DV Conference Report #15: ‘Many men claimed their female partners were more abusive than they were…I had been trained to disbelieve such claims’

Sacramento, CA–Background: The historic, one-of-a-kind conference “From Ideology to Inclusion: Evidence-Based Policy and Intervention in Domestic Violence” was held in Sacramento, California February 15-16 and was a major success. The conference was sponsored by the California Alliance for Families and Children and featured leading domestic violence authorities from around the world.

Many of these researchers are part of the National Family Violence Legislative Resource Center, which is challenging the domestic violence establishment’s stranglehold on the issue. The NFVLRC promotes gender-natural, research-based DV policies.

I have been and will continue to detail the conference and some of the research that was presented there in this blog–to learn more, click here.

John Hamel, LCSW, is a court-certified batterer treatment provider and author of the book Gender-Inclusive Treatment of Intimate Partner Abuse. A leading authority in the field, John was one of the principle organizers of the Sacramento domestic violence conference. Springer publications did an interview with John (pictured, photo by Kevin Graft) which encapsulates many of the major themes of his work. It is reprinted below.

An Interview with John Hamel

Both of your books are based on the concept that men and women are equally capable of abuse against each other. This runs completely counter to conventional thinking, which insists that men are always aggressors and women are always victims. What first led you to this line of research, and what prompted you to begin writing about it?

In 1991, I took over a domestic violence caseload and was trained in a variation of the well-known “Duluth’ model. In the Duluth theoretical framework, domestic violence is caused by a patriarchal society that sanctions violence by men against their female partners. Women are assumed to be either victims or, when they are found to aggress against their male partners, to be doing so in self-defense.

In group, many of the men I was working with claimed that their female partners were equally or more abusive than they were, and wondered why I wasn”t treating them as well. I had been trained to automatically disbelieve such claims as victim-blaming. However, while many of my clients did in fact seek to displace responsibility for their actions onto others, I found other claims to be quite credible, so I changed my assessment procedures and began to insist on interviewing victims separately. According to the victims themselves, the majority of these cases did indeed involve mutual abuse and, and some featured a dominant female perpetrator whose partner was arrested after fighting back. This clinical data contradicted much of what I had been taught, and led me to conduct an extensive review of the research literature. What I found more than corroborated my clinical findings.

Would you say that the idea that both females and males can be both aggressors and victims is becoming more accepted among those in the field? Why or why not?

These notions are not new; they had found support as far back as the 1970″s, in the work of Murray Straus, Peter Neidig and other researchers. For years, studies conducted by these mavericks were dismissed, and in some cases suppressed, because of the long-dominant patriarchal paradigm advanced by victim advocates.

Recently, however, there has been an explosion of new research that may very well change the way we look at domestic violence. I am thinking of the work that Linda Mills has done questioning mandatory arrest laws, and her ideas around restorative justice; the meta-analytic reviews by John Archer, and the emerging research on power and control and female intimate terrorism by his colleague, Nicola Graham-Kevan; the prodigious and far-reaching research from Don Dutton; and the dating violence and etiological studies by the seemingly tireless and age-defying Murray Straus at the University of New Hampshire.

As a result of these efforts, the majority of mainstream researchers are now acknowledging the gender-inclusive nature of intimate partner abuse. The next and more important step will be when advocates and policy makers begin to incorporate these findings into evidence-based legislation and programs.

Regarding treatment, the idea that violence can be mutual will have a huge impact on mental health professionals who treat couples experiencing violence.

How does a gender-inclusive approach differ from more traditional interventions?

The gender-inclusive approach is first and foremost evidence-based. The current patriarchal paradigm is based on radical sociopolitical ideology, and all intervention and policy problems are based within that framework. If men are always the perpetrators and women always the victims, and if the priority is helping women escape their abusers, then couples counseling would be at best useless, and risk further victimizing the woman.

Before mental health professionals became better informed about domestic violence – especially about the dynamics of more severe forms of battering and intimate terrorism – poorly trained therapists would sometimes attempt couples or family work before the safety of victims could be properly secured. Since then, mental health professionals have become more sophisticated about domestic violence. We now know that some batterers are not amenable to any treatment; but we also know that most domestic violence is mutual, typically occurs within the context of escalated conflict, and involves lower-level violence. This is the type of abuse for which couples and family therapy would be most suitable.

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