The Duluth Model and programs for abusers

What is the Duluth model? How effective are batterers’ programs? These and many other questions are canvassed in this New York Times article When Men Hit Women by Jan Hoffman, February 16, 1992. [April 5, 2023: The linked article contains multiple pages. Editors.]

Although this article was written twenty years ago, it’s very worth reading. Non-sensationalist, it covers a lot of ground, has accounts from both abusers and survivors of abuse, and features some of the world’s secular experts in domestic abuse intervention work: Ellen Pence who founded the Duluth Model, and Edward Gondolf  the well-known sociologist and researcher on men’s behaviour change. There is also input from Ty Schroyer, a former facilitator of a Duluth Model batterer’s program. Ty and his wife Barbara Jones-Shroyer developed the Changing Men Changing Lives program – a Duluth Model program for Christian men who have abused their partners. Ty and his wife no longer seem to be active in the DV field and I am not sure whether the Changing Men Changing Lives program is still operating (its website has not changed for years).

To read the whole article click on the link above, but here are some extracts. I’ve altered the text colour where things were of most interest to me. [April 5, 2023: We changed the coloured text to bold to make the text easier for readers to read. Editors.]

Bear in mind that when it says “nowadays”, the article is referring to the early 1990s. There has been more research done on the effectiveness of batterers’ programs since then, but personally I’m not up to date with it all. The legal situation has changed too, for example, many abusers are now using the excuse of “parental alienation” to push courts to grant them more custody of their kids. So some things are worse than in the 1990s, but some things are better.

….After a decade of many trials and many errors, Ellen Pence, one of the project’s founders and its national proselytizer, estimates that 1 out of every 19 men in Duluth has been through the program. During that same period, not one Duluth woman died from a domestic homicide. Given the rate of Duluth’s domestic homicides in the 70’s, says Pence, “there are at least five women alive today that would have otherwise been killed.”

The results from Duluth are not, however, wholly triumphant. One study shows that five years after going through the Duluth program and judicial system, fully 40 percent of the treated men end up re-offending (or becoming suspects in assaults), either with the same woman or new partners. Pence thinks the real number may be closer to 60 percent. And the number of new cases each year that come before either criminal or family court judges has remained constant — about 450 a year….

At this point, while intervention may be possible, prevention seems all but unimaginable. Despite the community’s exceptional efforts, as Pence flatly admits: “We have no evidence to show that it’s had any general deterrent effect. The individual guy you catch may do it less. But in Duluth, men don’t say, ‘Gee, I shouldn’t beat her up because I’ll get arrested.’ After 10 years, we’ve had a lot of young men in our program whose dads were in it.”

“I have no idea where the next step will come from,” she adds. “We’re too exhausted just trying to stay on top of things as they are.”

….In Duluth, the D.A.I.P. [Domestic Abuse Intervention Program] targeted the judiciary. “We explained why they were seeing what they were seeing,” Pence recalls. “They were interpreting a woman’s fear as ambivalence and masochism. We showed them what happened in cases when they just gave a guy a lecture or a fine.” Now she occasionally trots out one or two Duluth judges on her judicial training sessions around the country. One grumbles fondly that “Ellen Pence is turning us into feminist tools.”

….A Duluth woman named Brenda Erickson, whose request for an order against her husband alleged that he’d raped her, had her first brush with the justice system before Judge Campbell. Her husband’s attorney argued that his client could not have raped her. “Your honor,” Erickson remembers the lawyer protesting, “she’s his wife!”

The judge, she says, all but leaped down from the bench, sputtering, “If she’d been raped by a stranger, would you expect her to live with him, too?” “And I thought, Oh God, he understands how I feel,” Erickson says.

SIX GLUM FACES, 12 crossed arms — nobody thinks they did anything wrong, so why do they have to be here? Ty Schroyer, a D.A.I.P. group leader, assumes an expression of determined cheeriness as he greets this week’s recruits, all ordered by the court to the batterer’s program. Some ground rules:

“We don’t call women ‘the old lady,’ ‘the wife,’ ‘that slut,’ ‘that whore,’ ‘the bitch,’ ‘that fat, ugly bitch.’….” The list quickly becomes s unprintable.

“So what should we call her — ‘it’?” says a man who calls himself Dave, as the others snicker.

“How about her name?” snaps Schroyer, who himself was arrested nearly a decade ago for pounding his wife’s head against a sidewalk.

Trying to change a batterer’s behavior toward women makes pushing boulders uphill look easy. Nonetheless, at least 250 different programs around the country, filled with volunteer and court-referred clients, are having a go at it. Among them, no consensus has emerged about philosophy or length of treatment: Phoenix courts send their batterers to 12 weeks or more of group counseling sessions; San Diego batterers must attend for a year.

Edward W. Gondolf, a Pittsburgh sociologist who has evaluated and developed batterers’ programs for 12 years, says, “We’re making a dent with garden-variety batterers” – first-time or sporadic offenders – “but there’s another cadre, the most lethal, who are still out of our reach.” Batterers who go through the legal system should be more carefully screened, he says, and some confined. Men whom he would categorize as antisocial or even sociopathic batterers – about 30 percent – not only resist intervention, but may be further antagonized by it.

He cautions women not to be taken in when their partners enter counseling. “Counseling is the American way to heal a problem,” he says. “She’ll think, ‘If he’s trying, I should support him,’ while he’s thinking, ‘I’ll go to the program until I get what I want — my wife back.’ But his being in counseling may increase the danger for her because she has got her guard down.”

In Duluth, when a batterer enters D.A.I.P., officials at the Woman’s Coalition shelter will stay in close touch with the victim; a woman who is reluctant to report another beating to police can confide in a shelter counselor, who will tell a group leader, who may confront the man in the following week’s session.

Nearly half of all batterers have problems with substance abuse, especially alcohol, and D.A.I.P. group leaders often have difficulty persuading men not to blame their violence on their addictions. John J., 35, a Duluth man who once beat a marine senseless with a lug wrench, raped the women he dated and kicked the first of four wives when she was pregnant, thought he’d become violence-free after going through the D.A.I.P. batterers’ program and Alcoholics Anonymous. One night several years later, though sober, he shoved his third fiancee so hard that she went flying over a coffee table. “Men have more courage when we’re drunk,” he says, teary-eyed with shame, during an interview. “But the bottle didn’t put the violence there in the first place.”

Why do men hit women? “Men batter because it works,” says Richard J. Gelles, director of the Family Violence Research Program at the University of Rhode Island. “They can not only hurt a woman but break down her sense of self-worth and belief that she can do anything about it.”

Some programs use a therapeutic approach, exploring family history. Others employ a model inspired by the psychologist Lenore Walker’s “cycle of violence” theory of battering: the man goes through a slow buildup of tension, explodes at his partner and begs her forgiveness during a honeymoon period.

But Pence criticizes both approaches for failing to confront a batterer’s hatred of women, as well as his desire to dominate them. Duluth’s 26-week program is divided in two sections. The first, usually run by a mental-health center, emphasizes more traditional counseling that tries to teach men to walk away from their anger. The second, run by D.A.I.P., provokes men to face up to their abuse and to identify the social and cultural forces underlying it. (In 1990, Duluth sent 350 men through its program. By comparison, Victim’s Services in New York City sent 300.)

Bill, 30, admits that he once believed “you were allowed to hit a woman if you were married – the license was for possession.” A sense of entitlement pervades the men’s groups: when Schroyer asked one man why he cut telephone cords in his house, the man shouted, “Why should she talk on something I paid for?”

Duluth batterers don’t necessarily have to slap, punch, choke, kick with steel-toed boots or crush empty beer cans against a cheekbone to keep their partners terrified. During arguments, abusers will floor the gas pedal, clean hunting rifles or sharpen knives at the kitchen table, smash dishes and television sets, call her office every two minutes and hang up. One man smeared a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his wife’s hair. One woman’s ex-husband wrote her phone number in the men’s rooms of Duluth’s seediest bars, with an invitation to call for a good time.

Then there are the outright threats. If she leaves him, he’ll tell child-welfare services that she’s a neglectful mother. Or he’ll kill her. Or himself.

Schroyer and the other group leaders stress that when the violence does erupt, contrary to a batterer’s favorite excuse, he has not lost control. “You chose the time, the place, the reason, how much force you’d use,” Schroyer tells them. “She didn’t.”

But convincing men that they are better off without that control is perhaps the most challenging impediment to treatment. One night a batterer huffily asked, “Why should men want to change when we got it all already?”

BRENDA ERICKSON, ONE of the Duluth women who appeared before Judge Campbell, had been thinking about leaving her husband, Mike, for a long time. Mike had always told her that she was fat, ugly and stupid, and besides, no man would want a woman with three children, so she’d better stay with him. Brenda never thought she was a battered woman, because Mike had never punched her.

The social psychologist Julie Blackman points out that a byproduct of the attention given to the Lisa Steinberg tragedy several years ago is that the public now mistakenly associates battered women with the smashed, deformed face of Hedda Nussbaum. Susan Schechter finds that many abused women who are not as bloodied as the character portrayed by Farrah Fawcett in “The Burning Bed” do not believe they deserve aid. “Many battered women see themselves as strong, as keeping together a family, in spite of what’s going on,” Schechter says.

Mike often assured Brenda that if he went to jail, it wouldn’t be for wife-beating – it would be for her murder. When he was angry, he would shatter knickknacks or punch a hole in the wall right next to her head. Brenda is 5 foot 1 and Mike is 6 foot 3. “Imagine an 18-wheeler colliding with a Volkswagen,” she says. “So I learned how to say ‘yes’ to him, to defuse situations.”

Over the eight years of their marriage, the family subsisted on welfare and Mike’s occasional earnings as a freelance mechanic. In the final years, Brenda cooked in a restaurant, worked as an aide for Head Start and cared for their three sons. According to Brenda, Mike chose not to seek a full-time job in order to keep an eye on her. She couldn’t even go to the grocery store alone.

Frequently, he raped her. “He’d rent pornographic films and force me to imitate them,” Brenda says. The sex was often rough and humiliating. “He thought that if we had sex a lot I wouldn’t leave him.” Mike acknowledges that there was “mental abuse” in their marriage, but not what he’d call rape. “I’m oversexed, but there’s nothing wrong with that.”

A friend at work, sensing Brenda’s distress, gave her the number of the Women’s Coalition shelter. Brenda would call anonymously, trying to figure out if she could possibly escape. Finally, she just picked a date: Feb. 9, 1988.

That morning, she told Mike she was taking the kids to school. Once there, a shelter official picked them up. When Brenda walked into the handsome Victorian house filled with women and children, she felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

Women stay in abusive relationships too long for many reasons. Susan Schechter says it can take years before physical abuse starts, even longer for a woman to learn “not to blame herself or his lousy childhood for his violence.” Brenda refused for years to believe her marriage wasn’t working. Another Duluth woman, who endured a decade of stitches and plaster casts, sobbed, “We did have some wonderful times, and he was my entire world.”

Some women stay because they may have reasonable expectations that they will die leaving. As many as three-quarters of the domestic assaults reported to authorities take place after the woman has left.

Some women stay because they can’t afford to leave – or because, long since alienated from friends and family, they have no place to go. There are about 1,200 shelters scattered across the country, many reporting that they must turn away three out of every four women who ask for help. Duluth’s shelter can house up to 30 women and children; the shelter in Las Vegas, Nev. (population: 850,000), has only 27 beds.

But when Brenda finally made the decision to leave, she had more options than most battered women in the country – the full resources of the shelter and D.A.I.P. were available to her. Shelter staff members screened her phone calls, and Pence spoke with Mike on Brenda’s behalf; she joined a women’s support group, and a counselor led her through the first of what would be many appearances before Judge Campbell in family court. But things did not go smoothly.

Mike did manage to complete the batterers’ group program and made several passes through substance-abuse treatment. Yet, even though Brenda had filed for three separate orders of protection, the net effect was negligible: she claims to have suffered harassing phone calls, slashed tires and broken car windows. D.A.I.P. officials pressed police to investigate, but because the officers never caught Mike on the premises, he was never arrested.

After the divorce was granted, they continued to battle over child visits. Brenda had ultimately left Mike because of her children — the eldest, then in kindergarten, was already angry and traumatized. Research indicates that children exposed to family violence are 10 times as likely to be abused or abusive in adult relationships.

Two years ago, D.A.I.P. opened a visitation center at the Y.W.C.A. for noncustodial parents whom the court has granted supervised time with their children. The entrances and exits are such that neither parent has to see the other, and, under the watchful gaze of a D.A.I.P. staff member, parent and children have the run of two large living rooms, a small kitchen and a roomful of toys. This is where Brenda’s boys have been seeing their father and his new wife.

Brenda Erickson is now an honor student at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, majoring in family life education. “Mike has some good qualities,” she allows, “but this sure as hell beats walking around on eggshells. The boys and I are so much more relaxed and able to love each other. And I found a strength I never knew I had.”

On a Friday night last fall, Mike Erickson was finally arrested for domestic assault and violently resisting arrest. The victim was not Brenda, however, but his new wife, Deborah, and her teen-age son. In the ensuing brawl, it took four officers and a can of Mace to get him into the squad car, as he howled: “I wasn’t domesticating with her. I was drinking!” He pled guilty to all charges and served 36 days on a work farm. Mike is now enrolled in the D.A.I.P. program. “That night I pushed my stepson and backhanded my wife because she pulled the phone out and I got irritated,” he says. “It’s hard for me to shut up when I get going.”

But Deborah Erickson refused to file charges against Mike or even to speak to a volunteer from the Women’s Coalition. She has been in abusive relationships before, but she’s certain this marriage is different. “I told the cops, ‘Hey, it happened, but it’s not happening again.'”

THOSE WHO ARE IN A POSITION TO help battered women tend to deny the gravity of the problem. “Doctors still believe the falling-down-stairs stories, and clergy still tell women to pray and go to a marriage counselor,” says Anne Menard of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

But Congress has begun to act. In 1990, it passed a resolution, adapted by 30 states, urging that domestic violence by a parent be a presumption against child custody. The most dramatic policy reform, however, may be Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pending Violence Against Women Act, which proposes, among other things, to stiffen penalties for domestic abusers.

But while the use of the criminal-justice system to quash domestic violence has gained currency around the country, Ellen Pence’s advice to women in battering relationships is simply this: leave. Leave because even the best of programs, even Duluth’s, cannot insure that a violent man will change his ways.

[April 5, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to April 5, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to April 5, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to April 5, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (April 5, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]

11 thoughts on “The Duluth Model and programs for abusers”

  1. Note from Barb: the author of this comment asked me to post it on her behalf.

    My ex attended a men’s program. He would claim to have learned a lot from them, then tried to teach me what he had learned! He frequently got mad if I didn’t use his name, because he said they taught that it was respectful. He would lecture me if I did something that they had been told not to do. He would boast about trying to get the other men (the “REAL” violent ones, not ones like him who had wrongly ended up in the program) to soften their hearts and love their wives. Now that he has been “educated” on violence, he has all the jargon and knowledge, but that makes him all the more dangerous because he can fool judges, counselors and the police with his language. Not surprisingly, he fools Christians –– he has even written for Christian magazines.

    That’s why I am a bit ambivalent about such programs. I think it is a wonderful thing that such groups exist, and hope that some men are helped by them. But I can understand why some professionals think that giving help to these men is, in the long run, counter-productive and may result in worse outcomes for their partners. It would be interesting to see if the latest research shows better re-offending rates.

    1. That’s a kind of illustration of what Gondolf said:

      antisocial or even sociopathic batterers — about 30 percent — not only resist intervention, but may be further antagonized by it.

      I think we could re-cast that a bit by saying that intervention — the men’s behaviour change program — was used by your abuser to hone his skills even sharper.

      And that can apply to skilled emotional abusers who use little or no physical violence. It doesn’t just mean the ones who are physically brutal. It brings to mind the phrase used by George Simon Jr. to name what abusers do — “covert aggression”.

  2. Barbara, thank you for posting this. God is using it to help me stay strong today. I don’t even know how to say what I am going through right now. My ex-husband (I am learning to call him that) is still putting pressure on me. My sewer has not been working for almost 3 months, my landlord cannot fix it, my ex wants to bring a bunch of his “brothers” down to “bless” me and dig it up for the landlord (brothers who treat their wives as slaves, and believe that God’s word gives them that “authority” (“Woman, sit here, do not speak until I say so.”)). I told him “no” since I have to work and they will be around my children that he was denied custody and visitation with — oh, he will go somewhere else, if I want him to (blame shifting — “I am no threat, you need to forgive me or God won’t forgive you. You will ALWAYS be my wife, God says so.”).

    I don’t have drastic physical stories of abuse, no black eyes to report, he only hit me once. But I couldn’t open my mouth for a month afterward and I have permanent damage in my neck (whiplash and a degenerated disk due to the years of living with and compensating for the whiplash, oh, and spina bifida in 3 – 5 vertebrae in the neck. That was not his fault, but what could happen if I sustained another “correction” like the one he gave me before?). My stories are more emotional, sexual, mental and the worst being spiritual abuse.

    I wish he would learn to take “no” for an answer. Today, I am so tired of all this drama. I told him to tell his “brethren” that their coming this weekend doesn’t work for me (Did I mention that he told me and my oldest daughter that he has “brothers” committed to fasting and prayer that we will be reunited and that the “brothers” that live in his big rental house have committed to move out should I (or WHEN I) decide to return (and surely the broken sewer not being fixed is God’s way of saying I should return, but lest we forget, HE walked out on ME).). But he keeps pushing that I have to accept this “blessing” because his brothers won’t have another weekend to come and help me for a long time….to which I am grateful.

    So today I need to remain strong, when I feel beat down emotionally. This article that you transcribed and your comments are a God-send to me today. For all his “claims” of different “brothers” watching him cry in brokenness and their confirmations that he has truly “changed” (they didn’t know what he was, they never saw it and if I tell them there is a measure of, “But you are the woman. We can’t believe you against our brother. You are to be submitted and just telling us these things shows that you aren’t.”). I am still looking for just a glimmer of respect from him. God keeps prying my eyes open to the fact that it will never come from his corner, just religious duty.

    So again, thank you, Barbara, for this post.

    God’s grace be with you today.

    1. Laurie, your ex sounds like mine. I had many offers to fix things (yes, with his male friends too, who were sometimes sent by him to my house without my knowing), and the temptation was great. Even my children were brainwashed and kept asking me why I wouldn’t get him to fix things they wanted fixed. I gave it to the Lord, and I’m not even sure how they eventually got attended to, but they did, one by one, and not at the cost that I thought would have to be expended. I won’t go into detail here, but some of the problems were huge, and some husbands of my trusted girlfriends couldn’t even fix them but with God’s grace, they came good. God sent the right people along, and the long list finally dwindled and I now only have a few minor problems to get fixed.

      Abusive ex’s in churches seem to love getting others to pray for reconciliation. It sickened me that he would pray with my kids and ask them to pray for us to get back. He fasted so much his clothes hung on him. I wonder if it was just a cover-up for his inability to cook? If his relationship with God was similar to his relationship to others, then he is probably simply using God to get what he wants. Laurie, God is not fooled by abusers, unlike their “brothers” who cannot discern between sheep and wolves.

    2. Laurie, my heart goes out to you. Glad I could help you a little bit. The psychological and spiritual tactics your ex is using are awful. Mine offered to come and mow my grass and fix stuff in the yard, in the early stages of separation, but he didn’t have a bunch of guys backing him up and adding to the pressure. I think you are amazing for standing your ground in the face of all that stuff.

  3. Barbara, “parental alienation” is real, and very harmful to both the children and the alienated parent. In my case, it was a means used to continue to exert control in my life and continue to inflict pain, after the divorce.

    In other words, it is used by abusers to continue their abusive tactics. As you have pointed out, it may also be falsely claimed by abusers in an effort to regain control.

    1. Yes, Joe, you are right. Thank you for correctly enlarging on what I said. As with so many things in the world of abuse, there is the real and the false, the true and the distorted, the right way up and the inverted counterfeit….

    2. Parental alienation does not exist. It’s not a real syndrome. It was only coined as a “syndrome” because abuse is so common, and the idiot [Internet Archive link]1 who came up with it naturally did not understand the dynamics of an abusers mentality. It does not exist except in an abusers mindset. In order to use a child as a pond, you have to be an abusive person. In order to try to destroy a parent-child bond you would have to be an abuser. How many abusers got away with continuing the abuse of their children because of this guy’s stupidity….furthermore ABUSE is the alienating factor here. An abuser naturally blames the victim for the effects his behavior has on the children…..”she is keeping the children from me”….protecting them if need be from his abuse….OR “she is turning them against me!” — abusers use this tactic so commonly!!! Because they do not possess the ability to see the difference between cause and effect….so ya this guy took a common tactic used by abusers and slapped a name on it. Next it will be “financial alienation syndrome” Or “blame shifter syndrome”….you get my drift. I think the guy who came up with it, must of saw the error of his ways before he took his own life.

      1[April 5, 2023: We added the link to Wikipedia’s page on Richard A. Gardner, the man Memphis Rayne describes as an idiot, and (paraphrasing) stupid. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

  4. I only got about 1 / 3rd of the way through…. Too many triggers to read it all at once. I will try to come back another time and read some more. I did get struck by this part though:

    Men whom he would categorize as antisocial or even sociopathic batterers — about 30 percent — not only resist intervention, but may be further antagonized by it.

    He cautions women not to be taken in when their partners enter counseling.

    Counseling is the American way to heal a problem,” he says. “She’ll think, ‘If he’s trying, I should support him,’ while he’s thinking, ‘I’ll go to the program until I get what I want — my wife back.’ But his being in counseling may increase the danger for her because she has got her guard down.”

    I know that this is the attitude of my abuser toward the program that he is “forced” to take and I know that if I didn’t have really good support at the very beginning I would have taken him back and supported him since he was “trying”

  5. My favorite part:

    Ellen Pence’s advice to women in battering relationships is simply this: leave. Leave because even the best of programs, even Duluth’s, cannot insure that a violent man will change his ways.

    LEAVE!! Just leave.

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