Steve Halley, LSCSWSteve Halley, LSCSW

The Battering Intervention Facilitator’s Tool Box

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Welcome to our blog. These posts share some of the many tried and true tools, skills, and techniques that the Family Peace Initiative has found to be valuable through the years. We hope that this Facilitator's Tool Box will become a resource for you in your own quest to be the best facilitator you can be. We will be adding new blog posts monthly. Enjoy!

Getting past the “Cover Story” in Battering Intervention

My Story PhotoI recently read about the challenges facing veterans returning from war.  Many had lived through unimaginable trauma during their service…experiences that will likely remain engraved in their memory for life.  Often, veterans, like other victims of trauma, create stories upon their return, based on truth, that can be shared with family and friends without too much emotional risk.  Soldiers do not have to go into details and reexperience the emotional intensity of their entire story. They can remain safe in their retelling of their “cover story” without having to risk emotional activation and the stirring of their traumatic memories.

Participants in battering intervention programs have cover stories too.  It is often too vulnerable for participants to initially acknowledge and be accountable for, not only the violence bestowed upon their partner and children, but also the violence and cruelty that had been bestowed upon them long before they could do anything to be safe.  While the cover story is designed for psychological safety, part of the change process is to help move the conversation beyond the cover story, toward genuineness on a deeper level.

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Addressing Battering Behavior and Childhood Trauma


Battering intervention is changing.

Recent neurobiology findings show that early trauma experiences literally change the brain.The Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) has provided us with insight regarding the impact of family dysfunction through the lifespan.   Adverse experiences have been linked to a wide variety of difficulties, including increased dysfunctional behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and even early death. One noteworthy finding of this study is the more adverse experiences one has, the more likely a person will use violence against their partner. Battering behavior is, unfortunately, all-too-common when one has childhood experiences of family dysfunction and other forms of cruelty. It is time for facilitators to integrate this information into our approach. 

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Battering is a Choice, But...

DV is a choice

I remember listening, as a passionate intern got frustrated with a group member and blurted out, “Battering is a choice...a simple choice. It is not hard to make another choice. People can simply choose to stop battering!” I watched, as most of the men in the group mentally “checked out”. I shook my head and smiled, remembering how I had wanted the change process to be simple in my early days of this work.  Describing battering behavior as a choice, while true, is an oversimplification that does little to help those who batter choose differently. This intern needed to understand some of the driving forces behind “why”, as well as “who” makes violent choices in relationships.

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Let's Stop Sending DV Victims to Battering Intervention Programs

LookStop Woman no further than a judge in Kansas determining that a 13 and a 14-year-old girl were “aggressors” when they had sex with a 67-year-old man to understand that our legal system can really screw things up. We see this happen often in domestic violence cases: a victim of domestic violence uses some form of illegal violence in a situation that leads to their arrest.  This use of illegal violence is not the same as “battering”, as that term requires an ongoing pattern of domination and control of a partner.  Without examining context and patterns, victims of domestic violence are often arrested, charged, plead or are found guilty and then ordered to complete a battering intervention program. It seems obvious, but victims of domestic violence, even if they use illegal violence, should never be sent to a battering intervention program (BIP).

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The Roots of Entitlement in Domestic Violence


entitled photo

If you have led domestic violence groups, you have surely had conversations about entitlement.  It is common to hear group participants discuss entitlement beliefs and attitudes such as, “I am in charge because I am the man”, or “I make the money, so I get to decide how it’s spent”.  Facilitators have been coached through the years to help participants examine these entitled beliefs to help participants pursue a more equal, non-violent relationship.  While entitled beliefs are commonplace in intervention classes, facilitators do not often recognize how these beliefs can come from different sources.   Understanding the different roots of entitlement can be useful in intervening with those who batter and can help to elevate safety for those living with an abusive individual.

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Moving Beyond Accountability for Those Who Batter

accountability picture

If you have worked within the movement to end domestic violence for any length of time, you have heard the mantra, “Victim safety and batterer accountability”.  This mantra sums up the focus of the fight to end gender-based violence.  The proliferation of battering intervention programs was one of multiple ways the system has worked to establish “batterer accountability."  While accountability is a critical element for getting those who batter into our doors, and to keep them there, it is an unfortunate shortcoming for facilitators to rely on accountability as the primary focus of the intervention. It often requires much more to be effective.

I admit that early on in my career, I thought accountability was the answer in working with those who batter.  I wanted them to take complete responsibility for ALL their abusive behavior, and they were going to recognize the impact that their behavior had on their partner and children...whether they wanted to or not.  I saw myself as protecting women by holding participants of my program to a high bar, and I would be satisfied with nothing less.  I was going to get these men to change, as there was simply too much at stake to not. 

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“It is a Scary Time for Young Men in America”


scared young manI have been moved by the experiences shared by so many during the the recent  Kavanaugh hearings. However, I took pause when our President said, “it is a scary time for young men in America”. The argument is that Judge Kavanaugh has been the victim in the Senate proceedings, and now young men everywhere need to be afraid, as they, too, can be potential victims of false allegations. What struck me, however, is how many times I have heard this “victim” position claimed by perpetrators of domestic violence.  

In domestic violence intervention classes, it is common for participants to initially use the defense of, “I’m the real victim here!” They argue that their partner is the one who was violent: “I was protecting myself and I was the one arrested!” They like to point out that if the police come to a domestic violence call, it is the man that is going to be arrested. We hear this frequently as people try to avoid accountability and present themselves in a positive light.  While there is no doubt that there is a rare case of someone being falsely arrested and convicted, the clear majority of those who claim this defense are guilty of the crime. In fact, the vast majority of those who were arrested, but not convicted, are also guilty—there just wasn’t enough evidence for a conviction.  

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A Facilitators Worst Nightmare in Domestic Violence Intervention


I rFacilitators Nightmareemember him well.  He struggled at first in the batterer intervention class.  I believed he was trying.  He wanted his partner to come back home. She had left him after he had been arrested for beating her.  She was living with her parents.  He was seeing their kids on infrequent visits. He wanted his family back.  He knew he had to complete our class if he was going to have a chance to get what he wanted.

He was a charming, charismatic guy.  He had a sense of humor that he used often to make us all laugh.  People liked him.  He expressed concern for others and tried to be there when others needed him.  At the same time, he struggled to be accountable for his own cruelty in his relationship.  He liked to blame his partner for his violence.  He tended to make excuses for his violence.  He was afraid that he was going to lose his wife and kids.  He was not sure if he would have a reason to go on living if she ever decided to leave him for good.  He was desperate to do what he had to do to get his family back.  He had talked once in class about a heated argument with his wife because things were not moving fast enough for his liking. He just wanted her to come home.

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“All Women are Bitches”

4 diverse women

I was completing an initial assessment with a young man who had been referred to our battering intervention program. He clearly did not want to be there, but he was doing his best to show that he would cooperate.  His answers were short, to the point and he came across as angry in his general demeanor.  When I asked him for basic information about his partner, he called her a “bitch” and said that he did not really want to talk about her.  When I asked him questions about his mother, he again, used the term “bitch” and described qualities that he did not like about her, including the fact that she had left him when he was young. I decided to dig deeper, so I pointed out to him that I had only asked him about two women in his life and he had described both as “bitches”.  I asked him if he felt that way about women in general or was it only these two.  He jumped out of his chair startling me. He took off his shirt and turned to show me his back.  Tattooed in large bold letters across his shoulder blades was “All Women Are Bitches!”  He then turned back toward me and said, “Any more questions?”

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The Victim Who Lied...and Changed My Work Forever

Couples Counseling PicI must admit that when I entered private practice I thought I was on my way.  I was a trained therapist.  I was going to focus my practice on individual and couples counseling, with a little batterer intervention on the side.  I had been trained through graduate school and supervised practice. I had learned how to diagnose mental health concerns and I had learned the fundamentals of a variety of therapeutic models.   My education was good, but I had no way of knowing what I did not know.  Looking back, there were so many things that I thought I knew, but… 

When Sherry and Bill came to my office for couples counseling I had no idea what I was about to learn. They were an older couple, from rural Kansas where they had farmed together for most of their adult lives. Sherry did most of the talking while Bill listened.   

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Thoughts vs. Feelings...Chicken or the Egg?


Chicken or the egg


One topic that seems to get considerable discussion among BIP facilitators is "the chicken or the egg" conversation regarding "thoughts or feelings". The discussion centers around which approach is better. While there are plenty who would argue that focusing on "thinking and beliefs" impacts feelings and is the best approach, there are others who vehemently argue the focus must be first on feelings. The Family Peace Initiative would say that there really is not a "chicken or egg" conundrum on the topic.  A facilitator needs to have the ability to work with both thoughts and feelings with those they serve. The inability to do so limits the effectiveness of BIP work. A better question to be asked is not whatto focus on, but "how" do we focus on both simultaneously.

Commonly, participants in BIP classes have strong beliefs about emotions.  Participants will say how they were taught to avoid expressing sadness and fear in their childhood. It is normal to hear comments like, "My step-dad told me that he would give me something to cry about if I kept crying", or, "If people knew that I was afraid, they would think I was weak and would take advantage of me".  Participants live in fear of being seen as weak, soft, and unmanly. They mask this fear through aggression, addiction, and a host of other defense systems. 

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