The question that is always asked when discussing abusive partner intervention programs is, “do they work?” This is a difficult question to answer, as there is no clear way of measuring the success of a program. In the past, a successful program was one that reduced recidivism. However, there is no consistent evidence that these programs reduce recidivism. Even the data we do have are questionable, since they are gathered from contact with the victim, the word of the participant, and law enforcement records. There are no guarantees that subsequent offenses will not occur. Due to this inconsistency, this question is used as a way to discount these programs and diminish their position in the domestic violence field.
Instead of asking, “do they work?” one should ask the following: Is the program part of a coordinated community response? Are there consequences for non-compliance? Are participants engaged and invested in the process? Are programs focused on accountability, behavior change, and educating participants on how their behavior affects those around them? Are programs using trauma-informed practices? What kind of tools, if any, do programs use to assess a participant’s progress?
These kinds of questions are a better way of gauging the quality of a program. Most professionals and facilitators of these programs would agree that dismantling abusive behaviors and pro-abuse beliefs is a process, not an end result, as is the case with any substantial behavioral change. If abusive partner intervention programs do anything, they plant the seeds for this behavioral change. These programs start individuals on the path to changing their perception of domestic violence and how their abusive behaviors affect the people around them. While we cannot follow participants for their entire journey, we can provide them with the tools and knowledge they need as they go forward – it is up to the individual to decide whether to utilize these tools.
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