs and state mandatory arrest laws, were already producing change.
Program Two: Batterer Intervention Programs
Intimate partner violence is predominately perpetrated by men. Batterer intervention programs are preventative in fomenting behavior change in abusers who would normally continue to use violence. Adams found in 1988 (as cited by Gondolf 2004, p.606) that batterer intervention programs (BIPs) were an outgrowth of the women’s movement. Initially intervening in DV with remedial safe shelters victim’s advocates started furthering their mission seeking ways to change batterer behavior through counseling in the late 1970s. Because most victims return to, or continue to live with their abusers, a behavioral change in men is warranted. BIPs results are controversial and many believe that batterers cannot change causing mental health researchers to seek empirical best practices.
E.W. Gondolf has researched BIP effectiveness for over 25 years. He performed a quasi-meta-analysis of research to date in 2003 for The Mid-Atlantic Addictions Training Institute and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He found interventions for batterers share many of the difficulties found in alcohol, drug, depression and sex offender populations (Gondolf 2004 p.607). Research has used different designs and measures of non-uniform subject cohorts producing contrary results from different studies. Different men or settings give different results. Divergent ingredients and proportions make a unique cake. His study argues that different locations for programs have differencing levels of community involvement. The wide ranging skills of members in domestic violence councils, counseling firms or courts affect outcomes. Gladwell in 2000 (as cited, Gondolf 2004 p.608) explains the problem is how to measure the “synergistic effect.” Dobosh et al (as cited, Gondolf 2004 p.608) say different patterns and levels of abuse are like “constellations (controlling behavior, verbal abuse, and threats) which assault the tip of the iceberg.” Another problem with study design is how long of a period with no violence supports a claim of program success. He feels to be realistic studies must “shift from cumulative outcomes to longitudinal retrospective ones.” Additionally, is a reduction of violence a success? A compounding problem is men who drop out, drink or do drugs, and whether to count them in outcomes (Gondolf 2004, p.611-612). In summation Gondolf endorses using a “dose response approach” by modeling techniques to create a context that simulates a control group that quantifies collaborative influences.
The four year multi site evaluation funded by the Center for Disease Control was designed to answer questions of program outcomes. Additionally researchers used interviews with female partners of participants to increase the qualitative results. He found: “a marked de-escalation in re-assault” and abuse of other forms. Re-assaults happened 70% of the time while participants were in the program, suggesting a need to monitor more during treatment rather than after. Another researcher, Jones, in 2000 (as cited by Gondolf 2004 p.617) found the costs of treatment were economically better than the alternatives of probation or jail. The research revealed that when program participants were coerced into attendance by regular review like drug courts a 70% program completion rate was attained. Further suggestions from research were identifying high risk individuals such as antisocial personality types and remanding them to more intensive and longer treatment (Gondolf 2004 p.619-621). Other study results suggest the “abusive personality” type has not been found but the best predictor is the woman’s perception. The “most surprising finding” was the program effect caused the “vast majority” of men to stop their abuse and assaults (Gondolf 2004 p.612-623).
Evaluating research shows batterer intervention programs produce a positive effect in men who abuse; more so when there is a collaborative effort with all parties actively involved. All said the batterer also has “buy in;” the problem lies there. When there is a community pressure change is more likely; social education and influences must increase. The Violence against Women Act, also has made women safer and helped induce social change. Both programs are inter related, needed and deserve support. Aside from the huge economic costs, the pain and suffering of domestic violence is passed from generation to generation. When victims are empowered by the support of the community, criminal justice, advocates and social workers change can happen. The results of programs such as the two reviewed are not the end of the mission, but more like the first steps. Furthermore perpetrators need more monitoring while in programs designed to protect women.
The two programs examined have only been in place a short time but have many merits of which to be proud. Research shows batterer intervention programs do produce results, but one approach is not shared by all helping hands. Helpers in the domestic violence field need increased support, training and direction. In general more research is needed and studies must be constructed with uniformity among subject groups. The future will be safer when domestic violence is better understood and is no longer such a drain on our nation’s economic and social health.