Domestic Violence Offender Program
in Canada and the U.S.:
Current Trends and Controversies
© 1999 Juergen Dankwort, Ph.D. & Juliet Austin, M.A.
This document is a synopsis of two national surveys and analyses of standards for batterer intervention & prevention (BIP) programs conducted by Juliet Austin and Juergen Dankwort under contract for the (U.S.) National Resource Center (NRC) on domestic violence, a project of the Pennyslvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) and with funding from the Office of Community Projects, University of Houston.
The original U.S. study completed for the NRC is available on the Internet at:
A more recent, revised, version with additional discussion of the implications and controversy around standardizing such interventions in the U.S. was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14 (2), February, 1999 (p. 152-168), titled: Standards for batterer programs: A review and anlaysis."
In the same year, the Canadian survey was published in Canadian Journal
of Community Mental Health,18 (1), (p. 19-38), titled: Standards for
batterer intervention programs in Canada: A history and review.
For correspondence please contact:
Juergen Dankwort, Ph.D.
Institute on Victimization & Social Injustice (RIVSI)
8481 Nanaimo St.
Vancouver, B.C. V5P 4V8 (Canada)
Voice & (604) 738-2520 FAX 738-2527
Outline of synopsis:
1. Philosphy of Standards
2. Purpose and Procedure of Standards
3. Protocol for Programs
4. Staff Ethics & Qualifications
5. Intake Procedures
6. Intervention: format, model, content & duration
7. Discharge Criteria
8. Future Directions & Commentary on Standards
Intervention programs for domestic violence perpetrators, or batterers,
grown significantly over the last two decades in North America. More
recently, the field has also witnessed an evolving trend to develop
standards or guidelines which set out how such intervention should be
implemented. Such efforts at standardizing batterers' programs continue even
in the face of unresolved controversies which have persistently marked
intervention for men who abuse their intimate partners.
This report presents on research which examined standards for batterers'
programs in the U.S. and Canada, commencing with an overview of the history,
development, prevalence, type, and content of standards, followed by a
discussion about contributions, limitations, and controversies related to
the standards. It concludes with suggestions on how standards might be
revised and further developed. The research is based on a review of existing
standards in North America as well as telephone conversations with varied
stakeholders in the field of domestic violence, including batterer program
service providers, victim service providers, grass-roots domestic violence
organizations and governmental departments involved in remedying domestic
violence and violence against women.
History and Development
In the U.S., standards or guidelines for batterers' programs were developed
in the mid-1980s by committees comprised of battered women's advocates,
facilitators or counsellors of batterers' programs, justice system
personnel, educators, and mental health professionals. Overall, standards in
the U.S. appear to be relatively similar, with one state's standards often
serving as a model for other states developing their own guidelines.
Rationale in support of this development was generally identified as a need
for minimal standards to maximize safety for domestic violence victims in
view of rapidly proliferating batterers' programs with varying, and, in some
cases, divergent approaches to batterer treatment interventions.
In Canada, the development of standards emerged towards the end of the
through initiatives jointly taken by counsellors of batterers' programs and
provincial governments with some variance on additional involvement by other
interested parties. This undertaking helped to establish batterers' programs
as a needed and vital service to help stop domestic abuse. The standards
were developed through designated committees which had, in addition to the
aforementioned, added representation from battered women's groups, justice
system and mental health services. In some cases, designated individuals
under government contract, rather than committees, played a major role in
creating standards. Rationale for developing standards was identified as a
need for accessibility and accountability of programs entering into
contractual agreements with government funders, the need for program
uniformity, improved coordination with collateral domestic violence
services, and victim safety concerns.
Current Status of Standards
Figure 1 below provides an overview of the prevalence of standards in
U.S. and Canada as of September, 1997. In all, 32 sets of standards existed,
and another 8 states in the U.S. and two provinces and one territory in
Canada had produced drafts of standards for their respective regions. The total
of 43 standards in existence or in draft form provided clear evidence of a growing
trend of standardizing intervention practice with domestic violence offenders.
Additionally, 11 U.S. states were in the process of developing standards but had
not yet had drafts prepared when the survey was conducted. Only 3 U.S. states,
5 Canadian provinces, and one Canadian territory had not yet begun to develop them.
(It should be noted that a single offender program serving small populations in at least
two maritime provinces in effect constituted guidelines for those regions.)
When analyzed for their content, standards lend themselves to classification
two different types and by varying features of each of these types as
Explanations of Types and Features of Standards
* Mandatory standards which have accompanying legislation ( 9 in U.S.).
* Mandatory standards without accompanying legislation (8 in U.S. and 2
* Voluntary standards which are adhered to by many programs. Typically,
programs in compliance are identified resulting in client referrals
from the justice system (10 in U.S.).
* Voluntary standards which are not commonly referenced and where there
is little inducement for program compliance (2 in U.S. and 1 in Canada).
Content of Standards
The elements of standards are summarized in seven broad categories and
broken down into identified themes within these categories.
Philosophy of standards
* Patriarchy is seen as causing and/or maintaining men's violence against
women. (most U.S. & 2 CDN.).
* Abuse is conceptualized as the use of coercive control over another,
socially reinforced through sexist attitudes (most U.S.). Abuse is
defined to include a range of psychological and physical behaviors
(most U.S. & 3 CDN.).
* Abuse is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator with emphasis on no
victim-blaming (most U.S.); 3 CDN. indicate men must take
responsibility for their abuse.
* Warnings are given regarding the limitations of batterers' programs,
i.e., they can not guarantee that men will cease their violence (all
CA. & most U.S.), and such intervention is not intended to salvage
relationships (most U.S.).
Purposes & procedures of standards
* Identify who the standards apply to, i.e., funded programs,
court-mandated batterers, etc. (most U.S. & 4 CDN.).
* Purpose of standards is intended to provide program uniformity, to end
domestic violence, provide victim safety, batterer accountability,
community education, and provide incentive for research (most U.S.); 1
CA. states that the purpose is to promote quality and consistency; 1
states a range of purposes such as providing a framework for program
funding, evaluating and training in family violence.
* Monitoring for compliance to standards is seen to be important and
battered women's advocates should be involved in the monitoring process
* Programs are to prioritize victim safety (most U.S. & all Canada)
batterer accountability (most U.S.).
* Community education is seen to be a responsibility of batterers'
programs (most U.S. & 3 CDN.) .
* Programs are seen to be one component part of a coordinated community
response to stopping abuse (most U.S.); all CDN standards advise that
there should be collaboration with other agencies.
* Programs should conduct program evaluations (most U.S. & 2 CDN.).
* Programs should make themselves accountable to battered women's
advocates (most U.S. & 2 CDN.); 2 CDN. state that input from those
working with women is important.
* Batterers must sign a waiver of confidentiality permitting the program
to talk with the victim (most U.S. & 4 CDN.).
* Program protocol usually includes partner contacts, e.g., informing
partners of client commencement and termination dates, providing
program information, and warning the victim of any imminent danger from
the batterer (most U.S. & 4 CDN.). A few in the U.S. see this as
potentially dangerous and discourage it. Instead, it is suggested that
partners be referred to victim services.
* Batterers should pay a fee for service according to a sliding scale,
but provisions are to be made for those who are indigent (most U.S.;
none in Canada.).
* Programs must not compete for funding with victims services (some U.S.
& 1 CDN.).
* Programs must not exist in community without victims services (some
U.S. & 3 CDN.).
* Programs should provide culturally appropriate intervention (most U.S.
& 3 CDN.).
Staff ethics & qualifications
* Program facilitators must be violence-free, not abuse alcohol and
& must seek to rid themselves of sexist attitudes (most U.S. & 1 CDN.).
* Facilitators should have had training in domestic violence. This is
considered to be more important than being a licensed professional
(most U.S.); none in Canada require academic degrees.
* Intake procedures should assess lethality risk (most U.S. & 2
histories of violence (most U.S.), mental health, and substance abuse
(most U.S. & 2 CDN.).
* Programs should have written contracts with clients that set out
requirements for attendance/participation, limitations on
confidentiality, and protocol around partner safety checks (most U.S. &
* Standards suggest that those inappropriate for services should be
screened out (most U.S. & 1 CDN.).
Intervention: format, mode, content & duration
* Group intervention is the preferred format (most U.S. & 2 CDN.).
* Couples counseling is seen as inappropriate as an initial intervention
approach (most U.S. & 3 CDN.).
* Women, gay men and lesbians should receive separate intervention (some
in U.S.; none in Canada).
* Preferred models are "psycho-educational," "cognitive-behavioral" &
"pro-feminist," or some combination of the three (most U.S. & 2 CDN.).
* Program content includes: addressing power & control issues,
socio-cultural basis for men's violence, types of abuse, the effects of
violence, attitudes & beliefs that support violence, and taking
responsibility for one's violence (most U.S. & 1 CDN.).
* Program duration ranges from 12-52 weeks; most standards suggest 24-26
weeks (U.S.); 1 CDN. suggests 4 months.
* Men may be terminated from the program for violating any aspect of
client contract, e.g., repeated use of violence, poor attendance, etc.
(most U.S. & 1 CDN.).
* Program completion must include at least satisfactory participation
(most in U.S.), with some U.S. standards additionally requiring clients
to be violence free, and/or accepting responsibility for one's
behavior. No stipulations for program completion requirements are given
Contributions and Limitations of Batterer Program Standards
Findings from this study provided information on both contributions
limitations of batterer program standards. Additionally, the research made
it possible to identify what concerns preoccupy some key participants or
stakeholders who are engaged and invested in ending domestic violence.
Results are summarized as follows:
* Victim safety and batterer accountability are prioritized
* Invite a process by which those with varying interests and particular
mandates can work together to end domestic violence
* Promote consistency amongst programs and help hold them accountable to
* Provide a kind of "consumer education" by outlining the contents of
batterer programs, including their limitations
* Expertise from victims' advocates is acknowledged
* Encourage a coordinated, community response to stopping domestic
* Highlight the social dimension of domestic violence
* Have influenced existing programs, help shape the development of new
programs, and facilitate the development of standards in other regions
* Help to legitimate the need for specialized knowledge, training, and
intervention approaches in relation to work with batterers
* Most were developed and continue to be reviewed by committees comprised
of individuals from various disciplines who possess expertise in the
domestic violence field
Limitations and concerns:
* Standards sometimes lack specificity or fail to explicate their
* Standards do not discuss how to intervene with gay men and lesbian
offenders nor do they give instructions on how to work with
heterosexual women who have been charged with domestic violence assault
* Standards that are mandatory may turn into a form of unwanted control
if access to revise or modify them is lobbied away from grass-roots
* The issue of compliance is complex and may be problematic:
--mandating standards into force may in some cases simply invite
superficial acquiescence without a real commitment on the part of
practitioners to implement their underlying purpose
--on the other hand, if guidelines are not mandated it may be difficult
to entice programs to abide by them especially since important referral
sources such as the courts sometimes ignore them
--if government funding eligibility is to serve as compliance
inducement, but little or no funds are available to batterers'
programs, that incentive becomes negligible
* Monitoring of programs is infrequent and funds are often not allocated
to monitor compliance
* Many standards only requirement for completion of the program is for
batterers to have attended the required number of sessions
* In the U.S., standards have been strongly criticized by some
professionals and scholars in the mental health community as:
--Not inclusive of researchers' input during the development of
--Excluding some from the mental health field in the development
--Not based upon scientific research
--Not requiring academic degrees or professional licenses for
--Restricting the use of varying models (e.g., psychodynamic)
--Restricting the format of intervention (e.g., couples counselling)
--Impeding research efforts because of the above restrictions
* In Canada, concern has been expressed by some battered women's
advocates and batterers' facilitators about the inordinate attention
one set of mandatory standards devotes to batterer rehabilitation
rather than promoting social change for the safety and well-being of
women and children. This dichotomy between rehabilitation and
accountability indicated some ongoing tensions between service
providers for vicitms and offenders in at least one Canadian province.
* In another province, battered women's shelters are relying on official
government domestic violence policy rather than existing standards to
express their concerns about batterer program practices and how they
are funded. These advocates for battered women believe:
--Some programs to be working with batterers from a "traditional
psychological approach" rather than one which emphasizes more batterer
--That funding for the programs should come from the ministry
responsible for the public's safety rather than from the one which
currently funds victims' services;
--That this funding be conditional based on a program's compliance with
the aforementioned government policy.
--Accepting persons into a program who have pending criminal charges as
well as using family or couples counselling formats are two concerns
presently the subject of debate in drafting standards in yet another
Future Directions for Standards
It is evident from this study that a significant trend to establish
standards for batterers' programs is well underway in North America.
Conclusions which can be extrapolated from the findings are summarized as
suggestions for what future directions standards might take as they come up
for revision, or as they are formulated for the first time in those regions
where they are presently under development. Standards might seek to address:
* Deciding whether and how to develop standards for women mandated to
attend a batterers' program;
* How to intervene with lesbian & gay male offenders;
* How to intervene with various cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious
* How to address some of the divisive underlying controversies involving
the standards, including the matter of divergent intervention
approaches and practice methods in view of safety issues for victims;
* Finding ways to encourage the justice system to function in a manner
more in accordance with the standards;
* Finding ways to obtain funding that is not disadvantageous to victims'
* Exploring effective and economic ways to monitor for program
* Additional, innovative research on program impact, types of curriculum,
intervention protocols, and the effectiveness and impact of standards.
Whatever directions standards take, it is recommended by the researchers
this report that victim safety, as well as batterer and program
accountability should be the deciding criteria by which any proposed changes
to standards are measured. In the absence of conclusive scientific evidence
to support the content of standards, knowledge based on experience acquired
by the battered women's movement over more than two decades should be
recognized as a reliable foundation for intervention.
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