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Breaking the cycle of intimate partner violence

Posted November 8, 2018

The cycle of intimate partner violence will remain unbroken unless trauma in perpetrators—not just victims—is also treated, according to new research from Case Western Reserve University.

Statistically, 25% of all the women will suffer from severe domestic violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Some of them may get murdered, because they failed to recognize the signs of potential danger of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness or criminal past. Image credit: West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Offenders of intimate partner violence have extremely high levels of adversity and childhood trauma, substantially higher levels of mental-health issues and low levels of social support, according to the study, “A Paradigm Shift in Batterer Intervention Programming,” which was recently published in the Journal of Trauma, Violence and Abuse.

Those issues must be better addressed if there’s any hope in breaking the cycle—an ongoing crisis in which offenders are typically victims themselves, said Laura Voith, the study’s author and an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

“Victims and survivors are one part of the equation. We need to work with the perpetrators in a meaningful way, or else nothing changes,” said Voith, who is quick to explain the research doesn’t downplay the trauma that victims face.

“But if we don’t address the perpetrator, then we’re leaving victims open to more harm,” she said. “If we’re really trying to address intimate partner violence, we should address it at its core.”

Working with perpetrators is not a new concept, but the study suggests a shift in how that’s done—to so-called “trauma-informed care.”

Bottom-up interventions examine where offenders might be easily triggered, and consider past trauma. Painful memories are discussed. Factors such as heart rate and breathing are taken into account. It’s about getting to the core of the issues. That’s the gist of Voith’s work at the Mandel School.

“Not all boys who have been victimized turn out to be perpetrators, but an overwhelming amount of perpetrators have been victimized as children,” she said. “Men need to be held accountable, but we also need to remember and recognize that they are often victims, too. And we need to re-think the way that we’re dealing with it.”

Voith said she’d like to implement her research locally, with Cleveland agencies.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

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