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Ending domestic violence involves helping the abuser

By Sarah Jones

When I started as a victim advocate with the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, it never occurred to me that my advocacy would extend to working with abusers. What I quickly came to realize was that promoting victim safety and moving toward our ultimate goals of reducing and eventually ending future violence can only be achieved with a plan where we meaningfully and consistently address the abuser. 

Providing safety, resources, and opportunities for recovery and healing to victims of domestic violence are crucial services. That is work that we must keep doing. But in the long term, without addressing the other party in the equation, we are not gaining any ground. We are left with a person who has the potential to continue to inflict future violence and damage. That is where helping abusers comes into play. 

To be clear, when I say helping, I do not mean colluding. We must consistently and collectively hold abusers accountable. They cannot be allowed to shift blame for their actions to their victims or make excuses. What I mean by helping is finding and addressing the foundation that facilitates and sometimes supports use of violence and providing the appropriate interventions to change behavior. One possible early intervention strategy we try with abusers is the use of a domestic violence intervention program (DVIP) or batterer intervention program (BIP). 

The DVIP at the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence is an 18-week educational program that uses the Duluth Model and Turning Points Curriculum to address violent behavior toward intimate partners or family members. In DVIP, facilitators address patterns of learned behavior, as well as trauma and societal influences. The end goal of the program is to change behavior through education and accountability. 

This is not always an easy task. Facilitators often have to push back against victim blaming or justifications based on skewed belief systems. They also encounter fault placed on the presence of substances or uncontrollable anger. While substance abuse and anger-management issues certainly may be present and should be treated seriously, they often are not the root cause of the coercive and controlling domestic violence. 

The success of any intervention rests with the abuser’s willingness to change. It also is not incumbent on the victim to facilitate that change or remain with the abuser during the process. Ultimately, victim safety should be at the root of all advocacy. 

Sarah Jones is the chief advocacy officer for the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. 

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