IS HE REALLY GOING TO CHANGE?
A Guide for Women Whose Partners are in a Batterer Intervention Program
If your partner has entered an intervention program for batterers, you're probably hopeful that he will change. It's important to know that there are no miracle cures for his violence - he is the only one who can make the decision to change. This section will give you information about what is an appropriate program, what signs to watch for in your partner, and what to do if you think you may still be in danger of being abused.
How Do You Know If The Program Will Work?
There are no guarantees that any program will work; everything depends on your partner's motivation and willingness to change. Some programs are more appropriate than others. Those programs use the following standards:
Safety is the first priority.
Programs should always assess your safety when communicating with you. A program should never disclose information that you have given them without your permission. A program should not misrepresent its ability to change his behavior. A program's definition of success is the quality of your and your children's lives, starting with safety.
Lasts long enough.
Change takes time. The longer the program, the more opportunities he will have to make the choice to change. A year or more in a program is preferable, although that is not always possible.
Holds him accountable.
The first step of accountability is that he takes responsibility for choosing to use violence to maintain power and control over you. A program should recognize that his behavior is the "problem" and not allow him to use your behavior as an excuse. Programs should hold him accountable for attendance, participation, and complying with the group's rules. (You can get a copy of the rules by calling the program.)
The curriculum gets to the root of his belief system.
The content of the program is set up to challenge his underlying belief system that he has the right to control, dominate, and abuse you. Programs that address anger, communication skills, and/or stress do not get to the root of his belief system.
Makes no demands on you to participate.
You're not the one making the choice to be violent, so the program should not require that you be involved in any way. Don't let anyone lead you to believe that his progress is dependent upon your participation.
Is open to your input.
If you initiate contact with the program to ask questions or give input you think may be useful, a program should welcome your participation. This is different from requiring you to participate. Sometimes, a program may initiate contact with you to discuss your partner's behavior outside the program. You should not feel obligated to share information, especially if you feel it might create a risk of further violence against you.
How Do You Know If He's Really Changing?
Positive signs include:
- He has stopped being violent or threatening to you or others.
- He acknowledges that his abusive behavior is wrong.
- He understands that he does not have the right to control and dominate you.
- You don't feel afraid when you are with him.
- He does not coerce you into having sex when you don't want to.
- You can express anger toward him without feeling intimidated.
- He does not make you feel responsible for his abusive behavior.
- He respects your opinion, even if he doesn't agree with it.
- He respects your right to say "no".
- You can negotiate without being humiliated and belittled by him.
- You don't have to ask his permission to go out, go to school, get a job, or take other independent actions.
- He listens to you and respects what you have to say.
- He communicates honestly and does not try to manipulate you.
- He recognizes that he is not "cured" and that changing his behavior, attitudes, and beliefs is a lifelong process.
- He no longer does _________ (fill in the blank with any behavior that use to precede his violence, manipulation, or emotional abuse).
- He no longer isolates you from your family or friends.
- He does not blame you for his behavior.
- He no longer emotionally abuses you.
- He no longer calls you names.
What Do They Do In Batterer Intervention, Anyway?
Changing Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors
Abusers have beliefs and attitudes that support their choice to use violence, such as: men are superior, women are possessions of men, and violence is an acceptable way to get what they want. The program should be reinforcing an egalitarian belief system and that violent behavior is a choice and the batterer's responsibility. Batterers must be confronted about their use of all types of abusive behaviors (i.e., emotional and verbal assaults, abusing pets, destroying property, withholding money or access to money; stalking, and other behaviors) that can terrify or intimidate victims and their families. Batterers need to learn that there is no excuse for any abusive behavior - and that it is never the victim's fault.
Achieving Equality in Relationships
The program should help batterers come up with long-term strategies for achieving the mutual respect, trust, and support that is necessary to maintain a relationship free of abuse. It should also help them develop long-term plans for sharing responsibility with their partners in areas such as family finances and parenting.
It is important that the program help the batterer understand that he has committed a crime against the community. He can acknowledge his violence by discussing his efforts to change with friends or co-workers, referring other men who are abusive to the program, and making sincere amends for past offenses (such as replacing destroyed or stolen property).
Venting Is Not OK
Techniques and therapies like pillow-punching or primal-screaming are NOT appropriate for abusers. They tend to reinforce, rather than discourage, violent behavior. These techniques should not be a part of any intervention program.
A Call from the Program
A batterer intervention program should alert you if it is clear from your partner's behavior in the program that you are in danger. While most programs have confidentiality policies that prevent them from telling you specifically what he has discussed in group meetings, they are obligated to warn you if they believe any immediate danger exists. If you get a call from them about this, take it seriously.
Couples Counseling Won't Stop His Violence
Your partner may try to get you to go to couples counseling, telling you that you both have a problem and should work on it together. Couples counseling is never appropriate when one partner is choosing to use violence against the other. You do not have a "relationship" problem that needs to be addressed - he is using violence and coercion to get what he wants. Couples counseling can only work when both partners feel free to express their issues, concerns and desires freely. If one partner exerts power and control over the other, there is no basis for counseling that is free from fear and intimidation.
Your partner's abusive behavior is rooted in a desire to control you, and that pattern isn't going to change overnight. He may no longer be violent, but he may still try to exert control by manipulating you into doing what he wants. Here are some common manipulative behaviors:
- Tries to invoke sympathy from you or family and friends
- Is overly charming; reminds you of all the good times you've had together
- Tries to buy you back with romantic gifts, dinners, flowers, etc.
- Tries to seduce you when you're vulnerable
- Uses veiled threats - to take the kids away, to quit attending the program, to cut off financial support
- His promises to change don't match his behavior
- You may be so hopeful for change that you want to believe him, even if things don't feel any different. But trust your instincts. If you don't feel safe, then chances are you're not.
The Six Big Lies
If you hear your partner making statements like these while he is in a program, you need to understand that he is lying to you.
- "I'm not the only one with a problem, you have a problem too."
- "I'm not as bad as a lot of the other guys in there."
- "As soon as I'm done with this program, I'll be cured."
- "We need to stay together to work this out."
- "If I weren't under so much stress, I wouldn't have such a short fuse."
- "Now that I'm in this program, you have to be more understanding."
These statements have one thing in common: they let him off the hook for his choice to use abusive behavior. Remember, he needs to be willing to accept responsibility for his violence in order to change.
How Do You Know You're Safe?
If you feel that you will be safer away from your partner while he is in an intervention program, you have every right to leave. Even if you leave, you must understand that his participation in the program is no guarantee that he will not be a threat to you. The risk that he may be violent toward you may even increase when you leave. For your own safety and the safety of your children, watch for these warning signs in the way he behaves toward you while he is in the program.
Tries to find you if you've left. He may try to get information from your family and friends about your whereabouts, either by threatening them or trying to get their sympathy.
Tries to get you to come back to him. He may do anything to get you to come back - if promising to change and being charming or contrite don't work, his efforts could then escalate to threats and violence.
Tries to take away the children. He may try to kidnap the children as a way of forcing you to stay with him.
Stalks you. If you always seem to run into him when you are on your way to work, running errands, or out with your friends, or if you receive lots of mysterious phone calls, he could be stalking you.
Steps You Can Take To Help Keep Yourself Safe
If you have any reason to believe you may be at risk for abuse while your partner is in a program, there are several things you can do to try to increase your safety:
- Contact the YWCA Yakima for assistance, (509) 248-7796, 24 hours a day.
- Contact a YWCA legal advocate if you feel you need help in dealing with threats to take your children.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, contact the program he is in to let them know about any threatening or potentially threatening behavior.
- If you have left him, tell as few family members and friends as possible where you are. If they don't know how to find you, they can't be frightened or manipulated into telling him.