Male Batterer Programs

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by David Currie

There he goes again.  Another abusive incident, and another excuse!  His list of excuses and justifications for his abuse is as long as ever. He was angry.  His wife said something to him he didn't like. She's so stubborn, always trying to get her way. Her family's like that.  She just doesn't know when to stop.  I warned her not to push my buttons.  Why don't you have a group for her?  It takes two to tango you know!

Ah yes, it 'takes two to tango'.  That's if you're taking dancing lessons.  But in the realm of abuse, one person can carry it all by himself.  As long as a man thinks it 'takes two to tango', he'll also be certain it will take two to stop his abuse.  As long as others support him in that belief, he will be unlikely to make substantial changes and community intervention will be less than rigorous.

Stories from men in groups in the 1980's were plentiful about situations in their lives (not involving their partner) where they were angry but not abusive.  At that time, the theoretical framework of many men's programs began identifying abuse as a man's desire to control some aspect of his partner's behaviour,  thereby reflecting the social context within which abuse was learned, tolerated, and excused.  Understanding the social context of abuse not only increases our understanding of why men abuse, but it also guides programs to become part of a community intervention, not a stand alone counselling program providing 'psychological' services.

The social context is constructed both out of  history and out of contemporary influences which surrounding us daily.  These influences affect everyone, both men and women.  In the area of abuse, the social context provides information about what is considered abuse, how it is treated from a legal standpoint, what happens when a man abuses a woman, and what level of tolerance or 'excuse-making' is acceptable. Our values about abuse are reflected in our laws and the enforcement of them.

Woman abuse is about power; power over a woman in order to get your way and to control her.  If a man's 'wife' is considered to be an object -- his possession -- then nothing he does to control her (abuse) will seem either unusual or unwarranted.  If the same man acted in the same ways (abusive) toward a woman who wasn't his partner, this same behaviour would be perceived differently.  The social context informs us about why this is so.  That is why it is so important that the framework for a community intervention program be grounded in an understanding of  the social context, taking into account gender differences and how they are reflected in abuse.

In discussions about woman abuse, an abusive man's problems with 'anger management' remain a popular emphasis. This explanation, however, will not assist a man in taking responsibility for, and changing, his abusive behaviour.  Equally disturbing in the area of abuse is the 'psychological' notion of a man being in 'recovery'.  Recovery from what?  You don't have to be in 'recovery'  in order to stop being abusive.  These 'psychological' perspectives serve to keep woman abuse a 'private problem' instead of one that informs the whole community of its role and responsibility.

Seeing the end of abuse as a process of learning 'anger management' or of  'recovery' continues to place emphasis on the individual, 'psychological' dimension of men's abuse.  It implies that abuse is a 'psychological problem' that needs to be addressed on an individual basis.   It minimizes the importance of a community intervention framework that involves all members of a community at many levels.  It is at a community level that the social context can change to meet the needs of those  who are being abused, emphasize the responsibility of those who are abusive and finally stop condoning the abuse.