(Most links within this article connect to the Facebook Domestic Violence Intervention and Education group, where I detailed most of the conference. I apologize in advance for the length of this article, the details and information are extensive so I tried to do them justice in brief, which for the content of a blog entry are not brief at all. I hope those who attended can use this to reflect on the presentations you witnessed, and maybe expand your learning beyond the conference itself. Those who did not attend - I hope you can see the content of a BISCMI conference and join us next time!)
Day three of the "Reflecting Forward" Batterer Intervention Services Coalition of Michigan conference began with Rene Rennick of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) discussing some of the history of batterer intervention work. A huge challenge involves the early start to the work which had several groups attempting to create programs of intervention for domestic violence offenders that lacked any connection with an analysis of power/control, entitlement, or feminist analysis. For programs providing counseling, support, and advocacy for victims and survivors of domestic violence, the stories they heard from their clients, and their interaction with these programs (who often took an anger management, mental health, or addiction model approach) led to beliefs that batterer intervention was not effective at all.
This history is important to note, as it has not left us today. There are still many states where guidelines and quality assurance is minimal for BIP/DVIP work, and many communities have advocates and victim/survivor counselors and programs who continue to believe work with abusers is ineffective, or can lead to enabling abusive behavior. While the Violence Against Women Act provided funding for domestic violence services (and a large chunk to law enforcement), funding for BIP/DVIP has not been included in most grants or monetary sources partially due to this history. Research has often followed BIP/DVIP who are not following national models adequately, which also hampers the ability to work past these perceptions.
I would add in that while some state guidelines require supervision time for BIP/DVIP facilitators, many do not - and this is a major problem in this work. Those states with requirements for programs often include as a part of those requirements some form of monitoring by personnel who visit sites and look for compliance to guidelines, offer feedback and required updates, and provide sanctions or closure to programs that do not meet these requirements. This is, however, an expensive process that requires paid staff. Many states have standards that are only followed on a voluntary basis, further muddying the waters of perceived effectiveness for BIP/DVIP.
Ed Gondolf is often described as the preeminent BIP/DVIP researcher, and his focus on this year's conference was to highlight some of the overarching problems with research on domestic violence intervention, and to also speak to interviews he conducted with prominent practitioners around the country. To start, he wanted to clarify much of the confusion about calls to create "Evidence Based Practices (EBP)" within BIP/DVIP. He informed the audience that EBP is founded on a biomedical service delivery system (initial use of EBP was for physicians in healthcare settings to create standards and quality of care approaches that had the highest degree of success). The challenge with this outlook is that health has a "sick" and a "healed" continuum where an illness is addressed through various methods, and there is a definitive "end point" to treatment and care. However, within social service delivery systems, it is not so cut and dry, nor is it any one thing that is "fixed" in an individual abuser. Our systems (such as courts, legislators, and even community members) when focusing on EBP are usually doing so at the expense of alternative research (such as outcomes not tied to recidivism, or more difficult to analyze qualitative analysis), and tend to ignore the practice based wisdom of facilitators, program leaders, and administrators who work within BIP/DVIP settings.
In this pursuit of looking at practitioner wisdom, Gonfolf compiled the answers from his interviews of facilitators and program leaders and discovered the complexities of philosophy and presentation of BIP/DVIP class educational material and session structures that have not been captured by research. Some of the varying approaches included supportive confrontation, broader sharing and disclosure, curriculum that focused on drawing out discussion, and focusing on respectful and healthy changes. Commonly identified changes that practitioners discussed included increases in validating, empathizing, and providing supportive confrontation that has been designed to engage abusers respectfully and guide changed behavior. There have also been more concrete and real connections with victim/survivor services, and more emphasis on facilitator self-awareness, reflection, and analysis.
When he asked practitioners for their recommendations for future/further research, they asked for more direct observations of groups, to be more aware of outcomes beyond simple rearrest, a need for more national meetings to share information and work together, more ongoing discussion among BIP/DVIP professionals, more resources and funding, and a need to develop younger staff through mentorship and training. There was also noted a need for funding and emphasis on prevention, building alliances, and practitioners being more willing to widely express their knowledge, engage with communities, discuss domestic violence more broadly, and to be more definitive about what BIP/DVIP is as a service.
The next panel presentation was from the "AQUILA Truth Squad," consisting of Bob Agnoli, Jeffrie Cape, Chris Huffine, Eric Mankowski, Scott Miller, Lisa Nitsch, Pam Wiseman, and myself. Each of us discussed various ways that practitioners can interact with resources from AQUILA that include articles on comparing anger management to BIP/DVIP, resources and responses to judges, research and articles on positive impact of BIP/DVIP, and several other items of interest. During my small section, I again focused on the opportunities we have to see the internet as a community that needs to be coordinated to end domestic violence - and in the future I will be putting together a more user-friendly discussion board that will hopefully improve our ability to do that (which will be announced here, as well as via the AQUILA listserv).
Eric Mankowski talked about his research on batterer intervention standards throughout the United States. He started by polling the audience on how we saw advantages within having standards or guidelines for programs, and responses included opportunities for grant writing; can assist courts in understanding
process of change for abusers and buy in for using BIP/DVIP; standards
can create a quality control that otherwise might not be present. Disadvantages voiced included if standards have very specific required
programming, it could negate or ignore culturally specific
interventions; challenges with memorandum of understanding documents
that are paperwork without any real connections; training requirements
for facilitators and programs can be expensive and difficult to
implement; problems with limited or absent quality control and
evaluations/observations of programs.
Mankowski discussed that recent content analysis of standards included commonalities of
treatment philosophies, length of programs, kinds of assessments,
contact with victims/survivors, confidentiality, facilitator training.
The function of standards were to create best practices to ensure
victim/survivor safety, create consistency, provide accountability for
community coordinated responses. In theory, creating standards can
eliminate programs which are dangerous or increase quality of those who
do interventions that are problematic. Some research has
suggested and cautioned that requiring a specific intervention might
limit the ability for programs to adapt and add on information and
practices that could assist in evolving their work. Other cautions look
at limited research on BIP/DVIP and where that fits into setting
standards. There is limited/no data on effectiveness of standards, which highlights some of the research issues on BIP/DVIP work noted by Gondolf. One purpose of standards can be creating directories of BIP/DVIP
(there is a Facebook group I manage that has links to programs in most
states, and BISC-MI has a list of state standards), and Mankowski has been working on a website that collects information on
state standards around the nation and results of his study (I will post
here with the link when it is ready).
To follow up, Chris Huffine described the blended model he has worked on for Allies in Change (AIC) over the past 20+ years. He describes AIC as a gendered analysis model, using examples from Paul Kivel's work to consider how men are socialized to choose violence in relationships and beyond. Huffine includes discussion beyond a power/control analysis by considering disconnects that abusers have to partner, family, self, and others as well as how abusers will distrust intimate relationships and build up an overall disregard for others. To guide change, AIC works on creating connections to self awareness, building regard for others, practicing humility, and using the concept of the "platinum rule" - treating your partner the way that THEY want to be treated, assuming your partner is an ally, and working to give benefit of the doubt. The group format is open ended, with discussions generated by group members and directed to points of abuse/control, accountability, assertiveness, beliefs, cognitive awareness, self-care, or self-compassion.
To end the conference, Melissa Jeltsen discussed her work on highlighting the overlaps between mass shooters and domestic violence as a part of her journalistic work at Huffington Post. She discovered that most mass murderers have had a history of domestic violence as a part of their patterns leading up to mass shootings, yet in the details and articles on these murders only 7% of stories listed resources for victims/survivors of domestic violence. She highlighted the need for more direct consideration of patterns of domestic violence rather than the red herring of mass shootings being random tragedies that are impossible to prevent, or are due to mental health issues.
Thank you for spending time reading the summaries of the presentations at BISC-MI 2016. I hope you are able to join at the next conference. Please feel free to visit the DVIE group on Facebook or visit the DVIntervention Twitter feed for links and more information. For links to conference materials, including presentations, click here.