My husband has actually been better since I came here. He knows I’m not alone anymore. I told him, I said, ‘I’m part of a battered women’s group, leave me alone’.
— Older Adult Survivor, Meeting Survivors’ Needs through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services & Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study by NRCDV (November 2011)
Implications for victim-defined advocacy
Learn from the victim about the partner who batters
If you know the partner’s gender use gender-specific language, otherwise begin with gender neutral terms.
- His violent behavior: What does he do? When? Any pattern or any way to predict? Answers to these questions will help you work with the victim to plan safety strategies and to assess both the level of violence and possibility of change.
- His relationship with her and the children: Is he committed to the relationship? How does he treat her? Does he spend time with the children? What does he do with and for the children? What cultural or other influences affect his view of the relationship and his parenting? What is the likelihood of ongoing contact?
- His ability to change: Explore this if she or the children will have contact with him and she’s interested in exploring this possibility. Does she think he could change? Has he tried or promised to change in the past? Did he? What helped him change? What might help him change in the future? Are there influences from his life experience, family, culture that might help him change?
Help the victim assess her partner’s violent behavior and the likelihood he will stop or reduce it
There is still a lot to discover about predicting violence and figuring out which persons who use violence will stop or reduce that behavior. Because it is not yet possible to be certain, advocates might “err on the side of safety” and tell every victim that her partner has the potential to use life-threatening violence and that he won’t change. This unnecessarily limits options for a significant number of victims.
Advocates can help victims develop as complete a view of their partner as possible. Accurate information helps victims make more informed decisions and safety plans. Without offering false hope or wrongly insisting there is no hope for change, advocates can explore with a victim the level of danger she faces from her partner’s violence and the likelihood he’ll change. Does he fit in one or more of the following categories? What are the implications for her and her children?
- His behavior is life-threatening to her or the children
- He might/will change
- He won’t change
Discuss services, interventions, and strategies to change her partner’s behavior, if warranted
It is not a victim’s responsibility to help her partner change, but she may want to him to try. Victims make the decision to explore these options to change a partner. Our job as victim-defined advocates is to make sure that decision is informed and pursued as safely as possible.
This discussion must be informed by the assessment of her partner’s behavior and likelihood of change. A discussion about changing behavior is relevant even if a victim leaves her partner, as most victims have some contact with an ex-partner and their children are likely to continue their relationship with their father. Even minor changes can make life better for victims and their children.
Implementation and safety issues must be part of the discussion
- His violent behavior: What does she think it will take for him to change? What options exist? Are involuntary options, such as mandated intervention programs for those who batter a good fit for him? Who or what would influence him? How will his culture and life experience be valued in the change process?
- His parenting: What would make him a better parent? Why? What does she think it will take for him to make that change? Are there domestic violence responsive fatherhood/parenting services available?
- His circumstances: What other changes might make things better for her and the children? (and for him?) Is he able to work? If so, does he need a chance to work or get a better job? Are there substance use, mental health, or trauma issues that he is struggling with? Are there other issues that keep him from being the partner she wants him to be or the parent the children need him to be?
Plan how to safely implement the strategies for change
Some partners who batter are not open to change or services. Some of those who batter will attack and retaliate if their partner even suggests change is needed. There are also those who are less closed and some who want to be better partners and parents.
How the strategies are implemented will affect safety and likelihood of use.
- Voluntary or involuntary: Must he choose to go? Can/should he be forced to go? For example, the criminal legal system might force intervention. Other pressures might come from family members, faith institutions, employer, or even from a victim who might require an effort to change if she is going to stay in the relationship.
- The messenger: Who can deliver the message and be safe? Can it be the victim? Who will be the most effective/influential to her partner?
- What: Which strategy should come first? What interventions and services? How will victims and their children be protected? Who will pay for them? Does the strategy support positive cultural models relevant to his life experience and family?
Develop plans to keep victims and children safe while implementing strategies to change an partner/parent who batters
- Inform: How does the strategy/program work? Who runs it? Where is it? How long? Will they contact the victim? Will the victim get information about her partner’s participation?
- Test for success: How will she decide if it is working? Is his participation making things better for her and the children? Is it making things worse? How?
- Safety options: What can she do if it gets worse? How will she and the children escape if there is life-threatening danger? How can she emotionally support the children?
Collaborate with programs and people that work with those who batter
We need to learn more about those who batter, about assessing the violence and likelihood of change, what gets them to change, and what services are available in our communities. Because those who batter interact with a range of services and institutions, these resources are not just limited to current “batterer intervention programs.” Seek out others who understand and effectively respond to domestic violence issues. You may find them in responsible fatherhood programs, employment initiatives, parenting education efforts, prison and re-entry efforts, faith institutions, culturally specific programs, substance use interventions, clinical/mental health treatment, and elsewhere in the community.