Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Abusive Partners

Program Structure

An abusive partner intervention program should, at its core, focus on accountability and an analysis of power and control. 

Accountability

The program should be centered on the concept of accountability. By accountability, we mean making sure that the participant takes responsibility for their actions, along with the consequences associated with them, and understands that they are the only person who is responsible for their abusive behavior. It is paramount that the participants are not able to make excuses for their behavior by placing the blame on the victim, or a third party.

Behavior is a choice

As a form of accountability, the participant should acknowledge that their actions are a choice, a learned behavior, and not something that they were “born” with. It is important that the participants understand that they have made the decision to abuse their partner. Abuse is a learned behavior, not something that is inherent to the human condition. An individual who abuses another cannot rely on reasoning that argues abusive behavior is something that has to be “treated” or “cured.” Abusing an intimate partner is voluntary, not involuntary.  

Behavior cannot be “treated”

It is also critical that participants, victims, and the public understand that abusive behavior in relation to domestic violence is not considered a disease or an addiction and therefore cannot be treated in the same way. Programs should not, in any way or under any circumstances, promise or guarantee that a participant will stop their abusive behavior. They also should not claim that their program will significantly decrease or reduce recidivism. While programs may assist participants in identifying and addressing underlying trauma, substance abuse, or other things that may affect their choices to behave abusively, the focus must be on participants learning to make active choices to be accountable for their abusive behaviors.

Payment

Requiring participants to pay a fee for the program can be a source of funding, as well as a vital component of accountability for participants. Sliding scale fee structures can assure that each participant pays a meaningful amount for the program, based on each participant’s individual circumstances.

Reporting back to referral sources

Reporting the participant’s compliance to the referral source is another component of holding the participant accountable for their behavior. Maintaining communication with the referral source allows greater sanctions to be put into place if the participant is noncompliant. If the participant misses classes, misses a payment, or commits a domestic violence offense, then they will still have to face consequences for not only violating the order to attend an abusive partner intervention program, but also for the offense. If the program is to be a service to the referral source, both the program and the referral source should document this agreement in writing. It is necessary that there is ongoing contact and coordination with the referral source.

Analysis of power and control

Domestic violence involves a range of behaviors which can include physical and sexual violence; using coercion and threats; using intimidation; using emotional abuse, using isolation; minimizing, denying and blaming; using children; using societal or cultural privilege; and using economic abuse. These forms of abuse do not occur in isolation from each other, but often occur simultaneously and increase in severity. The power and control model of domestic violence identifies power and control as the goal of all tactics of abuse because victims' experiences consistently indicate that the behavior of their partners is not random or arbitrary, but purposeful and systematic. The goal of an abuser’s behavior is to exert control over their partners. This goal often reflects their belief that they have the right to control their intimate partners.

For more information about accountability, please visit our resources page

For more information about power and control, please visit our resources page

Next: Interacting with Participants

Back to Abusive Partner Intervention Programs - New York State Guidelines