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Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

The following National Domestic Violence Hotline 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 an 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.

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