History and Theories of Batterers' Intervention Programs in the USA
last updated October 17, 2008

The first Batterers' Intervention Programs (BIPs) in the US were established 30 years ago in response to hotline calls from victims and offenders. As legal systems reformed to criminalize domestic violence and prosecution protocols were mandated, judges began to order offenders to attend BIPs.   Early programs were often developed with substance abuse or mental health programs as guidance. But victim advocates soon raised serious concerns about program aspects which were counterproductive to victim safety and offender accountability.  For example, confidentiality must not be extended to offenders during the process.  If a batterer becomes angry and program moderators perceive a threat to the victim, they must able to notify the victim of the potential danger. From:  Adams, David, “Treatment Programs for Batterers,” Clinics in Family Practice, Vol. 5 No. 1, March 2003.  Program changes were made accordingly.

A BIP should be instituted only as a part of a coordinated and intensive response.  From:  Batterer Intervention Programs:  Where Do We Go From Here?, by the US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, US Dept of Justice, June 2003

Other aspects of a coordinated community response include victim services, civil court actions for orders for protection or child support, police and court enforcement of protective orders, and, possibly, psychological, drug or alcohol treatment programs for the violent offenders.  From:  Gondolf, Edward W., Batterer Intervention Systems:  Issues, Outcomes and Recommendations, Thousand Oaks:  Sage Publications, 2003. 

BIPs will be most effective if the programming reflects the root cause of domestic violence- a desire for power and control over one’s female intimate partner.Effective batterer intervention programs work to alter men's beliefs and attitudes toward violence and personal responsibility.  From:  Edelson, Jeffrey, and Tolman, Richard, Intervention for Men Who Batter:  An Ecological Approach (1992)  Batterers will not change their behavior by participating in the group unless they are willing to change. Batterers must recognize and acknowledge their abusive behavior and fully understand the effect it has on their partners, their relationships, and themselves. Batterers must take responsibility for both the physical violence that they inflict on their partners as well as other forms of abuse such as sexual violence, psychological abuse, and economic coercion. Facilitators in BIPs often challenge men about their negative or sexist attitudes and beliefs, support for abusive behaviors, and denial of abuse. This kind of challenge helps men examine the origins of their beliefs and actions with the group and to take responsibility for the abuse.

Batterer intervention programs should assist batterers in learning skills for nonviolence. Programs should teach offenders to monitor their actions and to understand the feelings they have when they become violent, such as anger, inadequacy, jealousy, or the need to control the situation. At the same time, however, programs should emphasize that while a batterer may feel angry or upset, he must still take personal responsibility for his actions. His use of violence or other forms of abuse is a personal choice.

In helping batterers to learn alternative behaviors, programs may have offenders draw the chain of events that lead to the abusive behaviors. In this way, programs help batterers to know when they are acting abusively and to recognize warning signs or cues that, for example, indicate that their anger is escalating and that they may become violent. If necessary, the batterers should temporarily withdraw from a situation of conflict. They should talk to someone who will support them in not using violence. When the batterer can react in a non-abusive manner, he should return to discuss the problem without using violence or other forms of abuse. As the intervention program continues, batterers should better understand their abusive behavior and develop alternative skills and methods of interacting with their partners that do not involve violence.

BIPs should not be designed as marriage or couples counseling. Batterers' intervention programs should focus on stopping the perpetrator's criminal conduct rather than keeping the couple together. Similarly, they are not substance abuse counseling. Treatment for alcohol and drug abuse should be addressed separately.

For links to research and reports on US Batterer Intervention Programs, click here.