Court-Ordered Domestic Violence
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Assessing Change in Abusers

Assessing Change in Batterers -

Assessment of change in a batterer should draw on multiple sources of information (not just the batterer's self-report), and include attention to the following issues at a minimum:

1. Has he made full disclosure of his history of physical and psychological abuse? A batterer must overcome denial and minimization in order to confront his abusive behavior meaningfully (Adams, Bancroft, German, & Sousa, 1992; see Leberg, 1997 on the similar dynamic in treating child sexual abusers). It is common for abusers to claim to have changed while simultaneously denying most of the history of violence, and a skeptical view should be taken of such assertions.

2. Has he recognized that abusive behavior is unacceptable? We find that some batterers who claim to have changed continue to justify their past violent or abusive behavior, usually through blaming the victim, thereby leaving an opening for using such justifications for future abuse. One indication of an abuser who may be making serious progress is his unqualified statements that his behavior was wrong.

3. Has he recognized that abusive behavior is a choice? Some batterers may acknowledge that abuse is wrong but make the excuse that they lost control, were intoxicated, or were in emotional distress. Acceptance of full responsibility is indispensable for change (Adams et al., 1992), and needs to include recognition that abuse is intentional and instrumental (Pence & Paymar, 1993).

4. Does he show empathy for the effects of his actions on his partner and children? As evidence of change, a batterer should be able to identify in detail the destructive impact his abuse has had (Pence & Paymar, 1993) and demonstrate that he feels empathy for his victims (Mathews, 1995; Edleson & Tolman, 1992), without shifting attention back to his own emotional injuries, grievances, or excuses.

5. Can he identify what his pattern of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes has been? In order to change, a batterer has to see that his violence grows out of a surrounding context of abusive behaviors and attitudes (Pence & Paymar, 1993), and be able to name the specific forms of abuse he has relied on (Edleson & Tolman, 1992) and the entitled beliefs that have driven those behaviors.

6. Has he replaced abuse with respectful behaviors and attitudes? A changing batterer responds respectfully to his (ex-)partner's grievances, meets his responsibilities, and stops focusing exclusively on his own needs. He develops non-abusive attitudes, including accepting his (ex-)partner's right to be angry (Bancroft, 2002) and reevaluating his distortedly negative view of her as a person. Attitudinal changes are important predictors of behavioral improvement in batterers (Gondolf, 2000).

7. Is he willing to make amends in a meaningful way? We have observed that batterers who are making genuine change develop a sense of long-term indebtedness towards their victims. This sense includes feeling responsible to lay their own grievances aside because of the extent of injury that the abuse has caused.

8. Does he accept the consequences of his actions? Our clients who make substantial progress come to recognize that abusive behavior rightly carries consequences with it, which may include the woman's decision to end the relationship or the placement of restrictions on the abuser's access to his children. On the other hand, continued anger or externalizing of responsibility regarding such consequences tends to portend a return to abusive behavior.


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