Domestic violence: comparison between two intervention programs for attackers

Domestic violence: comparison between two intervention programs for attackers

The issue of domestic violence has been much discussed recently, also following the increase in cases of domestic violence that occurred during the quarantine period linked to the covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, according to Istat reports, the calls to the toll-free number 1522 anti-violence and stalking increased by 73% between March 1 and April 16, 2020. In 93.4% of cases the reported violence occurred at home, that is, it was perpetrated by people close to the victim.

What can be done to effectively protect victims of domestic violence?

In the United States, alongside the measures of the police and judicial authorities, various intervention programs for attackers are proposed (batterer intervention programs, BIP; Zarling, Bannon and Berta, 2019). Traditionally, these programs follow a protocol called Duluth Model. The Duluth Model develops from a theoretical perspective according to which domestic violence is the consequence of a patriarchal vision. Therefore, the general aim of the treatment is to modify the sexist beliefs of the attackers, from which their violent behavior would result. The protocol is characterized by the use of psychoeducational techniques, which are intended to help understand the seriousness of the abuses committed. The Duluth Model can be administered alone or in combination with cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT),

However, programs based on the Duluth Model, CBT or a combination of the two have an unsatisfactory efficacy, as they do not adequately reduce recidivism rates (Eckhardt et al., 2013).

For this reason, Zarling and colleagues (2019) studied the effectiveness of an alternative program, called Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behavior (ACTV), that is “achieving change through value-based behaviors”. ACTV draws its roots from ACT (Acceptance and Committment Therapy), a form of psychotherapy that gives importance to achieving what has value for everyone. According to ACT, domestic violence could be traced back to trying to avoid unpleasant internal experiences, such as negative thoughts or emotions.

ACTV seeks to promote change by focusing not so much on modifying the content of thoughts and emotions, as in the Duluth Model and CBT, as on modifying the way in which one reacts to these thoughts and emotions. For example, faced with the thought “My partner shouldn’t treat me this way”, the Duluth Model and CBT would try to replace this thought with a more rational one; ACTV, on the other hand, would try to teach us to respect the other person anyway, even if it is believed that he is not treating us as we would like. Furthermore, in ACTV important values ​​for the individual are used as motivations for pursuing change.

The ACTV has five modules: in the first the objective is to identify the important values ​​for each and learn to recognize which behaviors are effective in achieving them and which are not. The second, third and fourth modules focus respectively on teaching emotional regulation skills, cognitive skills and behavioral skills, such as communication, assertiveness and conflict resolution. The final module focuses on identifying possible obstacles to change and how to act to resolve these possible difficulties.

Zarling and colleagues (2019) compared the effectiveness of the two intervention programs described above in a sample of over three thousand men convicted of domestic violence. Effectiveness was defined as effectiveness in the prevention of recurrence, i.e. new reports of crimes against the participants during the twelve months following treatment.

The results showed that the participants who had partially or completely performed ACTV had fewer complaints for crimes in general and for violent crimes in the 12 months following treatment, compared to those who had followed the Duluth Model combined with CBT. However, there were no differences between the two groups compared to the number of complaints received for domestic violence.

This means that ACTV was more effective in preventing the perpetration of crimes in general, even of a violent nature, but was no longer effective in preventing domestic violence, which was instead its main purpose.

Zarling and colleagues (2019) argue that this may depend on the breadth of skills taught through the ACTV program, which can be extended to various situations in addition to the relational context. This is certainly useful, however it does not specifically target the goal of protecting victims of domestic violence by helping attackers to change their behavior.

However, ACTV may also be effective in reducing domestic violence for specific samples. To find out, further studies would be needed. Research in the future should also seek to explain why ACTV is effective through which specific mechanisms.

In conclusion, the most socially and practically relevant aspect of this study is that although the data on the effectiveness of ACTV need to be deepened, it demonstrates the importance of adopting evidence-based practices in the re-education of offenders. In fact, only through a scientific approach is it possible to monitor the effectiveness of an intervention, avoiding the risk of entrusting common sense with efforts to eliminate domestic violence.