A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

“How He Gets Into Her Head” — an introduction to Don Hennessy’s book

Nearly four decades ago, Don Hennessy was working in the Irish city of Cork at the Cork Marriage Counselling Centre. They identified domestic violence as the underlying issue for about 30% of their clients. It was identified as a pattern of abusive and violent behaviour that allowed the offender to control his intimate partner. Thus began the Cork Domestic Violence Project. As all the offenders were male, they decided they needed to engage with the men concerned in a way that would stop the violence. (link)

When dealing with an abusive man, they realized they must always see the woman he was abusing as their client, while seeing the perpetrator as an offender. Adopting this paradigm, they knew they had to prioritize the client’s (the woman’s) safety whenever they did anything with perpetrators.

Hennessy describes how, after two years of preparation, they began conducting treatment groups for abusive men (How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser, pp 12-13 [*Affiliate link])

But after some time of running those groups they came to the conclusion that the groups were not doing much good and were dangerous in some cases.

The Cork Domestic Violence Project was one of the few programs in the world that dealt in depth with both perpetrators and victims. This is important. We know that many marriage counselors and pastors unwisely and dangerously do couple counseling in domestic abuse cases. We also know that most agencies which specialize in domestic abuse do not work intensively with male perpetrators and the men’s victims – most agencies specialize in either perps or victims. Bear this in mind when reading quotes I give from Hennessy’s book.

And to all our dear readers who have suffered the perils of couple-counseling for domestic abuse, let me put your trepidation to rest. Once the staff at the Cork Project became astute to domestic abuse, they did not do couple counseling in abusive relationships. They met with the two parties (perpetrator and victim) separately. Hennessy gives an example of what that looks like on p 112 of his book.

Note: all quotes from Hennessy and Irish media articles use British spelling to retain authenticity. (And Barb breathes a sigh of relief as she dislikes using American spelling, but that’s our default on this blog because we think most of our readers are from the USA.)

Hennessy says:

Our own experience was that we were continually reminded of our inability to create lasting change [in the offenders]. We were also constantly reminded that we ran the risk of increasing the danger to our clients. We gradually wound up our group work with perpetrators as we became convinced that work with batterers should not be done in isolation but requires inter-agency efforts and multidimensional initiatives. What has become clearer in the last few years is that perpetrator programs are at best unhelpful and may even prove to be a further risk for sufferers of abuse. (13)

Over the final years of working with perpetrators we also began a detailed study of the patterns of behaviour that all these perpetrators engage in. Our initial belief was that there was a way of talking to perpetrators that would have some effect on their behavior. We began to realise that we could be more effective in our goal of client safety if we listened to and observed the perpetrators. We were also in a fairly unique position of being able to listen to and observe the clients. We were one of the very few groups that worked intensively with both the perpetrators and the clients. This allowed us to observe how both the clients and the perpetrators behaved towards us and towards each other. It also allowed us to study the attitudes and the language that surrounded these relationships. What began to emerge was a process which underpins all adult abusive relationships between intimate partners. (13-14)

Hennessy says the man who is abusing his long-term female partner has honed the skills required to

  • select
  • set up
  • target
  • groom (with benign & sinister tactics)
  • offend
  • re-groom, and
  • re-offend his target.

It’s a long-term process. Most abusers are very skilled and very patient. They do not take chances. They assess and monitor their target’s responses every step of the way.

He also talks about

  • the target woman and us – society’s obligation to the target woman
  • how society has been hoodwinked by abusers
  • what we can do

I will be amplifying each of those bullet points in upcoming posts in this series.

I encourage you to obtain Hennessy’s book and read it for yourself.

If you have a leadership role in a church, Hennessy’s book will help you better understand how abusers work to pull the wool over your eyes to what is really going on.

If you are a survivor of intimate partner abuse, you could ask your local library to get it in if you can’t afford it. We have also added it to our Gift Books Offer. The book gives lots of case studies to illustrate what I am summarizing in this series. I think that every one of those case studies will ring bells for survivors of domestic abuse.


Update: Don Hennessy’s next book, Steps to Freedom [*Affiliate link], will be coming out in July 2018. It will be different from most ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ books which rely on the target woman to protect herself. Instead it talks directly to the target woman while she is being controlled and hopes to give her the permission and the skills to protect her mind and her soul.

Our Don Hennessy Digest lists all the posts in this series and gives biographical details of Don Hennessy.

Note: I contacted Don Hennessy via his publisher and he has very generously allowed me to quote as much as I like from his book to pass on the message to others. Thank you Don!

*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link. 


  1. LilyoftheValley

    Thank you for this post. This was helpful to to see abusive behavior outlined. Well done.

    • Hi and welcome to the blog. 🙂

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

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      I changed your screen name to LilyoftheValley as it looked like you had used your real name. If you want us to change it to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain). Her address is twbtc.acfj@gmail.com.

  2. Sue

    Thanks for posting. What a helpful and researched book. Also truthful. FYI the link for Amazon didnt work.

    • twbtc

      Hi Sue,

      I tried the link to Amazon and it worked for me. Though Amazon is saying the book is temporarily out of stock, but people can still order the book and Amazon will ship as soon as they can.

      • In my experience, Amazon often says a title is out of stock if that title is not published by Amazon’s own empire (e.g. Create Space) or by major publishers. But don’t let that put you off. Amazon will order it from the supplier as soon as you purchase it at Amazon.

  3. Anon

    Would you happen to have a number or contact person in the Houston area that has experience with OIDV (officer involved domestic violence)? Thank you for your time.

    • Hi Anon, I replied to you a few days ago by email. Hope you got my reply.

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page.

      I changed your screen name to Anon as a precaution. If you want us to change it to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain) Her address is twbtc.acfj@gmail.com.

  4. Stronger Now

    The Amazon link worked fine for me and I received the book in just a couple of days. I am almost done reading it. What an eye-opener! I completely agree it is as ground-breaking as Why Does He DO That? This is a must-read for everyone in the helping professions.

    • twbtc

      Thanks, Stronger Now, for that update about Amazon.

      Also, note that the link in this post goes to Amazon in the US. For readers in Australia and Canada you can go to Amazon.ca (Canada) and Amazon.com.au (Australia) and Hennessy’s book is also available through them.

      • And readers in the UK can go to amazon.co.uk.

  5. I have just heard from Don Hennessy that his next book, Steps to Freedom, will be coming out in June 2018. It will be different from most ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ books which rely on the target woman to protect herself. Instead it talks directly to the target woman while she is being controlled and hopes to give her the permission and the skills to protect her mind and her soul.

    • Stronger Now

      Can’t wait! I just recommended How He Gets Into Her Head to a friend. I’m so excited to read Steps to Freedom and pass it on!

  6. Finding Answers

    (Heavy airbrushing…)

    When it comes to “selecting” and my anti-x, I have difficulty discerning what might be called “the order of selection.”

    I can say he did not actively pursue / groom me when we first met, nor did he stay in touch beyond a certain point.

    In a chance encounter a few years later, I asked if he would be interested in attending an event for which we had a mutual interest. The first re-contact was mine.

    In hindsight, I think he changed his target to me during attendance of the event. Using the information gleaned from Lundy’s book, I was an easy target.

    Reading what I have just written, I recognize I was headed down the road to “blame the victim.”

    And that is so wrong.

    The road to “blame the victim” did not start with my anti-x, it started with my family of origin.

    I always blamed myself for “pursing” and “marrying” my anti-x. I always blamed myself when I couldn’t “fix” the “marriage” to my anti-x.

    And that, too, is so wrong.

    The choice to abuse was his.

  7. Jamie

    Finding Answers,

    My background is a little bit similar to yours in that I have a history with multiple abusers. This complicated my sorting out the details of the abuse…who was responsible…who was an abuser in my life that was in a position of power and control…and who had simply treated me abusively in passing, what was MY responsibility, etc.

    Having a history with multiple abusers really has caused me to struggle, often with victim-blaming type behavior toward myself.

    This is what I have come to understand about it based on the study I have done….mostly here at A Cry for Justice.

    I have been wanting to write you about this for some time now, but I was trying to find more information about exactly which articles lead me to this conclusion. 😉 Maybe other readers can help me find them.

    A lot of times healthy men / potential friends / other relationships will respect your boundaries. If you have been hurt previously, you may be putting up walls or signaling for people to back off a little. But the UNHEALTHY ones will NOT respect those boundaries. They will continue to pursue you….wear you down until you accept their advances. That can be why we end up with repeated abusive relationships.

    This has provided me with a lot of clarity, looking back at times when I squelched early interest from people who might have been healthy.

    Still praying.

    • Hi Jamie, you could use the guidance on How to search our website to help you find where that quote is.

      • Jamie

        I have tried.

        It may be at Facebook? Not search-able? I don’t know.

        I’ll keep trying. 🙂

    • Finding Answers

      Pondering your reply, Jamie….thank you.

      I need to be very careful with the healthy / unhealthy boundary idea – each reply I attempted was heading down the “blame-the-victim” road. I can understand the point you are making, I’m just not sure how to get there safely.

      (I almost signed off with my real name…. 🙂 )

      • Jamie

        This post by Barbara and the discussion in the comments is wonderful if you haven’t read it yet….or want to read it again. xo

        Is there something in the victim that the perpetrator latches on to? And do women ‘attract’ abusers?

      • Finding Answers

        I’ve read the post at least twice that I know of – I save what I read to disk, including the number of times. 🙂

        Given what I just wrote on the fifth Don Hennessy post, the Holy Spirit may lead me to read it again….

        In the meantime, I really need to sleep. For all I bunny-trail through the ACFJ website, I am not the Energizer bunny. 🙂

      • Sleep well. 🙂

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