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Battered Men - The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence
Batterer Treatment Programs

The Faulty Duluth Model

Battery Row

Gender Polarization in Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programs

© 1998 by Bert H. Hoff

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This article draws in part on a feature story "Battery Row" by Ami Chen Mills from the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro (A Silicon Valley weekly). In this article I will explain what the "Duluth Model" is, how it originated, why therapists have misgivings about its gender-polarizing approach and how a Native American program that specifically rejects this approach in favor of one which does not "blame" either gender has achieved a 95% "success" rate.


Nationally and in Washington, treatment of batterers is based on the gender-polarizing "Duluth Model" of domestic violence, which rejects all we know about couples counseling, family systems theory and anger management in favor of a gender-polarizing view that battering is a conscious strategy by men to assert male dominance over women. The model is only for battering men and battered women, as its developers clearly state. It can't work, for treatment of battering women. As journalist Amy Chen Mills summed it up in an article raising critical questions about domestic violence perpetrator programs in Santa Clara County, California:

Across the country, batterers' treatment programs are shifting to embrace a feminist-informed, gender-based analysis of battery--one in which men (or mostly men) batter because they are the beneficiaries of "male privilege" and because they sit on top of a patriarchal "power pyramid."

While almost completely abandoning traditional approaches to domestic violence, such as examining relationship and family dynamics and doing couples counseling and anger management, the male-patriarchy view of domestic violence focuses instead on "reeducating" men about their "privileged" position until they relent and admit that they are responsible for their own violence--and any violence in the relationship. This model pays little attention to women as batterers, and less to gay and lesbian domestic violence.

The situation in Washington is worse. It's 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. (See the MenWeb article Official Washington State Policy: Blame the Victim.)

Duluth Model power and control wheel

Duluth Model power and control wheel. "Using male privilege" and "using economic abuse" are seen as key components of men's oppression of women. This graphic is from the Washington state Domestic Violence Hotline Web site. Click here to see a larger, more legible version of the wheel, from the Duluth Model.


In Washington programs, 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]He is also to be given "opportunities to examine values or beliefs which facilitate abuse."


What is the Duluth Model? It was created by the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. It's described in detail in Pence, E., and Paymer, M. Education Groups For Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model (Springer Publishing, New York: 1993). The "Power and Control Wheel" is central to the model. As the authors explain, it "depicts the primary abusive behaviors experienced by women living with men who batter." [emphasis added] There's no doubt that it reflects a feminist ideology of male oppression of women. The authors make no bones about it:

The tactics used by batterers reflect the tactics used by many groups or individuals in positions of power. Each of the tactics depicted on the Power and Control Wheel are typical of behaviors used by groups of people who dominate others. They are the tactics employed to sustain racism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, and many other forms of group domination. Men in particular are taught these tactics in both their families of origin and through their experiences in a culture that teaches men to dominate.
This cultural acceptance of dominance is rooted in the assumption that, based on differences, some people have the legitimate right to master others. Southern whites proclaimed segregation to be God's plan carried out in the interest of "less developed" Southern blacks. Through their institutions, European Americans have for the last five centuries dominated Native American people. "[The] long patriarchal tradition... was explicitly established in the institutional practices of both the church and the state and supported by some of the most prominent political, legal, religious, philosophical, and literary figures in Western society... They believed that men had the right to dominate and control women and that women were by their very nature subservient to men. This relationship was deemed natural, sacred and unproblematic and such beliefs resulted in long periods of disregard and/or denial of the husband's abuses of his economic, political and physical power." (Dobash & Dobash, Violence Against Wives: A Case Against the Patriarchy. Open Books, London: 1980, p.7)

A gender-neutral model

Tom Graves has developed a "gender-neutral" version of the "Duluth Model." He criticizes the gender-polarization of the original model, then presents a gender-neutral version and an "inverted version," designed specifically for heterosexual females and homosexual males.

It's a "victim" model, one in which it's inconceivable that men could be the victims of domestic violence. The authors explain, "We use gender-specific terms not only because the curriculum is for men who batter, but because battering is not a gender-neutral issue."

This is the "gender-neutral" model mandated for perpetrators in Washington state.

Washington regulations governing perpetrator treatment programs contain 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."

Journalist Amy Chen Mills describes a similar indoctrination process in the Santa Clara program:

Group themes for discussion include "misogyny," "the connections and similarities between domestic violence and racist oppression imposed by the dominant culture" and "superiority and privilege based on gender."

The standards 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," the standards state. Abuse is "deliberate behavior," used to "control and restrict the behavior ... of another."

The standards discourage efforts to teach batterers stress management, listening skills and communication skills, or to explore past experience or examine "distorted thinking" and its effect on emotions. Analysis of psychopathology and individual sessions are discouraged because they might serve to "support the defendant's [false] belief of uniquely different reasons for employing violence."

Group leaders need not be licensed, but are required to go through a training series that includes a "gender analysis of domestic violence," "gender role socialization," "diversity issues" and "unlearning oppressions." Facilitators must also "confront heterosexism and homophobia within group sessions."

She observes:

The standards' purpose, as expressed by their authors, is to protect victims and to recognize a real feeling of powerlessness experienced by many women who are the victims of terroristic men. But growing numbers of therapists here and nationwide are dismayed by what they see as a trend to villainize all batterers--specifically, male batterers--and turn a blind eye to the often messy reality of relationship dynamics and individual psychology.

Ms. Mills quotes Richard Gelles, director of the Family Violence Research Program, as calling attempts to legislate any batterers' treatment programs misguided. "Legislating standards is inappropriate and wrong-headed. The bottom line as we speak is that there are no scientific evaluations that can tell us what works for what men and under what conditions. Anybody who claims they have the secret categorically does not know what they're talking about. Any attempt to impose standards is based on marketing and not science. It's happening all across the country, and legislators are buying it."

According to Gelles, only one treatment for domestic violence appears to be "very effective": couples counseling in which both parties are voluntary, not court-mandated, participants.

Too often, when a battered man calls the police, he is the one who is arrested and forced to take a court-ordered batterer program. There are several examples of this on the MenWeb page of men's personal stories. A gender-polarized program that views battering as male oppression and denies that women batter is an unreal and maddening experience for these men. Some women, too, may be engaged in their own patterns of abuse and power and control.

Ms. Mills reports:

According to critics of the gender-role model, tracing the roots of the problem does not mean retracting blame or shifting blame to victims. It may be possible to understand violence while condemning violence--and attempting to keep victims safe at the same time.

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?

Ms. Mills writes about one successful program that avoids gender-polarization, the Native-based Circle of Harmony Healing Society in Terrace, British Columbia. This voluntary, 12-week program takes only couples, who meet in same-sex groups for the first six weeks and mixed groups for the second. Program co-founder Maurice Oates claims a fantastic (but unverified) 95 percent success rate. The program does "continuous follow-up" with its couples. According to Ms. Mills, Oates states: "We don't really give a damn about what white people think. All participants are considered equal and not adversaries. ... All our programs avoid sexual bias." Local "gender feminists," Oates says, "were telling us it would be a disaster. We call those people the 'wounded healers' because they try to help people, but they have not yet dealt with their own pain and agony."

Ms. Mills reports that Oates is happily indifferent to what he sees as the "current thing" in domestic violence treatment, in which "everybody's got to be a victim. People have got to get past that. We know on our Native reserves that domestic violence is a 50-50 proposition, and we don't want to get caught in your gender wars. It's always: She's got a reason for the violence, but he never has a reason for violence."

"Sometimes we lose contact with reality and get caught up in political beliefs. Here we focus everyone on themselves. A focus on self is the Native way, and it works out very well for us. We have a very positive view of human beings. Our creator created us to be good, and we don't label people or lock people into roles because that doesn't allow change. If you set up a positive environment for people to change, it's amazing what people can do."

  What's Wrong with the Duluth Model?
     Blame and shame, not help. Ideology, not science. Ignores drinking, drugs, pathology, violence by women. One cause, one solution. Taught by "wounded healers." Gender-polarizing-perpetrates the "battle of the sexes"
  A Gender-Neutral Duluth Model
     For female perpetrators - a different "Duluth Model."
  Duluth Model Successfully Challenged
     Programs gets North Carolina regulation mandating Duluth Model set aside
  It's Such Bullshit
     Anger Management for Men is Such Bullshit. It made me suicidal
  It's About Male Oppression of women
     preaches the "Duluth Model."
  Domestic Violations
     Cathy Young. Where there's mutual violence, joint counseling offers the best solution. But it's not allowed.
  Why Women Batter
     "He wasn't sensitive to my needs." "He wasn't listening."

Related: Official Washington Policy: Blame the Victim. State regulations mandate sexism in perpetrator treatment programs. There is no excuse for his violence, even if he's been assaulted. If, however, she's the perpetrator, the program must give consideration to any prior assaults by him.

Related: Official Washington State Policy: The Gender Neutrality Joke Funding for a state-wide initiative to increase public awareness about battered men and to serve them would violate state law requiring gender-neutral programs. Is the state's domestic violence response system and battered women's shelter system gender neutral? This article based in part on Shelters must detail help for men By Gary Heinlein and Becky Beaupre / The Detroit News.

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Domestic Violence in Washington: 25,473 Men a Year
According to a Nov. 1998 Department of Justice report on the National Violence Against Women Survey, 1,510,455 women and 834,732 men are victims of physical violence by an intimate. In Washington, that's 42,824 women and 25,473 men. That includes 2,754 on whom a knife was used, 5,508 threatened with a knife and 11,016 hit with an object. Here are the data.

Help for Battered Men Practical suggestions, Hotline numbers, on-line resources. Print it out and hand it to a man you think may be battered--your caring opens him up to talking about it.

Men's Stories Here are some personal stories by battered men, and links to sites with more of them. The more we talk about it, the more we tell our stories, the more we increase public awareness that men are battered and encourage battered men to get the help they need. Send us your story, so we can post it here (anonymously, of course, unless you tell us differently.)

What's Wrong with the Duluth Model? The "Duluth Model" is the approach most widely used for perpetrator treatment--but it gender polarizes the "people problem" of domestic violence.. What's wrong with the Duluth Model? It blames and shames men. It's based on ideology, not science. It ignores drinking, drugs and pathology. Only one cause, only one solution. There's no real evidence it works. It ignores domestic violence by women. Women who need help can't get it. It's taught by wounded healers.

Latest Research Findings National Violence Against Women survey shows 37.5% of victims each year are men. Men are at real risk of serious physical injury. Murray A. Straus looks at controversies in DV research. Martin Fiebert examines reasons women give for assaulting men. JAMA emergency room study shows equal number of men, woman victims.


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