Domestic Violence Batterers
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Most people feel compassion for the victims of domestic violence and their children, but when it comes to the domestic violence offender, the batterer, compassion generally goes out the window. In our Court Clinic, domestic violence research project we've discovered that after hearing the batterers' life-stories, compassion can be found for them as well.
One batterer, who we know is sociopathic and sadistic and who should be put in jail to protect everyone else, described his childhood: His mother was mentally ill. His father was violent. When he and his sister were pre-school age, their father had the mother committed to a mental institution and the children put into foster care. Both he and his sister were sexually molested by their foster parents. The caring side of this man never had a chance. Compassion for him is appropriate even as we incarcerate him, and we incarcerate him not to punish him. He was punished way before he'd done anything wrong..
Court Clinic research so far shows that batterers generally fit into two groups: The educable and the uneducable.
The uneducable group is made up largely of sociopathic individuals. Sociopaths are not emotionally connected to other living creatures. They have no conscience. They are often dangerous. Psychology has no cure for them so far.
The only solution we have is to isolate them from society.
The educable group is made up of individuals who've learned violence, most often by having witnessed violence in their own families when they were children. Some of them can fairly quickly unlearn violence. Others of them have developed more severe psychological problems and require significant therapy to unlearn violent behavior.
Some of these batterers suffer from "abandonment anxiety." When they witnessed violence as children they internalized intense anxiety that the parent who was being physically abused would be killed. Some of them experienced such acute anxiety they resisted going to school or leaving their home because they feared their parent would not be there when they returned.
This emotional disturbance results in a twisted logic. As adults they are still terrified they will be abandoned by a loved one, often their spouse. To prevent the loss they believe they must have absolute control over the loved one. One way to acquire absolute control is through coercion and violence. This control through coercion works for awhile, but ultimately breaks down when domestic violence charges are filed.
There are those who rather casually say, "Violence is learned behavior, and it can be unlearned." The solution they often suggest is to put the batterers in jail to, "give them a taste of their own medicine."
They're right when they say violence can be unlearned, but the unlearning will not be done quickly nor will it be easy to do. The amount of therapy necessary to undo this degree of psychological damage will take a lot of time and money. Most batterers have the time, but few have the money. The counseling intervention programs now provided by courts and corrections are typically 10 to 16 weeks long. Research suggests that two years is more realistic. As for giving them a taste of their own medicine, they already had plenty of that when they were children in a violent home.
People seem willing to spend $30,000/year to imprison someone. We could buy a whole lot of therapy for $30,000. Many domestic violence batterers could become caring human beings if we could have enough compassion for them to spend money to help. Clearly therapy won't help all batterers, but for those who are educable, jail will make things worse where there is a chance to make things better.
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