The official position of the state of Washington, embedded in its regulations (WAC 388-60-140(7)), is that "a victim of domestic violence is female in ninety-five percent of domestic violence incidents." This, despite the fact that the most recent Department of Justice National Violence Against Women Act Survey shows that just under 40% of the physical violence by intimates is against men. It's also the official Washington policy that the perpetrator is not to blame the victim, but is to take full responsibility for his own actions even if he's been assaulted before. Unless the "he" is a "she." In that case, the regulations governing domestic violence perpetrator treatment programs (Chap. 388-60) specify "In light of consistent research findings that a victim of domestic violence is female in ninety-five percent of domestic violence incidents, the program shall give special consideration to a female participant with regard to prior domestic violence victimization." [emphasis added] There is no excuse for physical violence, unless you're a woman.
What does this mean in real life? A Detroit News special report on battered husbands provides a dramatic example.
For 13 years, Karen Gillhespy was the abuser. She says she broke her husband's ribs, ripped entire patches of his hair out, scratched him, bit him, beat him with a baseball bat and kicked him. He never hit back -- and he never filed charges. But more shocking to Gillhepsy are the reactions she encountered telling her story. "They told me I was the victim," said Gillhespy, 34, of Marquette. "Here's no way any of this was his fault. I knew the difference between being the victim and being the perpetrator. I am ashamed for what I did."
Domestic violence researcher Suzanne Steinmetz, who with Richard Gelles and Murray Strauss first created public awareness of the extent of domestic violence, says that this is simply one more way that a woman's experience is devalued. Phil Cook, author of Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence, quotes her:
…the bottom line is that women get the short end of the stick anyway. When we say women can't possibly be violent, she must have done it for some reason, … we are in essence denying women services. ... no matter how you cut it, even in a case where the man is the victim of the abuse, the system has denied women any services so that they wouldn't do this again or so that they might feel in control. I don't know how many service providers have called me up and told me how they had to turn these women away because they don't know what to do--they don't have any services for them. In many cases, the radical feminists running the shelter would put a political twist on things. They would tell these women, "He must have done something." When a woman asks for help, and is told that she doesn't have a problem, that it's her mate's fault, it is very similar to what was happening in the 1950s and 1960s to abused women.
In a very real and practical sense, women are specifically excluded from domestic violence perpetrator treatment programs under Washington State regulations. These regulations specify that the only acceptable form of treatment is "single gender weekly group treatment sessions." The chances of there being five or six court orders mandating treatment for woman batterers in the same locale at the same time are minimal. The only exception to the group treatment rule is "unless there is a documented, clinical reason for another intervention. Such clinical reasons include psychosis or other conditions which make the individual not amenable to treatment."
This exclusion of women from services may be costing women's lives. As Cook points out:
Twenty years ago, men and women killed their partners in roughly equal numbers, but now far fewer women are killing their male domestic partners. According to a comparison study by Dr. Daniel Nagin a public policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, there is a "substantial" difference in the rate of decline. He links this to improved economic circumstances and as importantly, legal advocacy programs for female domestic violence victims. Dr. Nagin told the New York Times (July 28, 1998): "The resources for women seem to be saving the men's lives." … Shouldn't we at least try to put in place such programs for men, to see if they can be effective in preventing murders of women?
The "blame the victim if he's male" approach is buttressed by a second official Washington policy, a mandatory requirement that participants in certified domestic abuse perpetrator programs be indoctrinated with the view that men oppress women. During intake a participant is to be assessed not only on current and past violence history and substance abuse, but also on "assessment of cultural issues." What this means is clarified in the program educational curriculum requirements, which must address "belief systems which legitimize and sustain violence against women," a curious requirement for programs for woman batterers. The program is required to provide "opportunities for each participant to identify all of the participant's abusive conduct, the patterns of that conduct, and cultural supports which legitimize or excuse that conduct" [emphasis added], a requirement similar to the "re-education" programs required in Communist China. He is also to be given "opportunities to examine values or beliefs which facilitate abuse." This is in line with a program standard requiring participants to "be nonabrasive and noncontrolling" in relationships.
Programs for perpetrators are required to follow the "Duluth Model," which sees domestic violence as one more sign of male oppression of women and "imply that batterers are not insecure, pathologically
jealous or perhaps deeply damaged individuals, but calculating and controlling
men, for the most part, who believe in their superiority over women and
who take advantage of their greater strength to exercise "male privilege"
and keep women and children in thrall to their whims. "Batterers do
not 'lose control,' but carefully select the targets of their abuse,"..." Sound unbelievable? The quote is from a Metro (SIlicon Valley) weekly article, describing therapists' misgivings about programs under a similar California law.
Basically, there are two models for dealing with anger and violence. One, the "Duluth Model," is a "blame and shame" behavior modification approach, that focuses only on the perpetrator's role. This is the approach used often with prisoners. Rule infractions result in punishment, and "good behavior" (absence of rule-breaking) results in early release. It is also the official model in Washington, for all treatment of domestic violence by males.
The second approach is the model reflected in the popular book The Dance of Anger, in Jerry Medol's successful Kansas City program Alternatives to Anger, and by John Lee in Facing the Fire: Experiencing and Expressing Anger Appropriately. Anger and violence are part of a "dance" between two people in an intimate relationship, and the approach is to examine the role of each party, so that both may be empowered to make decisions in their own live. This is the model used in many successful prison rehabilitation programs and in AA, which holds people accountable for their lives without "blaming and shaming."
It is also the only acceptable model for treatment of woman batterers. Regulations specifically require, for every woman batterer, that the program "give special consideration to a female participant with regard to prior domestic violence victimization"; in other words, to examine how the victim of her battering contributed to her being a batterer, and what part he played in her "dance of anger." The program is also mandated to help empower her in her own life, by considering the appropriateness of domestic violence victim services, for her.
Washington regulations also specifically prohibit this "dance of anger" approach if men are the batterers. The regulation specifies that the program shall "Under no circumstances invite or require victims of group participants to attend perpetrator program counseling and education groups." [emphasis added]. One Bellevue therapist almost lost his license and had to go through a humiliating examination of his own mental fitness to practice for merely proposing to another therapist a "dance of anger" approach.
The bottom line is that Washington State policy mandates a "blame and shame" approach for male batterers and mandates a "blame the victim" approach for female batterers. How about an approach that treats batterers as people, and tailors treatment to their individual needs rather than their gender?