Increase Opportunities for Accountability for Batterers
Accountability for individuals who perpetrate abuse in their relationships goes hand-in-hand with efforts to increase safety for victims. Although the two are inherently intertwined, rarely do the priorities for domestic violence response position them with equal importance. In order to properly address the problem, we must gear our outcomes to simultaneously increase accountability and safety.
CRIMINAL LEGAL RESPONSE
Fatality reviews have revealed multiple ways system responses led to missed opportunities to hold abusers accountable for their choices involving the victim and their relationship. Law enforcement received 254 calls about abuse prior to the fatal incident in reviewed cases. Fatality Review Teams located outcomes for only 78 percent of them: Of the 199 known outcomes, no arrest was made in 51 percent of calls. In many cases, the lack of arrest was attributed to the abuser having fled the scene prior to police arrival. These “Gone on Arrival” incidents continue to pose a threat to offender accountability, as does the practice of referring domestic violence victims to seek their own warrants against an abusive partner.
In reviewed cases between 2004 and 2018 in which law enforcement was contacted, 33 percent of victims were advised to apply for their own arrest warrants. Referring the victim to seek their own warrant increases barriers to justice and safety. Because law enforcement often acts as the first point of contact between the victim and the criminal legal system, officers have a unique opportunity to influence victim safety. It is crucial for law enforcement officers to both make arrests and make effective referrals for victim services on-scene.
Miriam and Dale met when they were in the ninth grade. Dale was physically abusive to Miriam throughout the more than 20 years they were together. Dale stalked her and often humiliated her by locking her outside of the home. As time went by, Dale also became increasingly abusive to the couple’s children.
After an incident in which Dale told their 16-year-old daughter, Natalie, he was going to put her “six feet under,” the police were called about the abuse in the home. The child told officers her father had recently been making her and her mother sleep in the garage at night, when temperatures were below freezing. Dale’s physical abuse was also reported, but no arrest was made.
Months later, Dale was arrested for aggravated assault after attacking Natalie’s boyfriend, beating him with a bat. The police reported the incident to DFCS, but it was unsubstantiated and closed. The District Attorney did not indict the case and Dale’s record was expunged after he attended anger management classes.
On another occasion, Miriam helped a friend move. Unbeknownst to her, Dale followed them as they moved furniture with the assistance of her friend’s family members. Dale confronted the male relatives, shouted obscenities at them and accused Miriam of having an affair. That night he again locked Miriam out of the house and she had to call the police for assistance. Neither an incident report nor an arrest was made.
As Miriam made moves to separate from Dale, his threats grew more severe. She told a friend, “If I stay, he will kill me. If I leave, he will kill me.” Just a week later, Dale shot Miriam multiple times, killing her.
Of the cases where law enforcement was contacted about abuse and an arrest was made, in a majority (79 percent), prosecutors pursued family violence charges. However, of these, a significant number (38 percent) were later dismissed or pleaded down. In 26 percent of cases charged by the prosecutor, charges were later dismissed because the victim was killed prior to adjudication. A majority of cases were either originally charged as a misdemeanor or pleaded down to a misdemeanor. Even though this suggests victims were only dealing with “lowerlevel” violence, it is obviously important to take misdemeanors seriously and hold abusers accountable before violence escalates.
In reviewed cases, 24 percent of victims had previously obtained a TPO against the perpetrator. Thirteen percent of those victims had a TPO in place at the time of the fatal incident. TPOs can be an important part of a victim’s safety plan. Yet, for some victims, risk increases during the process of obtaining a TPO, during the service of the order to the respondent, and at subsequent court dates. For this reason, rapid enforcement of TPOs in the event of violation is critical to victim safety and perpetrator accountability.
A gap undermining the effectiveness of TPOs is the lack of compliance measures for the abusers who are subject to them. Even though Georgia law requires TPO respondents to complete a Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP), the provision is not always enforced by the court. When respondents are referred to FVIPs, there is often no follow-up to ensure they have completed the program. Further, there are often no compliance measures concerning firearms surrender. Even when the court has ordered the surrender/removal of firearms, many communities report not having a protocol in place for retrieval, storage and return of firearms once a TPO has expired.
LEGAL OBLIGATIONS SET THE STAGE FOR FUTURE ACCOUNTABILITY
When the criminal and civil legal systems fail to work in ways that amount to swift and certain accountability for perpetrators, the burden is inappropriately placed on victims. Victims with childcare, transportation, or other barriers to accessing the court, may go to extraordinary lengths just to participate in the court process. Moreover, failed court interventions send the message to both perpetrator and victim that the abuse is not serious and the State will not intervene for her protection. When the victim is made responsible for sanctions and accountability measures, perpetrators are led to believe that only the victim objects to the violence and that she, not the community, is responsible for his punishment.
Overwhelmingly the most common reason batterers attend FVIPs is judicial obligation, either through criminal sentence or a civil TPO. Although perpetrators can self-enroll in a program of their choosing, judicial mandates to complete an FVIP are often what compel perpetrators to enroll.
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 19-13-16 indicates a court, when imposing a protective order against family violence or when sentencing a defendant or revoking a defendant’s probation for an offense involving family violence, in addition to imposing any penalty provided by law, shall order the defendant to participate in an FVIP unless the court determines and states on the record why participation in such a program is not appropriate.
Because FVIP is the primary method to address abuser attitudes towards relationship violence, and judges serve as the primary referral source to the program, it is of paramount importance to promote judicial understanding of the differences in FVIP and other types of supportive or behavioral interventions. The Georgia Domestic Violence Benchbook provides supportive information to the bench, urging compliance with both the law and best practices in family violence intervention.
The Georgia Domestic Violence Benchbook is available for download via the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education at ICJE.uga.edu/domesticviolencebenchbook.html.
FAMILY VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROGRAMS IN GEORGIA
FVIPs are 24-week programs designed to rehabilitate family violence offenders by holding them accountable and prioritizing victim safety. They play a key role in accountability for perpetrators of domestic violence. As of September 2018, Georgia has 116 certified FVIPs in operation in 41 judicial circuits.
A current list of certified Family Violence Intervention Programs can be found at gcfv.ga.gov.
According to O.C.G.A. § 19-13-10(6), FVIPs are certified by the Georgia Department of Community Supervision (DCS), the home agency for the Georgia Commission on Family Violence (GCFV). Certification requires facilitators to have specialized training in domestic violence and facilitating FVIP classes. FVIP programs are also required to be engaged in their local coordinated community response to family violence, most typically satisfied through participation in local family violence task force meetings.
Georgia and 42 other states have FVIP standards which differentiate these batterers intervention programs from anger management, substance abuse treatment, conflict resolution and psychotherapy. Anger management programs focus on anger as the impetus for violence (Gottlieb, 1999). In anger management, violence is primarily seen as a reactionary behavior and as a result of a triggering factor. FVIPs, however, are specifically designed to intervene with perpetrators of intimate partner violence. In FVIPs, violence is viewed as learned behavior primarily motivated by the abuser’s desire, whether conscious or unconscious, to control the victim (Adams, 2003).
Certified FVIPs are charged with prioritizing both victim safety and participant accountability. Safety features include contact with victims by “victim liaisons.” Victim liaisons initiate contact with victims whose abusers are enrolled in the program for the purpose of safety planning and providing referrals to supportive services. Victim liaisons can provide feedback to the victim about her abuser’s progress in FVIP and can communicate concerns with the FVIP provider at the victim’s request. This contact is important. One study found 25 percent of victims contacted by a victim liaison indicated the contact was their first opportunity to talk about domestic violence, 39 percent said they felt influenced to seek help for themselves, and 25 percent said they felt influenced to end the relationship (Arias et al., 2002).
Given the current research on the relationship between an abuser’s attitude and violence against women, researchers have studied short- and longer-term batterer changes in attitudes and beliefs after having attended a batterers intervention program. One study on the short-term effects of completing a 20-week program showed a shift in attitudes of participants to more liberalized views about sex roles, and decreased feelings of anger, jealousy and depressive symptoms after group treatment (Schmidt et al., 2007). A longer-term study, which made contact with participants up to 2.5 years after they completed a 24-week program, found batterers described their change in attitudes and beliefs as part of a long-term personal growth process towards non-violent interactions and more egalitarian relationships. Their personal growth occurred in three steps: acceptance of responsibility for abuse, awareness of range of feelings and development of empathy for others, and redefinition of masculinity (Schmidt et al., 2007).
A national study on victim perception about the effectiveness of batterer’s intervention coupled with victim contact showed 55 percent of victims believed the program was effective (Arias et al., 2002). An extended follow-up looked at how victims perceived their situations after their batterers had completed FVIP and nearly two-thirds of women reported being “better off” after 15, 30 and 48 months. Eighty-five percent of victims indicated they felt “very safe” and “very unlikely” to be assaulted again at 30 months and 48 months following program treatment, while 12 percent reported they felt “worse off.” Importantly these shifts in victim perception should be noted in context of the study’s other finding: that 25 percent of perpetrators repeatedly re-assaulted a victim after program completion.
STAKEHOLDERS PLAY EQUAL ROLE IN ADDRESSING ABUSER RECIDIVISM
It is a natural inclination to look to the criminal and civil legal system to solve the problem of domestic violence. Our focus has logically remained there because the vast majority of available funding focuses on services to victims involved in the courts. The focus has also remained on justice system interventions because the legal system has power to impose significant sanctions: incarceration, mandatory batterers intervention, monitoring through probation, restitution and fines. All of these factors have solidified an assumption that the onus for intervening in domestic violence and preventing further injury and death lies with the police and courts.
Fatality reviews revealed the legal system cannot solve this problem alone. While continuing to improve traditional systems of response — police, courts, shelters — it is also important to broaden our understanding of who can stop domestic violence and domestic violence-related homicide. Family, friends, coworkers and other community members have a role to play in supporting victims and in holding abusers accountable. These non-traditional systems are particularly important in community-specific accountability which considers the culture of the victim and perpetrator.
An important shift, which must happen in society to end domestic violence, is for men to play a larger role in ending violence against women. Because many abusive men have little respect for female voices and authority, the most powerful messages to counter their abuse and coercion of women will be delivered by other men. Men who use violence against their intimate partners must be told by other men in their community that violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Men Stopping Violence has an innovative program called Because We Have Daughters (BWHD), built on the premise that violence against women is not a “women’s issue” but a human issue. In order to engage men in the work to end violence against women, BWHD helps men connect with the perspective of the women in their lives, including their daughters but also friends, sisters, mothers, coworkers and other women the men want to be safe. The program helps men understand what it would be like for their daughters and all women to live fully and freely without fear of violence and develops men’s skills to create safety for the women in their lives.
For more information on the Because We Have Daughters program, visit MenStoppingViolence.org/programs/because-wehave-daughters.
STEPS GEORGIA CAN TAKE TO INCREASE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACCOUNTABILITY OF BATTERERS:
- Ensure law enforcement officers have the resources, training and information they need to respond to domestic violence calls. Because officers are often the first point of contact victims will have with “the system,” how their case is handled often sets the tone for future requests for assistance or intervention by victims. Ensuring officers have a dynamic understanding of the problem of domestic violence and how to intervene is vital. Providing any additional resources and support they need to do their job effectively is imperative.
- Ensure there are adequate resources to provide FVIP in all areas of the state. In circumstances where no FVIP program is present, judicial and prosecutorial leadership should encourage local providers or other agencies to apply for certification. Knowledgeable stakeholders have a duty to educate those in positions of influence regarding the difference between FVIP and anger management classes, and encourage policies which require FVIP attendance by abusers.
- To comprehensively address the problem, systems responders must assess their unique position to determine how they can impact change. All stakeholders must take immediate steps to address abusers’ issues of noncompliance with court orders or new incidents of abuse.