Domestic Violence - The Police Step In....

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Two brief articles:
Facts About Domestic Abuse and Dating Violence
Prevention: A New Approach to Domestic Violence

Facts About Domestic Abuse and Dating Violence

by Karen Gordon


Domestic or dating violence is a crime. Those convicted can be sent to jail, fined, imprisoned, or compelled to attend an abuse prevention or counseling program.

High school and college women are more likely to be abused and assaulted by someone they know than by a stranger.

The use of alcohol or drugs, by both the victim and the offender, are often factors in domestic violence cases.

Large numbers of young adults are affected by relationship violence.

If violence occurs once in a dating relationship, it is likely to occur again.

Jealousy and uncontrollable anger are perceived by victims to be common causes of violence.

Intimidation, the intention of striking fear into the other person or forcing the other person to do something, is a major motive for violence by males.

People misinterpret violent acts as signifying affection.

Prevention: A New Approach to Domestic Violence

Reprinted from Police Practice, September 1995
by William D. Baker, J.D.

The criminal justice system's response to domestic violence has evolved dramatically during the past two decades. Historically, when responding to domestic dispute calls, law enforcement officers could do little more than separate spouses and wait for tempers to cool.

By the mid-1980s, changing social standards led to more vigorous enforcement policies. In Massachusetts, as in many states, these policies resulted in mandatory arrest statutes,1 domestic violence firearm-confiscation statutes,2 restraining order registries,3 and enhanced penalties for convicted batterers.4

These measures constitute an important step forward in addressing one of the most recurrent problems that confronts law enforcement. However, these policies share a characteristic that limits their effectiveness in actually curtailing domestic violence. As reactive measures, they can be used only after an incident occurs. Thus, the progressive policies adopted in recent years have done little to prevent new cases of abuse or to reduce the number of domestic violence calls handled by the police.

Prevention as a Goal

Law enforcement officials often become frustrated when, in the wake of a domestic violence-related homicide, media headlines proclaim, "The System Fails Again." It is difficult to accept such criticism when the criminal justice system mainly responds after a crisis has occurred. While a crisis intervention stance appropriately takes as its first priority the safety of victims, such an approach risks ignoring the importance of primary prevention.

In 1991, the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council and the Framingham Police Department joined with local educators and victim advocates to create a proactive program that addresses the root causes of domestic violence. The Violence Prevention Program stresses prevention rather than reaction. It has emerged as a unique method to address critical risk factors, such as gender-role stereotypes and sexism, that lead to domestic violence.

The Violence Prevention Program

The Violence Prevention Program educates young people about domestic violence and provides them with skills to help them avoid destructive behavior. The program targets students in the seventh and eighth grades.

Staff members of a local nonprofit shelter for battered women structured the curriculum in five 1-hour blocks that can be delivered in health classes as part of the regular school curriculum. The program is intended to be taught by two-member teams made up of a police officer and an educator. The ideal team consists of a male teacher and a female officer, the reverse of the common stereotype. Together, they can model respectful behavior and effectively deal with the issue of gender-role stereotyping.

Police administrators choose officers for the program based on their demonstrated sensitivity to the issues of domestic violence, as well as for their field experience, performance in training and role-playing, and teaching ability. The immediate goal of the program is to give the officers and educators a visible, proactive role in preventing violence. The ultimate goal is to reduce violence in intimate relationships.

Training the Trainers

Before the officers and educators begin to teach the program, they receive special instruction on the subject of domestic violence. A 3-day, train-the-trainer course focuses on the dynamics of domestic violence. Professional counselors in the areas of teen dating violence and battering conduct the training sessions. Funds from a State grant cover the fees for the counselors.

On the first day of instructor training, the participants learn about cycles of violence and examine questions such as "Why do men batter?" and "What makes women remain in abusive relationships?" The second day of instruction focuses on program curriculum. Participants go through the exercises, such as formulating definitions for abuse and respect and listing the attributes of respectful men and women. On the third day, the officers and teachers deliver the curriculum through role-playing.

In addition, training counselors often arrange for a presentation by a victim or a batterer to give the teaching pairs an opportunity to understand better the mindset of victims and batterers. Guest lecturers drawn from a regional pool of medical and domestic violence experts also may be called on to share their insights with the participants. Near the conclusion of the course, the counselors discuss what steps officers and educators should take if they receive reports of domestic violence from the students.

At the conclusion of the course, each pair of trainers returns to their middle school in one of the 30 school districts throughout the Commonwealth that participate in the program. To limit the financial impact of the program on local communities, the teaching pairs present the program in their school districts as part of their regular assignments.

Teaching the Curriculum

The curriculum divides the five components of the program into different sessions. The teaching pairs present the components in 1-hour classes generally delivered on five consecutive days. In the first session, the teaching pair asks the students to brainstorm examples of abusive and respectful behavior. Students learn that abuse can be mental, emotional, verbal, sexual, or physical. The session exposes students to different ideas about what constitutes abuse and respect in the minds of both men and women. The instructors' primary focus is to show that abuse and respect must be defined by the person targeted by the behavior.

In the second session, instructors use commercial advertisements and class discussion to explore the link between stereotypes and violence. The teaching pair divides the students by sex and asks them to create a list of attributes associated with being a mature man or woman. The students discuss how men and women should resolve conflicts and interact with one another. The instructors then use the advertisements to demonstrate the prevalence of stereotyping both in the media and society. They explain that such stereotyping can lead to an imbalance of power in relationships, which can breed violence and abuse.

In the third session, the instructors sensitize students to the warning signs of domestic violence. They attempt to dispel some of the myths about who batters and who might be victimized by abuse. At this point, instructors often invite batterers and victims to speak to the class. However, the instructors carefully screen these guest speakers to ensure that their views are consistent with the goals of the program.

Curriculum planners reserved the fourth and fifth sessions for classes on topics chosen by the instructors. During these final sessions, the teaching pairs may choose to offer instruction in conflict resolution skills, discuss ways to end difficult relationships, help the students create networks for peer support, or advise students of community resources for victims and batterers.

Student Reaction

Program coordinators measured the impact of the program by evaluating changes in the attitudes of students who took the course. Nearly 700 students completed surveys given before and after the classes.

Seventy-eight percent of the females and 59 percent of the males felt that the program would be useful in preventing violence in current or future relationships. Nearly 92 percent of females and 84 percent of males identified school as an appropriate place to learn about dealing with conflict in dating relationships.

The survey also indicated consistent improvement in the students' ability to define and identify abusive behavior. When asked if "guys should always be in control" of a relationship, 86 percent of females answered no before the course; 90 percent answered no after attending the classes. Sixty-five percent of the males answered no to the same question before the course; 77 percent said no after the course. When asked if calling a female a derogatory term is abusive, 87 percent of the females answered yes before the course; 93 percent answered yes after the course. Seventy-eight percent of the males answered yes before the course; 86 percent said yes after the course.


Domestic violence represents such a chronic problem for society and law enforcement officers that it has become difficult to envision new ways to address it. Certainly, the best scenario is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

The Violence Prevention Program delivers a proactive message of mutual respect and conflict resolution to counter the mixed signals and negative messages that young people often receive regarding interpersonal relationships. The positive response of the students who have completed the program indicates that they value discussing social issues and want to learn appropriate interpersonal skills.

The combined efforts of law enforcement, the educational system, and private organizations help to make the program both practical and successful. Through the Violence Prevention Program, police officers team up with the community to address an issue before it erupts into a problem.