Guest editorial: Domestic violence perpetrators need treatment and help too
November 21, 2014
I have visited other sheltered residences as a psychotherapist. For 38 years I have worked with many domestic violence victims, including their children and various types of perpetrators. The long term support offer by shelters such as Peace House is absolutely necessary. There is, however, an often unaddressed topic related to domestic violence which I feel needs to be talked about. The topic is the need to provide healing options for the perpetrators. This letter is a brief highlight of reasons we should also be treating domestic violence perpetrators.
As a therapist I have seen the victim in those labeled "Perpetrator". The prison system is filled with many adult perpetrators of many crimes who were also victims as children. Our current shunning of perpetrators ignores one step in the process of reducing domestic violence. Adult perpetrators learned as children that the loudest, meanest or most aggressive one wins. Abused people naturally look for ways to reduce their pain, stress and fears. Stresses at any age leave fewer moments to learn self-control, communication skills, or how to live with differences.
One abusive client said to me, "When you have been constantly scared and fearful as a child you look for anything to reduce that fear. If you find you can control your world with aggression then you have a way not to be a victim again."
I often found dysfunctional families laughed at their children’s tantrums offering no other option for the child. One long term result is anger children experience increasing isolation from others which at times is what they think they want but which weakens their main source for healing and reflection. Perpetrators have seldom looked at the consequences for their behaviors.
Adult Perpetrators healing begins with becoming financially responsible for the costs of their abuses. There are no other crimes against people or property in which the perpetrator is not required by the courts to compensate for what they have done. Let treatment for perpetrators start with their financial awareness of the treatment, care and support costs required for his/her victims.
Secondly, perpetrators need to be the ones removed from the homes. Why are the victims which include the children the ones taken out of their homes and neighborhoods and required to re-start their lives? It is time a home was established for perpetrators. There needs to be residence where perpetrators are taken and given the option to enter therapy or go to jail. These men and women can be court ordered into a safe residence where, depending on the circumstances, they may be required to wear an ankle bracelet until they have completed all required classes and therapy.
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The treatment I am suggesting for all perpetrators is anger management groups, therapy groups, individual sessions and family growth groups as well as family sessions if all parties are willing to work on renewing a relationship. Isn’t it time perpetrators are REQUIRED to attend therapy classes…individually, in a peer group and with their victims when reconciliation is an option before they can return to their homes. At the same time the courts and law enforcement personnel are showing they recognize the benefits of helping the victims remain where they have roots, peers, family and other forms of security.
A Chinese proverb, I read once stated: "Whatever you do not resolve in your life, you pass on to your children."