Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Abusive Partners

Interacting with Participants

It is necessary to treat the participants with respect and create an environment where participants feel comfortable. This will increase the likelihood of engagement in the process and learning which will increase the likelihood of behavior change. Participants are usually more open to partaking in the program and expressing themselves in an environment they feel is respectful and open to what they have to say. While this applies to all participants, there are certain things to keep in mind for specific populations, such as female and LGBTQ participants.  

Female participants

While most abusive behavior is perpetrated by men, it is important to recognize that there are female participants in abusive partner intervention programs. Although these female participants are usually mandated to programs, their abusive behavior must be dealt with differently than the behavior of male participants.

In instances where female participants are a part of a program, the program should identify whether the participant is a primary or secondary aggressor at intake and continue to monitor the participant throughout their time in the program. Primary female aggressors usually have pro-abuse beliefs, a prior history of abusive behavior, and are victims of abuse themselves. Secondary aggressors on the other hand usually do not have pro-abuse beliefs, a prior history of abusive behavior, and often hold themselves accountable for their behavior. In most cases, individuals identified as secondary aggressors use reactive or resistive violence towards their intimate partners (violence used by victims to resist domination, end battering, retaliate against abuse, and establish some parity in relationships). Their use of violence is not a means of having power and control over their partner. Identifying a secondary aggressor is crucial since the possibility of a victim being identified as the abusive partner by a referral source cannot and must not be denied.

It is widely accepted that male and female participants should be placed in separate groups. Placing male and female participants in the same group is uncommon and more importantly, inappropriate as the social context in which the abusive behavior occurs is different for men and women. Women do not have the same cultural support for their abusive behavior as men do. Programs that work with female participants can follow the same curriculum they use with male participants, but should emphasize survivor issues such as safety planning, trauma recovery, etc. By having separate men and women’s groups, a program can increase the likelihood that participants are expressing themselves openly.

LGBTQ participants

Additional services should be in place for LGBTQ participants, similar to the specific services provided to female participants, including assessing for the primary aggressor and the goal of the abusive behavior. Some programs choose to separate LGBTQ participants from heterosexual participants, while others simply separate the programs based on gender. There are also programs that meet individually with LGBTQ participants rather than placing them in a group program. While more research is needed in this area, the community has identified necessary components for LGBTQ participants.

The biggest component identified by facilitators and LGBTQ participants is that the language used in abusive partner intervention programs needs to be more gender inclusive. Additionally, there needs to be an acknowledgement that LGBTQ relationship dynamics are different from heterosexual relationship dynamics and programs must develop curriculums to address these differences (i.e. different types of power and control tactics).

For more information about interacting with participants, please visit our resources page

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