As a former cop, I’ve been to a ton of domestic violence calls. They were brutal.

I came from a family where my parents didn’t fight, let alone hit each other. I was taught that a man hitting women was the lowest form of humanity.

My first domestic violence call involved a husband beating his wife with a frying pan. He was arrested for assaulting us. His victim begged us not to take him away.

As my career progressed I became a spokesperson for national and state criminal justice agencies including law enforcement and corrections. I attended a variety of domestic violence classes required by judges or the parole commission to see how offenders responded.

Domestic violence programs aren't working, what do we do now?

Are domestic violence programs working? Or is it time to look for a new way to solve this problem? (Pixabay)


What I saw was distressing; many thought that domestic violence was the only option they had. They told stories where their partners provoked them again and again to the point where some form of violence was the only way to shut them up. Several stated that domestic violence was a frequent occurrence in their households while young.

I always wondered whether these classes, however well intended, accomplished their goals. Now via an article from Mother Jones (below), we have a partial answer.


Domestic violence programs aren't working, what do we do now?


Programs For Offenders Rarely Work

The first thing to understand is that most programs for offenders have a miserable track record.  When you read the Mother Jones article or other reports, you will get the distinct impression that programs for adults caught up in the justice system work. Too often, they don’t.

Programs can make things worse, show no effect or have marginal reductions in recidivism (new arrests, convictions or incarcerations). Advocates celebrate programs with a ten percent reduction in recidivism (or less) while failing to acknowledge that 90 percent fail. I’m unaware of any intervention where the vast majority of participants fail being lauded.

To my knowledge, GPS or satellite tracking is the only intervention showing a variety of successful results.  The US Sentencing Commission suggests that federal offenders with college degrees recidivate less than those without.  Some programs show promise but cannot be replicated.

So it shouldn’t be a shock to suggest that domestic violence intervention programs don’t work, Offender Recidivism.


We have a skewed view of criminology where everything needs to be put in its simplest terms.

Offenders can’t read or need occupational skills or mental health or drug treatment? Create a program.

The problem is that many who end up in the justice system come from very difficult backgrounds, Offenders and Mental Health. Violent offenders recidivate far more than non-violent offenders,  Violent Offenders. Domestic violence can be seen as a precursor to other violent crimes, Washington Post.

Until we are willing to deal with the underlying problems of mental health and other reasons for offender dysfunction (i.e., child abuse and neglect, PTSD), our efforts to help people within the justice system will be challenging.


Paul Bashi, 35, was arrested in August and accused of trying kill his girlfriend. (Screenshot Fox2Detroit broadcast)


Advocates will claim that programs provide a humanistic second chance and that’s fine, just don’t suggest that domestic violence victims (or society) are safer because of it.

Mother Jones (mostly direct quotes edited for brevity)

The first batterer interven­tion program, or BIP, was founded in Boston in 1977 by men who wanted to combat the misogynistic attitudes they viewed as the root of abusive behavior. In the 1980s, under increasing political pressure from women’s groups, many states passed stricter domestic violence laws, resulting in more offenders facing mandatory arrest. As courtrooms filled with abusers, judges began to send them to BIPs. In 1994, Cali­fornia mandated BIPs for probationers with domestic violence convictions. Programs sprang up around the country, becoming one of the justice system’s primary ways of dealing with domestic abusers. Today, more than half a million men attend about 2,500 BIPs annually.

Domestic violence programs aren't working, what do we do now?

Victims of abuse so rarely report it. (Air Force Medicine)


Yet these programs have spread without much sense of whether they work. “Batterer intervention programs weren’t really designed with the criminal justice system in mind,” says Dana Radatz, a criminal justice researcher at Niagara University. “The criminal justice system saw them as an opportunity after the fact.” While some men benefit from these programs, studies show they have a minimal effect on whether offenders commit another violent offense.

“There’s this crisis of confidence in domestic violence treatment,” says David Martin, a prosecutor who heads the domestic violence unit in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle. “Domestic violence is a second-­class crime, and this is a byproduct of that—that the most common intervention we have is we’re going to send people to batterers’ treatment. You can’t honestly tell victims that this is the right thing to do.”

Many BIPs incorporate aspects of the Duluth Model, a decades-old curriculum based on the belief that domestic violence is fundamentally rooted in patriarchy. Its curriculum does not include factors that may influence abusers, such as mental health issues, substance abuse, or a history of trauma, even though these issues often come up in treatment groups.

In 2013, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that Duluth-inspired programs had no effect on recidivism rates among domestic violence offenders. The Veterans Health Administration prohibits the use of the Duluth Model in its own programs for addressing domestic violence among veterans.

Recent research on BIPs has found that teaching abusers about their role in the patriarchy may not be the best way to keep them from acting violently again—mostly because domestic violence offenders are not that different from other violent offenders.

“People in [BIPs] often have criminal histories, and they’re being rearrested for a wide variety of offenses that include domestic violence but are not exclusive to domestic violence,” says Tara Richards, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who has studied the effectiveness of BIPs. “We have to take that information and we have to say, ‘Okay, how are we going to treat these clients differently in a way that’s actually going to meet their full spectrum of needs?’ Because that’s when we’re going to see a reduction in domestic violence.”

Recidivism remains the clearest indication of whether programs for abusers are working. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that a felony domestic violence conviction was one of the best predictors of whether someone might commit a violent crime in the future, Mother Jones.


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Domestic violence programs aren't working, what do we do now?