Put batterers behind bars


Wed, November 21, 2007

While domestic violence is now acknowledged as a pressing social concern, judges are still leery of slapping male batterers with penalties that would teach them a lesson, according to a U.S. expert.

Diversion programs have been a "disaster" because men convicted of spousal abuse who aren't jailed don't take therapy seriously, says Lundy Bancroft, the author of Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.

Men who batter should be jailed for a first offence to drive home the message that there are serious consequences to such behaviour, says Bancroft, who was a keynote speaker at the Diverse Voices family violence conference in Edmonton this week.

"Judges across the U.S. and Canada still are giving very, very light sentences for domestic violence convictions," he says.

And intervention counselling is only effective if combined with a tough sentence, he maintains.

"I know not a lot of judges are going to be willing to start jailing batterers on the first offence," he said in an interview. But jail can be a sharp wake-up for men who feel it's perfectly all right to bash their spouses, he explained.

"Diversion has to be scrapped on domestic violence cases," he said. "I think jail really gets their attention."

While there's always the risk that such men will come out of jail even angrier than before, it's important to get them into a program for abusers and monitor them, said Bancroft.

"Jail is our only intervention that's really proving to be very successful at getting batterers to believe that they've committed a serious offence."

And it's hard to get perpetrators to change their stripes, said Bancroft, who's counselled more than 1,000 male abusers and has testified as an expert witness at domestic violence and child-abuse cases.

He's had clients who've made significant changes, but only after a long, painstaking process of facing up to the damage they've done and and developing empathy for the women they victimized.

"They tend to need to have lost two or three relationships because of their abuse before they start to face the fact that they've got a problem," Bancroft said.

A stint in jail or being confronted by friends and relatives has also convinced male abusers to turn over a new leaf, he added. "It doesn't happen nearly enough," he said.

"When batterers do change, it's only in fairly unusual circumstances where they take the problem really seriously and where there's strong legal intervention and strong counselling."

Ordinary citizens should not underestimate the power they have to persuade men to stop battering the women in their lives, he added. "One thing communities can really do to contribute to ending domestic violence is to start confronting their own ... brothers, fathers and sons."

If abusive men don't change, it's not because they can't, he emphasized. It's because they won't.

Greater emphasis in schools on healthy relationships and offering outreach services to boys who've been exposed to battering would help curb domestic violence, he said.

Bancroft, based in Massachusetts, now works full time as a trainer, speaking to judges, child-protection workers, therapists, police officers and other groups about the profiles and tactics of abusive men.

Male superiority is still portrayed in the mass media, and the porn industry objectifies women far more today than it did three decades ago, he said.

"That, unfortunately, conditions boys to have a lot of trouble seeing women as human beings."