A Review of Standards for Batterer Intervention Programs

This document reports on the current status of standards for batterer intervention programs in each U.S. state, describes the common elements of standards, and explores the positive and negative aspects of standards. It includes a state-by-state chart.

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VAWnet Summary:

A Review of Standards for Batterer Intervention Programs by Juliet Austin and Juergen Dankwort (Revised August 1998).

In Brief:

Current Status of Standards (as of February 1997)

  • 24 states have developed county and/or state standards. Seven states have standards in draft form.
  • Standards are being developed in at least 13 additional states and in the District of Columbia.
  • Standards vary in terms of what programs they apply to, whether compliance is obligatory, and how compliance is exerted. They may be voluntary or mandatory, with, or without, accompanying legislation.

Common Elements of Standards

  • Abuse is conceptualized as the use of coercive control over another, socially reinforced through sexist attitudes.
  • Programs are to prioritize victim safety and batterer accountability, favor coordinated community responses to abuse, conduct program evaluations, and make themselves accountable to battered women's advocates.
  • Program facilitators must be violence-free, not abuse alcohol and drugs, must seek to rid themselves of sexist attitudes, and should have had training in domestic violence. This is considered to be more important than being a licensed professional.
  • Program protocol usually includes partner contacts --informing a batterer's partner of program commencement and termination dates as well as a duty to warn the victim of any imminent danger by the batterer.
  • Batterers should pay a fee for service, but provisions are to be made for those who are indigent.
  • Intake procedures should assess lethality risk, histories of violence, mental health and substance abuse.
  • Programs should have written contracts with clients that set out requirements for attendance/participation, limitations on confidentiality, and protocol around partner safety checks.
  • Programs should focus on power and control issues and taking responsibility for one’s behavior.
  • Group intervention is the preferred format. Program duration ranges from 12-52 weeks; most standards suggest 24-26 weeks. Women, gay men and lesbians should receive separate intervention. Couples counseling is seen as being potentially dangerous for victims and therefore inappropriate as an initial intervention approach.
  • Program completion must include at least satisfactory participation, with some standards additionally requiring clients to be violence free.

Positive Aspects of Standards

  • The development of standards invite a process whereby those with varying interests can come together and work towards the common objective of stopping domestic violence while prioritizing victim safety and batterer accountability.
  • Standards promote consistency amongst programs and help hold programs accountable to the battered women's movement and others within the community.
  • Standards call for a multi-level community response to domestic violence while acknowledging the expertise of victims' advocates.
  • Standards appear to influence existing batterers' programs, shape the evolution of new programs, and facilitate the development of standards in other states.
  • Standards help to legitimate the need for specialized knowledge, training, and intervention approaches in domestic violence work.

Negative Aspects of Standards

  • Standards are regarded by some professionals as delimiting intervention possibilities with little empirical support.
  • Since activists initiated the development of standards, some mental health professionals challenge their validity, pointing to a lack of professional expertise in their creation, especially as this pertains to clinical intervention.
  • Standards that are mandated may turn into a form of unwanted control if access to revise them is lobbied away from grass-roots interests.
  • Standards requiring program compliance may simply invite superficial conformity if real commitment to their objectives is lacking. Further, monitoring compliance may be costly and difficult. On the other hand, guidelines which do not require compliance may lack any incentives for programs to abide by them, especially if client referral sources ignore them.

Distribution Rights

The production and dissemination of this publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U1V/CCU324010-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, VAWnet, or the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.