Friday, April 9, 2010

Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

One of the questions I most commonly get asked at speaking events is, "Do programs for abusive men work?" My answer is that, when they are run well, they work as well as we can expect them to in the time they are given. A typical length for a batterer program is 52 hours -- that is to say, 26 weeks for two hours a week. Sometimes the meetings are only an hour and a half, so the total time is even less. In other words, we are talking about undoing twenty or thirty or forty years of destructive socialization that has made an abusive man who he is, all in six months! The expectation is far-fetched.
I encourage people to make the comparison to substance abuse programs. If a man (or a woman, for that matter) who had been drinking or drugging heavily for five or ten or fifteen years claimed to have licked the addiction through once a week counseling for a grand total of six months, most substance abuse experts would laugh the person out of the room. In the world of recovery from addiction, the common outlook is that if you go to three or four meetings per week for a period of a year, and work hard in the program for that year, you have probably finally gotten a good start on dealing with your issues; if you stick with it for a few more years, you might succeed in really turning your life around.
Why would we expect it to be easier for a man to overcome a problem with violence and psychological viciousness toward women than to deal with a drinking problem? Abusiveness is just as deep a problem as addiction, and every bit as destructive -- in fact, often more so.
If the society decides that it's time to send abusers the message that we take their crimes against women seriously, and that we refuse to live in a society that is shaped by domestic terrorists, we will start sending abusers to programs that they have to attend at least three times a week for two to three years. This will bring us in line with the kind of effort, and the kind of length of time, that it takes to make personal changes from deep, destructive, dangerous problems. Until then, we're continuing the pattern of slapping abusers on the wrist and sending them the message that change is optional. And it it's optional, very few abusers are going to choose to do the work, and make the sacrifices, involved in learning to respect women's rights.


  1. It would take magic! Why would an abuser choose to give up their most desired possession--a sense of control and power over their victims?

    Reading your book lead me down a path that almost got me killed by my abuser--but ultimately saved my life because I LEFT! May 1, 2009, almost 1 year ago, I took the legal and necessary steps to leave my abuser. I fought in court to withhold my address from him, but the judge ordered I give it to him as "a right any father should have." The judge knew the full history of violence, protection order, etc. to no avail. My abuser kicked in the door at 4 a.m. and tried to kill me in front of our 2 1/2 year old daughter. I fought to stay alive long enough for the police to arrive and save us.

    Reading your book made me see through the fog of the mind games, the put downs, the complete confusion an abuser inflicts. We are now free. Thank you.

  2. I was married to my abuser for 25 years. He is a firefighter and a state legislator. He knows all of the police officers in the area, knows all of the judges, he is the writer of the laws in this state. I have continually felt abused by the system. He self referred to a batterers program. He attended 6 sessions. Just enough to learn how to manipulate and control things even more. Just enough for me to make myself vulnerable to him one more time. Just enough to learn how to hide his abuse even better.
    I'm out of the marriage, unfortunately, I wasn't able to limit his access to the kids. I also wasn't able to get a protection order. Now I'm the woman that cries wolf-I call the police every time he does something that crosses the line. I call CPS every time there's even a question about something he does. I am hopeful that I will be able to get his parental rights taken away this year, but I run the risk of everything backfiring on me and him getting total custody of the kids.
    It's possible I would have left things alone and let him continue to show our children how to abuse and how to be abused. (He has already shown our 20 year old how to disrespect women and punch holes in walls.) However, our daughter became very ill this year. As she was lying in the hospital on iv nutrition, iv fluids, oxygen, pain meds and getting 2 blood transfusions every other day he sent me a message telling me that he was going to show me that I couldn't "ride roughshod over him with medical issues". He blocked her surgery for 3 days. During the 3 days the doctors called him, talked to their legal department and had decided to go to a judge if he didn't sign a consent in 48 hours. He gave his consent for the surgery to occur just before the 48 hours were up.
    Now I have come out of the closet. I am speaking up, taking him back to court, trying to save my kids. If I'd known he would do something like this when I got divorced I would have done things differently. The sad thing is that I don't know if I would have left if I'd known that my kids would have been put in the unsafe positions that they have been. Something needs to change!

  3. Dear Mr. Bancroft,

    Your book "Why does he do that" has been very helpful in helping me understand this seeming epidemic among young couples. My daughter's boyfriend got her pregnant as a high school senior and they first considered marriage. I literally thank God she saw through his web of control and didn't. Now with my husband's & my helping her stand up to his "No one can tell me when I can & can't see my baby" and countless other demands....Forward 18 months: She grants him visiting time on her terms and he cares for the baby some while she's in college (as do his mom and myself.)
    Anyway, your book has given me insight in helping her deal with this issue-long term, sans courts. He's in her life forever due to the child, but I pray she'll continue to resist his wanting to get back together. His changes (becoming nicer, etc) I fear, are him just trying to win her back...but he already has enough control of her, saying things like "No one but family can ever watch the baby."
    Thanks for such a well-written book with even a section on loving relatives' tendencies--points well-taken! You are an insightful person and excellent writer and the book helps at each phase of this family drama.
    Thank you.
    Ramona Wood,
    Children's author/illustrator

  4. I so appreciate your comparison of abuser treatment & programs for abuser treatment with something that most people are, by this time in our society, at least somewhat familiar - that of alcohol &/or substance abuse treatment & alcohol &/or substance abuse programs.

    Using this excellent (as well as apt & comparable) comparision is incredibly helpful in allowing me to better understand what is, to me, the very complicated & complex issue of abuse, and I'd imagine it is helpful for others as well. I believe this comparison is brilliant!

    Thank you for this and for all you do.

    Catrina Davis

    (P.S. I have never said this before - I never considered myself to be the type of person who would ever say this! - but your book "Why Does He Do That?" changed my life. I cannot express how grateful I am.)

  5. My ex screamed at me on a crowded street and I found Lundy's book. Then it all had a name. I felt that if I just DID or SAID the RIGHT THING, it would ALL get better. This is the SAME thing I had with my alcoholic mother. It never changed. Here's the problem: I KEEP running across the SAME thing! To be around drunks as a child, and to learn that mentality for decades...I replace that with the same thing in another body. When its a parent it feels like YOU (the child) is at fault. Like I'm not worth a good, sober parent. So them leaving is LIFE or DEATH. That I'm very defective and that the gaping hole inside (that's there 24/7) will finally get me.

  6. Lundy thanks for spelling out the analogy between reformation from addiction and and reformation from domestic abuse. You are so right. I wish people would wake up! I'll be promoting your ideas and esp this post on my blog and my Facebook page
    Barbara Roberts (author of Not Under Bondage)

  7. The courts here i New Mexico are touting that they've improved things by ONLY making the abuser go through 6 months once a week for an hour to a program now instead of a full year. They see that as an improvement because it costs them less. So stupid. They don't seem to get that it isn't the cost, it's the lives of the people that the abuse was hurting on the other side of it all.