Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

The following blog entry was written by Lundy Bancroft. It has been reprinted with permission from his blog. Lundy Bancroft is an author, workshop leader, and activist on trauma, abuse, and healing. He offers dramatically new ways to understand the behavior of abusers and strategies for holding them accountable. He also brings fresh insight into the emotional injuries that trauma and abuse cause, their lasting effects, and how best to get ourselves free. He believes that all people have the right to live free from abuse and oppression. For more information about his work please click here to visit his website.

One of the questions I most commonly get asked at speaking events is, “Do programs for abusive men work?” My answer is that, when they are run well, they work as well as we can expect them to in the time they are given. A typical length for a batterer program is 52 hours — that is to say, 26 weeks for two hours a week. Sometimes the meetings are only an hour and a half, so the total time is even less. In other words, we are talking about undoing twenty or thirty or forty years of destructive socialization that has made an abusive man who he is, all in six months! The expectation is far-fetched.

I encourage people to make the comparison to substance abuse programs. If a man (or a woman, for that matter) who had been drinking or drugging heavily for five or ten or fifteen years claimed to have licked the addiction through once a week counseling for a grand total of six months, most substance abuse experts would laugh the person out of the room. In the world of recovery from addiction, the common outlook is that if you go to three or four meetings per week for a period of a year, and work hard in the program for that year, you have probably finally gotten a good start on dealing with your issues; if you stick with it for a few more years, you might succeed in really turning your life around.

Why would we expect it to be easier for a man to overcome a problem with violence and psychological viciousness toward women than to deal with a drinking problem? Abusiveness is just as deep a problem as addiction, and every bit as destructive — in fact, often more so.

If society decides that it’s time to send abusers the message that we take their crimes against women seriously, and that we refuse to live in a society that is shaped by domestic terrorists, we will start sending abusers to programs that they have to attend at least three times a week for two to three years. This will bring us in line with the kind of effort, and the length of time, that it takes to make personal changes from deep, destructive, dangerous problems. Until then, we’re continuing the pattern of slapping abusers on the wrist and sending them the message that change is optional. And if it’s optional, very few abusers are going to choose to do the work, and make the sacrifices, involved in learning to respect women’s rights.

Comment section

14 replies
  1. Yes! I’m so glad to see this issue being addressed. I am both a survivor and a trained DV advocate and I have been dismayed at the ‘Anger Managment” programs that are touted as the “solution” to domestic violence. Most men don’t take these programs serioiusly and just see the 2 hours a week as doing time. I have seen men who were willing to put in the effort to get everything out of the program that there is to offer and who at least seemed to make some real changes. These few men are the ones who are wiling to be open and honest, brutally honest, with themselves.
    Another issue I see is in service delivery itself. Dv advocates and abusers counselors exist as seperate entities, even within the same organization.,with very little communication or consultation between the two.
    I for one, am willing to use my voice and my online forum to speak out on behalf of investment in longer term, more comprehensive Batterers programs.

    1. My ex assaulted his wife, he was arrested and charged. At the preliminary hearing, he talked sweet to her and apologized, so charges can be dismiss or reduce. I share custody of our 9-year-old daughter, who lives at their house 2-3 days a week. Despite of my warnings of not sharing inappropriate information about the assault with our daughter, he told her that his wife was cheating and that is why he pushed her out of the house. My daughter is worried about her father going to jail, about her step mom and a bunch of other things that he put in her head. What can I do to prevent my child being abuse this way? What are my legal rights and where do I go for help? Please assist me in this matter. Thanks you

      1. mARE,

        I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this with your ex. On the National Domestic Violence Hotline we receive so many calls from women experiencing very similar type situations with shared custody and the children having to witness domestic violence when they go back to the abusive parent. There are alot of resources we would love to share with you. Call our anonymous and confidential hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and we would be happy to give some helpful suggestions on documenting, safety planning and reaching out to local and National resources that we can provide you with.

        NDVH Advocate

  2. Jenny, thank you for your insightful comment. We need people exploring the best ways to effectively stop dv- thanks for your involvement and keep us posted on the work you’re doing.

  3. As a father who has been in the process of divorce from an abusive wife since October of 2009, I must say that I am quite dismayed at the burden of proof required for a father to protect his children from an abusive mother.

    Despite the fact that our children reported abuse at the hands of their mother to me, to our children’s daycare provider, to our children’s counselor, and to DCFS, the children were given back to their mother one month after the children and I left her. Because I own a business and my wife was a stay-at-home mother, the courts automatically assumed that the best place for our children was with their mother. It appeared to me as if the only way our judicial system would ever take our children away from their mother was in a hearse.

    Although my wife had abused me, I never reported it to the police. The one time that I was going to call the police, I called my parents first and they talked me out of it. Looking back now, that was a big mistake. My advice to anyone who is being abused or who has personal property destroyed is to contact the police and press charges. Otherwise you must forget that these things ever happened because they won’t mean a thing in court if you didn’t contact the police.

    I had been asking for a Guardian Ad Litem and psychological evaluations from the beginning but my requests fell upon deaf ears. I was told that unless my wife harmed the children again or did something completely irrational, those things would not be ordered by the courts. Well, my wife was able to relatively control herself for ten and a half months before she messed up majorly again. I immediately called my attorney and my request for a Guardian Ad Litem was quickly approved by the judge. It took less than one week of investigations for the Guardian Ad Litem to request psychological evaluations.

    After 10 months of feeling as if there was nothing that I would be able to do for our children, things have turned around 180 degrees and it is looking more and more as if I will end up with full custody of our children while my wife will end up with perhaps supervised visitation.

    My soon to be ex-wife needs professional help and for our children’s sake I hope that she will now get it. I don’t want our children to grow up without their mother and I truly hope that she will seek treatment so that she can eventually form a meaningful relationship with them.

    Abusers come in many different packages and it is too bad that our judicial system can’t seem to accept the fact that women can be just as abusive as men.

    1. My situation exactly mirrors Keith’s except I am the mother and our abuser is my children’s father. He is the one with the money and the vicious lawyer, so has custody of our children and continues the cycle of harm to our children by withholding visitation.

      I have been working so HARD spinning my wheels against the huge bureaucracy of the court system and judges who are uneducated and living in the dark ages of Domestic Violence and continue to allow children to be harmed by the REAL abusers whle left in THEIR care!

      I am SO frustrated that NO ONE will listen to MY story of the YEARS of abuse: Financial (hence one reason I am having trouble continuing to figh), Emotional, Mental, (which he and his lawyer continue to compound)! Why are there not more resources for us??? Why are there not more people like Lundy Bancroft (I just finished reading his book about the consequences for children when witnessing when “Daddy hurts Mommy”-EXCELLENT!) and Jeanine Pirro speaking for the “REAL” victims???

      Please help before I miss my children’s entire childhood at the hands of their vindictive, sick father!!! Thank you! victim.of.da@cox.net Amy in Fairfax County, VA

  4. Where are the programs for women that hurt men? After being physically & emotionally abused for several years I looked for help and found none. When she found out she called 911 and said I hit her. I was arrested, she got a protection order, the domestic violence case was dismissed because she had no evidence but they wouldn’t dismiss the protection order. Some women are using people like you to abuse men and no one cares.

  5. Hi Kevin,

    NDVH help’s both men and women and we are a 24 hour hotline. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. We provide a variety of different services including a listening ear. If you ever need to talk to someone you are more than welcome to call our hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

    NDVH Advocate

  6. I read Lundy’s book “Why Does He Do That” where he expands on this idea. In my marriage, my husband can’t even own up to the idea that he’s doing anything wrong, so I have zero hope of change on his part.

  7. I admire everyone’s courage in getting out of an abusive relationship, especially with children. It is a hard thing to do, you risk everything, your kids, your job, school, friends, family even your own life.

    I was in an abusive relationship. Weird thing was I left my high school sweet heart for a guy I had been crushing on since I was in junior high, only to find out that he was very abusive and controlling. I stayed for a few years until I couldn’t take it anymore and left. Then I ran into my high school sweet heart again. This time we decided to see if we could make it work. Well 6 months into the relationship he starts hitting me. You would think I’d get up and leave after going through an abusive relationship, but I didn’t. I stayed with him for almost 4 years. I was put through verbal, physical, emotional, psychological and even sexual abuse. It’s awful to say that I’m glad I didn’t have any kids at the time but I really am so lucky I didn’t. I wouldn’t have wanted my children to see what I was put through or even worse fighting for custody of my kids. I can’t say that I am completely unhappy but I know what I’ve been through has affected me in my relationship with men. It’s been tough for me the past few years. I’ve been trying to get my life back on track but it’s hard to trust any man. I always tend to push them away or can’t open up to even a good one.

    1. Hello Jade,

      I am truly sorry to hear of your two bad relationships, esp. at such a young age. First of all, why did you feel it was so “awful” to say you were glad you had no children at the time your going through those ordeals with your former abusers? when you COULD COMMEND yourself fully without the need for an apology, and as well YOU SHOULD! You had the foresight, maturity and compassion to know you were not in a position to take care of a child at that time. You had the insight to realize in order to take care of someone who would be 100% dependant on you for everything, you first, must be able to take care of you! Why on earth would you feel the need to apologize for that?
      You were not Lucky, Jade, you were fortunate. There is a difference! Luck, to me, is like playing Black Jack or rolling dice; something which is predicated purely on chance, random activity. Fortune, is a favorable circumstance, but one in which you had some control over the outcome. Perhaps you were lucky in that you and/or the X didn’t use any form of contraception. In any case, it’s OK to be glad that didn’t happen. This has no reflection on the your having a family in the future. In fact, chances are better you’ll be a much better mother having waited until the circumstances were more in your favor.Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I know some parents have this misguided vision along with a “timeline” of what and where their idyllic son or daughter should be at certain stages in their lives. My sister-in-law’s mother is the typical example. She has 4 daughters, all of the LDS faith, and 3 of whom “fit mom’s ideal role model for the female”. All spent a majority of their young adult life barefoot and pregnant and all have at least 4 children per each. My sister-in-law- and my brother (who’s 10 years my senior), have been married nearly 25 years and they have NO children. (My brother, who converted to the LDS religion shortly after they were engaged, which made no difference to me or our mother, whatsoever. We figured if he’s happy with it, so be it. Our father, on the other hand, wasn’t too pleased, but so be that, as well! Religion or not, I think it’s WRONG to place those expectations on children. Sure, the parents are supposed to act in their behalf and make decisions for them when their children are young and living under their roof. In so doing, they will teach them right from wrong and provide the best quidance possible in order for them to make sound informed choices as adults, but once they leave home, and become self-sufficienct, shouldn’t it be time to just be there and support and accept them even if they don’t fit into that little idyllic niche carved for them?

  8. Programs are only as effective as the participants want them to be. And yes, the system seems to be hard-wired to seeing men as abusers and women as victims, but as the number of women committing all kinds of crimes, not just domestic violence, increases, I’m sure the system will slowly catch up eventually. Coordinating the efforts of programs for victims and abusers is an excellent idea, since both sides are part of the equation. I would like to comment that if you are in an abusive situation, whether your abuser is a man or a woman, you need to make a record of what is happening to you. Most abusers know what they are doing is not acceptable, which is why they won’t do it in front of anyone else. One way to get a “secret” witness is to call a trusted friend and just leave the phone off the hook while your abuser is verbally abusing you . Their testimony can add credence later on when you try to convince a judge that your abuser is not the wonderful person they pretend to be in public. Of course, you will need to make arrangements with this person ahead of time so they don’t speak and give you away, or hang up thinking its a prank call. You will need to have their # on speed dial. Another idea, if you can, is to use a digital recorder to record the abuse. It is not illegal to record a conversation if you are a party to that conversation, and you don’t have to tell them that you are recording it, either. And under the right circumstances, it can even be used as evidence in court proceedings. If you’re not sure about your rights in this matter, call around and ask an attorney what is legal and what is not. You may also want to look into setting up a “Nanny cam.” Of course, you will need to be careful not to get caught with the recorder or the Nanny Cam, and make sure you have a reasonable explanation prepared in case you do get caught. But if you can’t do any of the above, at least keep a journal. Be sure to record dates and times. Make detailed entries as soon after it happens as possible- contemporaneous notes make the best written record. Again, you will need to do what you can to keep your abuser from finding it. Probably the best way to keep it safe is to mail your notes to yourself at a P.O. Box address, or some other safe address. Keeping a journal won’t help if find it and destroy it, or you have to leave suddenly without taking it.

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more. I am a single Mommy of 2 wonderful girls. I’ve been free of my abuser for over 6 years and also sober from prescription pills for almost 5 years now. I am now working on a site which will reach out to others overcoming dv, addiction or any of lifes obstacles. For years I never told anyone and even family acted as though it was my fault for staying so long. After finding this site and then venturing over to your site, I was able to quickly realize this is an experience that I shouldn’t hide. I’m very grateful for everything you are doing to help bring this issue to the forefront. I’ll be sure to pass on these sites to others.
    My site http://www.ecigchic.com is a lifelong dream coming true. After finding sobriety, I decided that the next step would be to reach out to not only victims of domestic violence but anyone feeling hopeless or stuck.. Only over the last year did I decide to focus the site on e-cigarettes. After quitting smoking a year ago, it occurred to me that there must be many others who would be interested in quitting if they only knew there was a safe, cheaper alternative. The end result being a site for anyone who is ready to begin taking steps toward a more healthy, productive life. I have so many more plans for it and can’t wait to begin putting them into place. Anyway, I’m rambling! I always tend to go on and on when I start talking about my goals and dreams. It’s just so exciting to be able to reach out and touch others who may have never otherwise found the help they need.

    Thanks again,
    Christina Ellis

    Twitter- @ecigchic
    Google Talk- ecigchic

    You get the idea 🙂 As I was working on my website I discovered that Internet Marketing and Social Media are another thing I’m passionate about. I look forward to meeting like minded people. You can never have to many friends!!

  10. Thank you. I am so glad I entered this web page. I been saying Domestic Violence is exactly like drug addiction. I often said that Domestic Violence is why we need life couches. Acting out is all about how we choose to handle stress in our daily lives. Stress is never ever going to go away. People have to learn how to non-violently cope. People have to learn how to deal with everyday fears without forcing fear upon another person. That is all Domestic Violence is…It is an out burst of violent fear whether the fear is rational or irrational. People feel they can’t control the fear so people try to control another person…just like alcoholics think they can control their feelings drowning their sorrows misusing a substance. That idea will always create more problems than it will ever solve. It is all about learning true coping skills that will allow people to live happy. Trusting in that coping skill to make things better instead of the dead hope of vicious control. That is a life time goal not a 52 week goal. I think life couches are as much a need for Domestic Violence victims as a sponsor is to someone who attends AA. I am so glad someone working in the field gets it. One day I would like a self help group that welcomes all topics of abuse, and centers on the different ways people can abuse themselves and others in one forum. Then the center of the issue might lack to be the abuse but more attention might be granted to coping solution to help stop with the abuse.

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