Fathers & Families Hosts Debate Between 2 Leading Domestic Violence Authorities (Part V)

stark2Domestic violence and the DV policies of family courts and law enforcement is a multi-faceted issue that has an enormous impact on American families. Fathers & Families is hosting a debate between two of North America’s leading domestic violence authorities, feminist DV expert Professor Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW, and dissident DV expert Dr. Donald G. Dutton.

Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW (pictured, right) is a forensic social worker who has served as an expert in more than 100 criminal and civil cases, consulted with numerous federal and state agencies, including the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control, and won a number prestigious awards for his work.

Dr. Donald G. Dutton, Ph.D. (pictured, middle right) has published over one hundred papers and ten books, including Rethinking Domestic Violence, The Abusive Personality, Domestic Assault of Women: Psychological and Criminal Justice Perspectives, and The Batterer: A psychological profile.

The debate will run in several segments and will be posted on both and Readers are asked to keep comments respectful and on topic. Our rules of moderation can be seen here.

Professor Stark began our debate on Monday here and here. Dr. Dutton responded here. Stark responded to Dutton here. Below, Dutton responds to Stark.

Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families

Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers & Families

Dutton Responds to Stark:

In response to Evan Stark”s request that I should “put [my] evidence on the table’ regarding the racial aspect of DV arrest policies, here it is: I was citing Linda Mills’ reflections on the Sherman arrest data from the Milwaukee arrest experiment (1). In Insult to Injury, Mills focuses on Sherman”s conclusion that 10,000 arrests of Caucasian men leads to 2,504 fewer acts of recidivist DV than in “warning-only’ controls. Ten thousand arrests of African- American men produces 1,803 more acts of recidivist DV than in the “warning’ control group. As Mills deduces, if police in any jurisdiction have a pattern of arresting African-American men more (say three times as often) than Caucasian men, they prevent 2,504 recidivist acts of DV against white women at the cost of 5,409 more acts of violence against African-American women.

As we all know, the Milwaukee experiment was one of six NIJ funded studies of the impact of arrest on recidivism, studies that Joel Garner and Chris Maxwell (2) summed up as follows: “according to criminal justice statistics, there was no significant deterrent effect of arrest, according to wife interviews, there was a modest effect.’ By a modest effect, Garner and Maxwell mean the following–that arrest generated a 4 to 30% reduction in recidivism, compared to a 50 to 330% reduction due to “the suspect”s age and prior criminal history.” In other words, individual characteristics, even of a superficial demographic variety, were ten times more predictive.

“[One] study of batterer intervention found that 40% of the men were with women who said they had struck the first blow. But only the man was being treated–what”s wrong with this picture?”

Unfortunately, the NIJ studies never assessed psychological characteristics of the arrested men, nor whether they were partnered with violent women. I recently served as a research consultant to a similar evaluation of “batterer intervention’ systems in California (3) that obtained the same results: extremely modest effects due to system intervention, much larger effects due to demographics of the men in treatment, no assessment whatsoever (despite my loud complaints) of violence used by the men”s partners. I raise this issue because Ed Gondolph”s multi-site study of batterer intervention found that 40% of the men were with women who said they had struck the first blow. But only the man was being treated–what”s wrong with this picture?

One could argue that a modest effect is better than no effect at all, but it seems that the modest effect is generated by arrested males who have a “stake in conformity’–are more likely to be white, married to the woman, graduated from high school, and employed. Not coincidently, the California study found the same was true of batterer intervention. If these criteria are not met, arrest backfires. In my view, we are missing the boat on two important conclusions from these studies.

1. Abusogenic Families

One important factor is that chronic, repeat assault occurs most frequently and with the most severe impact in multi-problem families, plagued by unemployment or underemployment, financial stress, substance abuse problems, and mental health issues including severe depression. A large scale study by Felliti et al (4) underscores this point. Fellitti and his colleagues found that long term negative psychological and health effects occurred in families that had four or more “adverse experiences as children,’ including family drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual abuse and mental illness.

The American Bar Association Website (that John Hamel and Ken Corvo and I criticized) abstracted “violence against mother’ as the chief cause of the children”s problems, although it was just one problem among many. This “violence against women’ focus (that I call the gender paradigm) swamps the field and diminishes attention paid to other social determinants of family problems. Arresting the male in these multi-problem families does not seem like anything more than a band-aid solution, focused on one symptom in an abusogenic family (Felitti et al, by the way, in keeping with the current political correctness, asked no questions about mother assaulting father.)

2. Systemic Interactional Violence

Here”s the case for shelving the gender paradigm and taking a more systemic, data driven approach: large sample studies on the developmental trajectories of people who become abusive (5-7) show the following: that girls and boys who grow up to become spouse abusers, show many warning signs along the developmental path. The girls are already more aggressive by early public school, both boys and girls have more ‘delinquency’ arrests including drug abuse and arrests for conduct problems. These issues produce women who are both more likely to assault their male partner and to choose a male partner who is himself assaultive. This is called “assortative mating’ (8) – it means that people with a constellation of abusogenic problems seek each other out–for a host of reasons–and then produce the type of multi-problem family that Felitti et al describe.

It”s important to note that both Lisa Serbin and Terrie Moffitt , who performed some major contributions to this research, controlled statistically for male violence when assessing the relationship between early adolescent female violence and her use of violence toward her spouse. It was not defensive violence by the women, it was a continuation of aggressive traits they had demonstrated since childhood.

Currently these issues are ignored despite that rather good results obtained in prevention programs (9) and the “red alerts’ they give us for targeted prevention. Studies of abusive couples (10-14) consistently show what transpires in these abusogenic families; a coercion trap of escalating negativity spirals up to violence, further escalated by alcohol or drug abuse. Recent research shows that injuries to women occur more in the bilateral patterns of violence found in these families than in the stereotypic “wife batterer’ pattern. (15)

3 Stereotypes of DV ( Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Violence- IPV)

It is also important to point out that the incidence of the stereotypic wife batterer pattern has been assessed in several large scale surveys. If we define it as use of severe violence by a male against a non-violent (or minimally violent) female intimate partner, then it is about 8% of all reports of DV (16). If we define it as any violence by a male against a non-violent intimate women, then it is about 15% of all DV. If we ask about the use of coercion in addition to DV, then 4.2% of an entire population of women (in this case, in Canada) report it happening to them (in the last 5 years). Men report having coercive violence used against them by women in 2.6% of cases. (17)

“No matter how you define it, stereotypic “battering’ of defenseless women is a minority of all DV cases, yet it is treated as though it were the only important form of DV.”

In this study, respondents were not asked whether they too had attempted to coerce their abusive partner but if the breakdown found by Stets and Straus and Whitaker applies, at least half would say ‘yes.” No matter how you define it, stereotypic “battering’ of defenseless women is a minority of all DV cases, yet it is treated as though it were the only important form of DV.

These findings on coercion, coupled with studies showing females using coercion as much as males (18, 19) may give Evan Stark pause about upping the feminist ante on police arrest. I remain opposed to this strategy. I believe it is a logical extension of the misguided gender paradigm and would not only be totalitarianism (in that the state reaches way too far into families), it would also cause unsolvable complexities when applied to families immigrating from more patriarchal cultures who had not yet adjusted to North American norms about coercion. North American men do not think it acceptable to use violence to get their way in intimate relationships (only 2% agree that it is) (20) and Canada and the US are both in the top tenth percentile in terms of women”s equality measured worldwide. (21)

Back to Arrest

So here then is the gist of the problem: the gender paradigm has trained police, prosecutors, family court counsellors and judges to think of DV solely in terms of the stereotypic wife battering model. Yet this is a minority pattern that gets majority attention while other patterns and contributing factors are ignored. The criminal justice system has to make someone guilty-the perpetrator–even though interactive patterns of DV are more frequent, women are injured more in these bilateral patterns, and men too are both injured by DV and exposed to coercive DV.

“The criminal justice system has to make someone guilty-the perpetrator–even though interactive patterns of DV are more frequent, women are injured more in these bilateral patterns, and men too are both injured by DV and exposed to coercive DV.”

I do agree with Evan Stark that “psychoeducational’ models–another toxic consequence of viewing DV from the gender paradigm perspective–are hopeless. There are too many evaluations showing a zero or minimal effect (22-24). The recidivism rate of Duluth models appears to hover around 40%. If left alone, men who reported one or two acts of severe violence in year one, eliminate that violence in 60% of the cases by year two- again, a 40% recidivism rate (25).

“40% of men in [batterers’] treatment have wives who report hitting them first (26). This underscores the need to have a couple option in DV treatment and that ‘violent men’ may be products of violent couples.”

I also think it noteworthy that 40% of men in treatment have wives who report hitting them first (26). This underscores the need to have a couple option in DV treatment and that “violent men’ may be products of violent couples. We deflected our gaze from this interactive view much too prematurely and for gender political rather than empirical reasons.

Evan Stark asked if I would think couples treatment advisable in IPV cases where the couple did not live together. I think the answer lies in the dynamic that produced the IPV in each case–was it bilateral or unilateral? Does this couple plan on continuing their relationship? There are some very effective couple programs in place already (27, 28). The gender paradigm charge that couple treatment is never warranted in IPV cases and the claim that women are at risk in couples therapy appear to have no empirical basis that I can find. It again seems to be a politically based claim that is counterproductive.

“We need look no further than the miserably flawed ‘War on Drugs’ to see the failure of a misconceived legal system ‘war.’ A ‘War on Wife Assault’ suffers from similar flaws.”

Deterrence and Zero Tolerance

Evan Stark asked whether I believed DV should be de-criminalized. I do not believe we can do this–there is simply too high a danger risk in domestic situations. However, I do think that the criminal justice system has severe limitations in solving social problems including family violence. We need look no further than the miserably flawed “War on Drugs’ to see the failure of a misconceived legal system “war.” A “War on Wife Assault’ suffers from similar flaws–a misconceptualization of the problem as a gender issue and the belief that arrest is a panacea (until the matriarchy finally arrives).

The complaints that Evan Stark raises about the criminal justice system abandoning women are familiar to those who study deterrence. Zero tolerance policies inevitably fail because they cannot sustain criminal justice involvement nor the cost to reduce a problem permanently. (29) The criminal justice system should remain as one point of entry into DV intervention. In my view, it would be better to spend the money on prevention programs in schools, on adolescents with aggressive profiles, or in assisting multi-problem families. When cases do come into the criminal justice system, work needs to be done to repair the stereotyping of males as sole DV perpetrators, and a triage system needs to be in place that would examine all available options, not just the same failed gender based outcomes.

[Note: All of the posts relating to this debate are available here. Dutton’s citations are after the page jump.–GS]

1. Mills LG. Insult to Injury: rethinking our response to intimate abuse. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003
2. Garner JH, Maxwell CD. What are the lessons of the police arrest studies? Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma. 2000;4:83-114
3. Macleod D, Pi R, Smith D, Rose- Goodwin L. Batterer intervention systems in California: An evaluation. In: Adminstrative Office of Courts: Judicial Council of California, 2009
4. Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of deaths in adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 1998;14:245 -258.
5. Serbin L, Stack D, De Genna N et al. When aggressive girls become mothers. In: Putallaz M, Bierman KL, eds. Aggression, antisocial behavior and violence among girls. New York: The Guilford Press., 2004:262 -285
6. Moffitt TE, Caspi A, Rutter M, Silva PA. Sex differences in antisocial behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001
7. Ehrensaft MK, Cohen P, Johnson JG. Development of personality disorder symptoms and the risk of partner violence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 2006;115:474 – 483
8. Capaldi DM, Kim HK, Shortt JW. Women’s involvement in aggression in young adult romantic relationships. In: Putallaz MaB, K.L., ed. Aggression, antisocial behavior, and violence among girls. New York: Guilford, 2004:223 -241.
9. MacLeod J, Nelson G. Programs for the promotion of family wellness and the prevention of child maltreatment: A meta-analytic review. Child Abuse & Neglect. 2000;24:1127 -1149
10. Leonard KE, Senchak M. Alcohol and premarital aggression among newlywed couples. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 1993;11:96-108
11. Margolin G, John RS, Gleberman L. Affective responses to conflictual discussions in violent and non-violent couples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1989;56:24-33
12. Burman B, Margolin G, John RS. America’s Angriest Home Videos: Behavioral Contingencies Observed in Home Reenactments of Marital Conflict. Journal of Consulting And Clinical Psychology. 1993;61:28-39
13. Babcock JC, Waltz J, Jacobson NS, Gottman JM. Power and Violence: The Relation Between Communication Patterns, Power Discrepancies, and Domestic Violence. Journal of Consulting And Clinical Psychology. 1993;61:40-50
14. Jacobson NS, Gottman, J. M.,Waltz, J., Rushe, R.,Babcock, J. and Holtzworth-Munroe, A. Affect, verbal content, and psychophysiology in the arguments of couples with a violent husband. Journal of Consulting And Clinical Psychology. 1994;62:982-988
15. Whitaker DJ, Haileyesus T, Swahn M, Saltzman L. Differences in frequency of violence and reported injury between relationships with reciprocal and non-reciprocal intimate partner violence. American Journal of Public Health. 2007;97:941-947.
16. Stets J, Straus MA. The marriage license as a hitting license: A comparison of dating, cohabiting and married couples. Journal of Family Violence. 1989;4:37-54.
17. Laroche D. Aspects of the context and consequences of domestic violence- Situational couple violence and intimate terrorism in Canada in 1999. Quebec City: Government of Quebec, 2005
18. Felson RB, Outlaw MC. The control motive and marital behavior. Violence and Victims. 2007;22:387 – 407
19. Stets J, Hammond SA. Gender, control and marital committment. Journal of Family Issues. 2002;23:3-25
20. Simon TR, Anderson M, Thompson MP et al. Attitudinal acceptance of intimate partner violence among U.S. adults. Violence and Victims. 2001;16:115-126
21. Archer J. Cross-cultural differences in physical aggression between partners: A social-structural analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2006;10:133 -153
22. Babcock JC, Green CE, Robie C. Does batterers’ treatment work?: A meta-analytic review of domestic violence treatment outcome research. Clinical Psychology Review. 2004;23:1023-1053
23. Feder L, Wilson DB. A meta-analytic review of court mandated batterer intervention programs: Can courts affect abusers’ behavior? Journal of Experimental Criminology. 2005;1:239 – 262
24. Davis RC, Taylor BG, Maxwell CD. Does batterer treatment reduce violence? A randomized experiment in Brooklyn. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 2000
25. Feld SL, Straus M. Escalation and desistance from wife assault in marriage. In: Straus MA, Gelles RJ, eds. Physical violence in American families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990
26. Dutton DG, Corvo KC. The Duluth model: A data-impervious paradigm and a flawed strategy. Aggression and Violent Behavior. 2007;12:658 -667
27. O’Leary KD, Heyman R, Neidig PH. Treatment of wife abuse: A comparison of gender-specific and couple approaches. Behavior Assessment. 1999;30:475-505
28. Stith SM, Rosen KH, McCollum EE, Thomsen CJ. Treating intimate partner violence within intact couple relationships: Outcomes of multi-couple versus individual couple therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2004;30:305-318
29. Kennedy DM. Deterrence and crime prevention. New York: Routledge, 2009

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