I Am Not Your Victim: Anatomy of Domestic Violence
Publication Year: 2014
I Am Not Your Victim vividly details the evolution of domestic violence during the 16-year marriage of author Beth Sipe. Encouraged to publish her story by her therapist and co-author, Evelyn J. Hall, Beth relates the background and events leading up to and immediately following the tragic act of desperation that ended the life of her sadistic perpetrator. Beth's subsequent mishandling by the police, the military, a mental health professional, and the welfare system illustrates how women like Beth face further revictimization and neglect by the very systems that should provide support and assistance. Insightful commentaries written by experts in the field follow Beth's story and deepen readers' understanding of the causes and process of spousal abuse, why battered women stay, and the dynamic consequences ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Section 1: Beth's Story
- Chapter 1: A Fine Romance
- Chapter 2: And Baby Makes Four
- Chapter 3: No White Picket Fence
- Chapter 4: Lord and Master of the House
- Chapter 5: Going Home Again
- Chapter 6: And Baby Makes Five
- Chapter 7: Rocky Mountain Lows
- Chapter 8: A House in Glitter Gulch
- Chapter 9: Rolling the Dice
- Chapter 10: A No-Win Result
- Chapter 11: Go Directly to Jail
- Chapter 12: Presumed Guilty
- Chapter 13: My Cup Overflows
- Chapter 14: The First Rainbow
- Chapter 15: The Second Rainbow
- Chapter 16: The Sun Comes Out to Stay
All names in Beth's story have been changed with the following exceptions: Beth Sipe, Sam Sipe, Beth's parents, William Smith, and Evelyn Hall.
Copyright © 2014 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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This book, Beth Sipe's autobiography, began as an assignment she did for her defense attorney, William (Bill) Smith. In longhand, Beth wrote about 250 pages, documenting sixteen years of extreme spousal abuse—physical, emotional, social, economic, and sexual—as well as destruction of property and pets. To this, we added information from incident reports, medical records, defense briefs, court documents, and more than 300 hours of interviews. Included also are passages from the couple's correspondence with one another.
Although the task of assembling an autobiography began as one aspect of Beth's defense preparation, it became an important therapeutic exercise for her as well, giving her a focus at a time when she found concentration most difficult. When Beth began therapy on April 26, 1988, she appeared totally beaten down, withdrawn, and profoundly depressed. She was painfully thin and ashen, her facial features were taut, and her affect flat. Therapy provided her with validation, support, encouragement, and information. The idea that the autobiography might become a book seemed to give her renewed energy, determination, and hope that she could, indeed, have a future.
From the beginning, Beth's goal in sharing her story was that others might learn and benefit from it. As her therapist, I agreed that her story had many valuable lessons, not only for other battered women but also for professionals working with domestic violence issues. For me personally, however, there was concern that a dual relationship might develop in the process. To guard against undue influence, we drew up a formal contract that specified Beth could stop the process to publish at any time prior to signing with a publisher. Whether or not the manuscript was ever published, our work on it was to have major [Page viii]therapeutic value for Beth. It has been over five years since her therapy ended, and Beth remains steadfast in her desire to tell her story publicly.
To understand Beth's story, it is helpful also to understand something about the dynamics inherent in the cycle of violence. As originally identified by Lenore Walker (1979), the cycle has within itself a number of subpatterns that interlock synergistically, making the cycle extremely difficult to interrupt. Confusion, imbalance of power, isolation, appeasement, secrecy, separations/reunions, alcohol/drug usage, becoming “other-focused,” and child abuse are all subdynamics.
Strengthening these dynamics is the social programming of gender characteristics and roles. Barnett and LaViolette (1993) stated that the best predictor of a woman becoming involved in a violent relationship is growing up in American society. Women are usually recognized and praised for their nurturance, selflessness, patience, passivity, and flexibility (Barnett & LaViolette, 1993; Caplan, 1985; Jones & Schechter, 1992; Walker, 1979). They are encouraged to view men as dominant, as well as to derive their identities from relationships with men. A major part of love then involves being needed.
In contrast, men are programmed to set and pursue their own goals, particularly careers. From childhood, they are encouraged to view violence and sexual prowess as evidence of masculinity. Traditionally viewed as the providers in the family, many men are taught that they are entitled to special male privileges. Such privileges are often translated as the right to control all aspects of their families' lives. Titles such as “lord and master” and “king of his castle” lend authority to perceived rights of control.
Abusive men absorb these messages about traditional gender roles quite literally and, by adulthood, these messages have congealed into rigid beliefs—some conscious and others beneath the level of awareness. Batterers insist that their mates adhere to the notion of women as caretakers, supporters, nurturers, and subservient pieces of property. They believe that men are “always right” and free to enforce their beliefs with abuse and violence (Pence & Paymer, 1993).
Confusion is one of the first dynamics to appear in a violent relationship; it is created by an abusive partner's initial attack, whether verbal, physical, or a combination of both (Gones & Schecter, 1992). Stunned at first, the victim becomes absorbed with trying to integrate loving words with an abusive attack. Because there is no rational explanation for the abuse, she often becomes ambivalent, loses self-confidence, and feels ashamed. Initially, abusive men [Page ix]present themselves as the most romantic, loving suitors, appealing to women in general (Browne, 1987). They rarely become abusive until after some kind of commitment has taken place—for example, moving in together, becoming engaged, getting married (Forward & Torres, 1986). Having made such a commitment, a woman will rarely end the relationship after the first attack. Even with an early indication of trouble, the belief remains that “he'll change.”
In most cases, after the first attack, the abuser expresses remorse and resumes romantic, loving behavior. Viewing this expression as indicative of “the real man,” the victim perceives it as tangible evidence that he values and loves her. At this point, the three-stage cycle of violence—buildup of tension, acute abusive incident, and period of contrition (Walker, 1979, 1984)—has completed one revolution. Once the cycle occurs, it is certain to be repeated and to escalate in terms of frequency and severity. The more times it is completed, the less time it takes to complete. The longer the cycle goes uninterrupted, the more severe the violence becomes. Situations where episodic abuse is followed by long periods of loving behavior can give rise to the Stockholm syndrome in a battered woman. She becomes emotionally bonded to her abuser as a survival tool, much as hostages bond to their captors. The bond may be even stronger in a battered woman because her captor is the man she loves and trusts (Graham, Rawlings, & Rimini, 1988). With many repetitions, the contrition (or honeymoon) stage becomes shorter, until the only respite for a woman is merely the cessation of the violence.
With one completion of the cycle of violence, an imbalance of power has been created in the man's favor. Knowing he has the ability and willingness to hurt her, the fear created by even one physical attack greatly intensifies the impact of nonphysical forms of abuse, such as name calling, threats, accusations, and gestures (Pence & Paymer, 1993). Women usually acquiesce, but in cases where a woman does fight back, she quickly learns that the violence becomes greater. The batterer believes that his violence works to “correct” his partner's misbehavior, and because he rarely, if ever, receives negative consequences for such action, he does not see a need to change it. In many cases, he is actually able to convince his partner that her behavior is causing the abuse. Both become other-focused. Almost automatically, the victim will begin a pattern of appeasement, believing that if she obeys and tries harder to please her partner, she can avoid further abuse. Doing so, however, she unwittingly abandons herself, denies her own reality, and takes on responsibility for the abuse. At the same time, the batterer is looking for [Page x]signs of “misbehavior.” According to Ewing (1987), this imbalance of power is a major factor in binding the couple to each other.
Isolation also supports the cycle of violence. In some cases, a batterer will overwhelm his partner with attention, wanting to spend every free minute with her. At first, she may feel flattered and reassured but, without realizing it, she becomes isolated from a support system of family and friends. Methods abusers use to isolate include criticizing those close to her, withholding phone messages, creating embarrassing scenes in front of others, forbidding her to see “outsiders,” and/or physically restraining her from outside contacts. He may contact her at work so often that she is fired. He may forbid her to work at all, disable her vehicle, or deny her any access to transportation. In some cases, he may even create geographic isolation by moving his partner far away from family and friends. As the cycle of violence escalates, a victimized woman may find that others turn away from her and that she has less energy to resist the efforts to isolate her.
Secrecy is yet another dynamic involved in the cycle of violence. Both partners keep the secret. He wants to maintain his reputation as a “nice guy” to protect his career status. Because she is ashamed, a battered woman hides the abuse and begins to cover up or lie about the bruises and injuries. She sees her partner's violence as separate from the “real” man and often the instances of abuse are never even discussed by the couple.
Closely related to secrecy is denial and minimization of the abuse. Both partners participate but for different motives. He uses this dynamic to avoid responsibility for perpetrating the violence, whereas his victim excuses and rationalizes the violence to maintain her hope that the abuse will end.
Frequently, a battered woman will flee her home during or immediately following an attack. Her escape may last a few hours, days, weeks, or months. Any communication with the batterer usually includes his impassioned apologies, expressions of love, pleas for her to return, and sincere promises to change. If she does not return quickly, however, his conciliatory messages often turn to veiled or open threats.
On the average, a battered woman returns six to seven times before ultimately ending the relationship. Her reasons for returning usually involve love for her partner, concern about separating the children from their father, and lack of any viable long-term living alternative (Barnett & LaViolette, 1993). Sometimes, the violent behavior is even more terrifying during separation and, in fact, this can be the most dangerous time for a battered woman (Montemurri, [Page xi]1989). Her partner may escalate his abuse to include stalking, intense harassment, vandalism, assault, rape, kidnap of her and/or the children, threats to kill, attempts to kill, and murder. Separating and returning only reinforces the batterer's violence, and he becomes convinced that his aggression accomplishes the goal of keeping his partner under control.
Many times, alcohol and/or drug abuse also accompanies domestic abuse. Although alcohol or drugs, in themselves, do not cause the abuse, they do loosen inhibitions and moral restraints. Substance abuse also depletes the family's resources, at times leaving family members without necessary food and shelter.
Battered women frequently develop symptoms of Battered Women's Syndrome, a specific form of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). PTSD is defined as a cluster of symptoms that almost anyone subjected to trauma outside the range of usual human experience would develop. These include, but are not limited to: intrusive recollection of the trauma(s), psychic numbing of emotions, flashbacks, appetite and/or sleep disturbance, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, disturbed concentration, unpredictable irritability or anger, the Stockholm syndrome, anxiety, and depression. She may also experience symptoms of learned helplessness, passivity, indecisiveness, and chronic physical illnesses that can range from frequent colds, flus, and allergies to chronic urinary, vaginal, and gastrointestinal problems. In the most serious cases, ulcers and eating disorders have been related to the abuse.
Adding to the enormous scope of this domestic tragedy, child abuse is a frequent occurrence in households of partner violence. As with partner abuse, violence against the children usually starts with verbal abuse, swats, and slaps, escalating to beatings that require hospitalization. Not only do these children grow up also experiencing the symptoms of PTSD at increasing intervals in their lives, but the violent example of family life has a profound effect on the lives they lead as adults. They are at risk for repeating the violence they've witnessed and suffering from chronic PTSD; they may experience addiction, vocational confusion, and dysfunctional relationships (Oaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990).
All of these dynamics of domestic violence are dramatically illustrated in Beth's story, and it is hoped that this commentary is helpful as a framework within which to view her experiences. With the agreement to publish [Page xii]this work, Sage has expanded it to include a multidisciplinary examination of Beth's experience. Following the main body of the book are commentaries that provide public health, legal, advocacy, military, and mental health views of this case study in particular, and domestic violence in general.
Readers of I Am Not Your Victim consistently remark that Beth's story is compelling. Many readers respond to her story with empathy and concern; by the time they reach Chapter 16, they feel, in a sense, that they know Beth. It is not surprising, then, that among the questions we are most often asked by readers of this book are “What has happened to Beth since 1990? Where is she now? How is she doing?” For this second edition of I Am Not Your Victim, we interviewed Beth, asking her to bring us—and her readers—up-to-date on what she considers to be significant events in her life in the years following her acquittal.
Beth lived in Arkansas for 17 years after she was acquitted. For most of that time, she did well. She worked as a private duty nurse and lived in a home she owned. She also managed to accumulate some savings by buying dilapidated houses, repairing and renovating them, and selling them at a profit. In October of 2006, though, her home was destroyed by fire. Her oldest son, Matt, and his wife were living in Las Vegas, and they persuaded her to move her savings to a bank there. But after a brief visit to Las Vegas, Beth returned to Arkansas; she felt she needed to be there to settle with the insurance company following the fire. In addition, her youngest son, Danny, was stationed overseas in the Air Force, and his wife, whom Beth described as “wonderful,” was living in Arkansas with their 7-year-old son. Beth's daughter-in-law had a long commute to work, but her grandson was attending a private Christian school that Beth was helping to pay for, and there was no bus transportation. Beth ended up moving in with her daughter-in-law and grandson for about a year, helping with meals and housework and transporting her grandson to and from school. She was, as [Page 210]she phrased it, “very busy,” and she did not pay much attention to her savings in the Las Vegas bank; she didn't even receive the monthly bank statements. She trusted her oldest son and his wife; the three of them had agreed to use part of Beth's savings as a down payment on a house in Las Vegas, where they would live together and share the responsibilities. But when she finally moved to Las Vegas in February of 2008 and checked on her savings, she discovered that Matt and his wife had not only used money for the down payment on the house but had also spent nearly as much on themselves. “Oh, my goodness,” Beth said. “There's a lot of money missing out of this account.”
Shortly after moving into the home she was sharing with Matt and his wife in Las Vegas and before she could recoup the money her son and his wife had spent without her consent, Beth was arrested for domestic violence. She recounted having a glass of wine one evening and then waking up on the couch but not being able to get up. Perhaps the wine, which her son kept encouraging her to drink, had been spiked with a drug? In any event, she recalled hearing the police “beating down the door, light shining everywhere,” and when she opened the door, the police arrested her, saying that her son and daughter-in-law had called them to report that she had been fighting with them all night long and that they had escaped from the house to make the call for help. They also accused her of poisoning their dogs. Beth denied all of these charges and filed a lawsuit against Matt and his wife, which is still pending as of this writing, but she obviously needed to move elsewhere. Beth decided to go to Mesa, Arizona, to live with a longtime friend there. It was August, 2009.
In Mesa, Beth got a job as assistant manager of an apartment complex and eventually was promoted to manager. One day, a nice man named Bill came by the complex to see an apartment, and Beth ended up renting him one. Bill and Beth became more friendly, and then Bill invited Beth out to dinner. Beth had dated some men at the encouragement of her friend, Julie, who, Beth said, “was always trying to introduce me to somebody.” But these dates, though nice, were just play; Beth was not interested in a relationship. She told Bill this, too—but in August, 2012, Beth moved to Michigan to live with Bill.
Beth continues to shy away from marriage: “I don't see any need to get married. That's a nasty word for me.” But during our conversation, she referred to Bill as her fiancé and said that she wears a ring and Bill has agreed to wear one, too. She conceded that while she might enjoy some type of civil commitment ceremony, she did not want a marriage license: “I just want our
[Page 211]relationship to go on like it is. We get along very good; we spend most of our time together; we do things together…. We're spending our time traveling locally and … there's plenty of things to see.”
Her relationship with her three sons appears to be the greatest disappointment at this point in her life. In 2012, her oldest son, Matt, was 43; James, her second son, was 40; and Daniel, her youngest, was 36. All three of her sons have had serious problems over the years. Matt and Danny were both discharged from the military because of problematic behavior. James, the middle son, was awarded a full scholarship to college but lost it after his first year. He completed a degree program at a community college, graduating with honors, and took a job with a well-known technology company. But he began using drugs, lost his job, and eventually moved to Las Vegas to live with her oldest son. Beth attributes her sons' difficulties, at least in part, to growing up in an abusive household with Sam. But at the same time, she says that she tried to teach them to take responsibility for their actions and their choices and to “go the good way” rather than the “bad way.” In the end, although none of her sons have physically abused her, Beth says, with disappointment clear in her voice, that they have treated her similar to how Sam did.
Beth has also dealt with some challenging health problems over the past 20 years. She is currently retired, for example, because arthritis makes it impossible for her to work. Nevertheless, she accepts speaking engagements on college campuses, and despite the fact that she “hate[s] to speak in public,” she enjoys meeting students who have read her story. And she's quick to add that Bill is retired, too; he is 74 years old and she is 60. She now has four stepchildren, three step-grandchildren, and a step-great grandchild. Her stepchildren are accepting and supportive: “When we visit and they leave, they all hug and kiss me…. They said I have a family.” Beth reports that they have all read I Am Not Your Victim.
When asked what she most wants people to know about her story, Beth replied without hesitation, “I'm a survivor.” Indeed, she is.[Page 212]
Commentaries[Page 213][Page 214]
The Counselor's Perspective[Page 215]
Counseling a battered woman who has killed her abuser requires attention to the same principles outlined by Schechter (1987) for counseling any battered woman. The focus is on empowering the woman through safety planning, validation of her experiences, exploration of her strengths, and respect for her right to self-determination. It means listening to her with compassion and acceptance, but without judging, blaming, or telling her what to do. As Beth's story illustrates, adherence to these principles is important, even if the woman begins treatment with the idea that it is too late for her to get help. The following sections will elaborate on these concepts.An Immediate Focus on Safety
A battered woman who has killed her partner continues to need safety planning. The counselor cannot assume that danger of physical harm to the woman ended with the abuser's death. He may have family or friends who threaten or attempt to harm her. Beth, for example, was harassed by callers who hung up after she answered and by threatening phone calls, prowlers, vandalism of her home and car, and gunfire in her backyard. Repeated unexpected appearances by the police at her home added to Beth's perception of imminent danger.
When the woman's safety continues to be threatened, safety options, such as an avenue of escape, shelter, safe storage and copying of important documents, and emergency phone numbers, should be discussed with her. Consideration of possible positive and negative consequences of each option should be [Page 216]part of this discussion. Rehearsal of her ultimate plan is helpful, and knowing what choices she can make in regard to safety also accesses her personal power.
Listening with compassion and acceptance to a battered woman's story is particularly important after she has killed her abuser. By the time death has occurred in a violent relationship, a woman has usually had many encounters with social services, mental health providers, and the justice system. Typically, these experiences have ranged from disappointing to disastrous, limiting her willingness to trust a new authority figure. This was certainly true in Beth's case. She had appealed unsuccessfully for help and protection many times throughout seventeen years of intense abuse.
At first, the woman may view the counselor as part of the establishment which has been nonresponsive. Consequently, the counselor's ability to maintain a nonjudgmental attitude is more critical than ever. Because the system has not responded to her cries for help, the woman may have concluded that no one cares about her safety. After she has killed her partner, she may give up hope of any future. In Beth's words during her first counseling session with me, “I don't know what I'm doing here. It's too late for me.” For someone to listen to and accept her story gives her validation and may trigger some hope.
Another reason that acceptance is so important at this stage is the woman's emotional condition. As pointed out by Browne (1987) and Walker (1989), a battered woman usually kills only in self-defense after prolonged severe abuse; she usually has no intent to kill. Understandably, her symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are extremely severe after her abuser's death. Mixed with PTSD symptoms are her grief and remorse about his death and how he died. Like Beth, the woman is likely to be shut down, exhibiting flat affect, disorganized thought, disassociation, even indifference to helping herself. She may experience appetite disturbance, sleep disorder, and panic attacks that affect her physical health or become life threatening. She may view and label herself as “crazy.” At some point, her anger about the years of abuse and about feeling forced to kill in self-defense will surface with a force that may frighten her. Like Beth, she may have sought counseling because someone else suggested or ordered that she do so.
The counselor—through nonjudgmental listening—offers her needed validation that she does matter and that her reaction is normal, not crazy. The counselor's role is to assist the woman in working through the maze of emotions in a safe, nurturing environment. Frequently, these emotions may surface in dreams, so the counselor should be prepared to do dream work or direct the client to a qualified professional who can.
[Page 217]Typically, a battered woman who remains in a violent relationship for a long period of time is viewed as weak-willed, masochistic, lacking intelligence, or all three. In fact, the opposite is true. She could not survive the years of abuse if she did not have great strength and resourcefulness. The counselor needs to assist her in identifying and exploring all her strengths. This task ultimately helps the woman reclaim her identity and self-esteem. Beth, for example, had demonstrated skill and persistence in her pursuit of education and medical training, as well as in her determination to earn money at any honest labor. Throughout the years of abuse, she was able to maintain relationships with her family and a few friends, so she usually had some support system. She was also a creative homemaker and devoted mother, budgeting limited monies and resources to ensure that her family always had the necessities of life.
Helping her to identify all her accomplishments was a critical step in her treatment. As she began to see herself as a person with strength and ability, she became increasingly motivated to handle daily tasks and problems, such as her job and her children. She also redoubled her efforts in her own defense.
Overall, Beth's level of functioning before the shooting was very high. In spite of extreme duress from Sam, she was able to maintain a full-time job as a medical aide, take on a part-time job as a movie extra, meet the demands of the court to get a larger apartment, and support herself and her children. Only in interactions with her husband did she exhibit signs of learned helplessness; she could excel in most other areas of her life. Thus, Beth clearly demonstrates that learned helplessness can be situational and limited to a battered woman's intimate relationship. For the counselor, recognition of this factor can help him or her maintain appropriate respect for the woman and her right to self-determination. The counselor should offer the woman maximum encouragement with minimal interference in her decisions.Reconstructing the History of Abuse
Taking a complete history of the abuse experienced by a battered woman who has killed serves several therapeutic functions. It allows her to express her feelings about the abuse in safety, perhaps for the first time. Writing out this history is usually suggested as a means of confronting the reality of the abuse. Without a visible written history, the abuse remains shadowy, disjointed fragments in the woman's mind.
[Page 218]For a woman like Beth with so many years of abuse, addressing her history of abuse is a very emotional and lengthy process. It requires that the counselor balance therapeutic boundaries and structure with enough flexibility to respond to emergencies that inevitably arise while bringing such painful memories to the surface. There is a danger that the counselor can become so immersed in the woman's intense drama as to lose objectivity. Regular consultation with knowledgeable colleagues is not only helpful but also necessary for the counselor to maintain an objective perspective.
Through examination of her history of abuse, the woman may gradually complete expressions of feelings long buried and break free of her confusion about the relationship.
The counselor's role is to provide a safe, supportive environment and information about domestic violence as it is relevant. The cycle of violence, power and control tactics, characteristics of a batterer, and symptoms of PTSD are representative of subjects that almost always need explanations. The value of offering such information is evident in one of Beth's responses; that is, “Do these men go to abuse school?” Until she had access to this information, Beth thought she was a rare case. The information helped alleviate her feeling of shame about being abused and lessened the need for secrecy.
As instances of past abuse are processed, the woman begins to ask herself why she returned after separations and why she stayed in the relationship so long. These are questions Beth asked herself repeatedly. The counselor should allow the woman to identify her own reasons and validate those reasons through acceptance. The counselor can provide further validation by providing lists of reasons other battered women have given for staying or by suggesting written materials, such as Barnett and LaViolette's (1993) book on battered women leaving relationships.
Beth's primary reason for staying during the first ten years of her marriage coincides with the most frequent reason given by other battered women—love of the man. Although many people find this reason implausible, Walker (1989) points out that most people grew up in homes where physical punishment was linked to love. So physical violence in an adult relationship does not necessarily seem inconsistent with love to a battered woman or to the batterer. Exploration of different definitions of love may be helpful at this point, along with pinpointing what the woman expected going into the relationship. Conclusions she reaches about love and relationships may help her protect [Page 219]herself in the future. It may also help her come to peace with another recurrent question: How could he love me and treat me so badly?Past Help Seeking
It is the counselor's role to raise questions, suggest options, and offer support for the woman, whatever she concludes.
Reviewing a battered woman's history of abuse usually reveals ineffective responses by various professionals to her attempts to get help. In Beth's case, there were numerous such ineffective responses. Examination of these responses provides strong reasons to stop victim blaming, as well as indicators for effective intervention.
In 1973, Beth sought professional help through counseling. At that time, little had been written about treatment for domestic violence. Both counselors the couple saw offered practical suggestions to reduce conflicts, but they did not address Sam's violent and alcoholic behaviors. This gave Beth some validation, but it allowed Sam to dismiss the counselors as “outsiders” and “just a bunch of bull.” Today, the recommended procedure is to screen all couples for violence during the initial phone call. If violence is present, knowledgeable counselors do not see the couple together until the man has completed his own therapy to eliminate the violence. The practice of seeing a violent couple together encourages the abuser to blame the woman for his behavior and often increases the danger to the woman, as shown by the Sipe case.
Individual counseling, either with a mental health professional or with clergy, is another way a battered woman often tries to get help. Initially, her purpose is “to get him to stop hurting me.” If she continues in counseling, she may rebuild her self-esteem and regain her identity.
This was true for Beth with the psychologist and the pastor she saw during her years in Colorado. However, it should be noted that the improvement of her mental health did nothing to retard or end Sam's violence. On the contrary, Sam's violence escalated as he tried to maintain control over Beth. Counselors who see a battered woman individually must constantly caution the woman that changes in her behavior, for example, assertiveness, may increase the danger of intensified attacks by the batterer.
The battered woman who kills her abuser has—in most Cases—made frequent calls to police agencies for help. Beth, for example, called police for help [Page 220]more times than can be counted, starting with calls to Blytheville police in 1975. In that instance, the police appropriately returned the baby to Beth but did nothing about Sam's violence to Beth, his driving under the influence of alcohol, or endangering the safety of his child. Throughout the years of abuse, she continued to appeal to the police for help, but Sam was never given an appropriate consequence, such as mandatory counseling in a batterers' treatment program or jail time. This lack of consequences gives the man a clear message that his treatment of his partner is acceptable; it reinforces his battering behavior. Even when the Sipes lived in states (Colorado and Nevada) where mandatory arrest laws had been enacted, the police arrested him only twice. In those cases, the court did not apply an appropriate consequence, thereby increasing the danger for Beth.
Statistically, battering by an intimate partner is the single most frequent cause of injury to women in the United States. It is estimated that 22% to 35% of women seen in emergency rooms annually have been injured by battery (Chez, 1988; Isaac & Sanchez, 1994; Jones, 1993; Stark, Flitcraft, & Frazier, 1979). Yet the medical community has frequently failed to notice, comment on, or intervene in obvious cases of domestic violence. In the Sipe history, Beth was seen by numerous doctors for gross physical injuries, and not one appeared to question their source. Even when Sam slapped Daniel in the presence of medical personnel, nothing was said or done to intervene. Only the psychiatrist in a Virginia hospital seemed knowledgeable about domestic abuse and intervened appropriately by refusing to commit Beth.
The woman gets the message that no one cares about how she is abused and no one will help her. For the counselor hearing such stories, the task is to provide validation through empathy and a supportive atmosphere for the woman to release her pain and anger about such treatment.Legal Defense Issues
Counseling a battered woman after she has killed her abuser will often focus on the subject of her legal defense. In most cases, the woman is charged with first-degree murder, even though she has no past criminal record. Several issues immediately confront her.
One issue is how police have treated her. The treatment Beth received by the police on the night of the shooting and afterward is typical of experiences reported by other battered women who have killed in self-defense. Specifically, [Page 221]she was not allowed to take her purse, which resulted in theft of her money. She was not given medical attention even though she was clearly injured. She was given false information about the condition of her husband, and she was coerced to make a statement without counsel through false references to her son. When arrested and officially charged, she was subjected to strip searches and all the other indignities of incarceration. In short, Beth was treated as a career criminal. This treatment by the justice system when a woman acts in self-defense extends the wound created by the abuse.
The counselor is likely to observe the most severe symptoms of PTSD as the woman struggles to deal with her shame, degradation, terror, remorse, and anguish about all that has transpired. For example, Beth became anorexic and suicidal, both life-threatening conditions. The obvious solution of hospitalization had mixed results. The sense of safety along with individual and group therapy were helpful. However, “routine” medication, conclusions drawn from questionable testing, inconsistencies of treatment, use of the label of “murderer,” and threats to commit her were damaging to her. At times, comments by the hospital personnel reflected more concern about Beth's legal status and their potential liability than about her mental health. Thus, when considering hospitalization in such a case, the counselor needs to screen hospitals carefully for staff who are knowledgeable about domestic violence before recommending an inpatient facility.
The point of these observations is not to criticize the hospital, but rather to emphasize the need for specialized treatment of a battered woman suffering from acute PTSD. Such a patient needs a secure, supportive environment. She needs psychiatrists, nurses, and therapists who thoroughly understand domestic violence and the importance of empowerment in her treatment. She needs to be screened so that triggers which cause flashbacks can be identified and either avoided or removed. Above all, she needs continued, regular contact with her counselor and advocates throughout her hospital stay. As long as her legal case remains unresolved, the woman continues to live in the trauma and therefore, to be at risk.
One alternative to hospitalizing a woman in Beth's situation is shelter placement. In a battered woman's shelter, she will have a secure, supportive environment with staff who are educated and experienced in dealing with domestic violence. However, the shelter will need to have the services of a psychiatrist to prescribe medication if necessary. After Beth's hospital experience, that component was arranged in cooperation with the local shelter.
Even in a protected atmosphere, the counselor must continue regular contact with the woman. The counselor can help to provide continuity, support, [Page 222]and advocacy, thereby helping the woman maintain a level of functioning high enough to survive the ordeal of defending herself in court.
Battered women also face paying for their legal defense counsel. This often taxes the financial resources of her entire family to the breaking point. The woman may work, sell off prized assets, or borrow money. In Beth's case, she used all three methods to raise money, including holding garage sales in which she sold some treasured items. Her financial crisis was intensified by bill collectors hounding her for payment of Sam's debts and by threats to foreclose on her house. These financial demands create more emotional stress for the woman, aggravating her already precarious emotional condition. Again, the counselor's focus is upon providing encouragement and support with reality testing as appropriate.Protecting Her Children
Although concerns about her legal defense are constant, nothing may be as riveting for the battered woman who has killed as the welfare and future of her children. Often, the woman's perception that she is ensuring her children's welfare is a primary reason for her staying in the violent relationship.
Throughout her story, Beth demonstrates how strong this reason was for her. It is apparent how shattering the actions taken by social services were for her. The removal of her children from her care multiplied the impact of all her other traumas to the point that, for a brief period, she gave up hope and her will to struggle.
The counselor's role here is to interface with social service agencies when they are nonresponsive to the woman, without taking over for her. In Beth's case, this involved accompanying her to meet with a caseworker who did not return her phone calls.Conclusion
Throughout counseling with a battered woman who has killed, the central focus should be on empowerment of the woman, and all techniques used should be consistent with this focus. The counselor must accept the woman's priorities and decisions as part of assisting her to become empowered.
The counselor's ability to maintain objectivity is of paramount importance and is likely to be challenging, particularly when involved in advocacy activities for the client.
The Lawyer's Perspective[Page 223]
I saw Beth for the first time in May 1988, about six weeks after the shooting. She was referred to me by an advocate at the Las Vegas battered women's shelter who knew I had experience in this area of criminal defense. Beth's case gave me my first opportunity to handle a battered woman's murder case from the beginning, which I knew was the best place to start.
In 1986, I argued successfully before the Nevada State Board of Pardons Commissioners for early parole eligibility on behalf of a woman serving two consecutive life prison terms for murder. The woman had shot her partner while he was taking a shower and was convicted by a jury that rejected the testimony of Dr. Lenore Walker concerning battered woman syndrome. She was later released from custody.
When I met Beth, I was handling an appeal for another woman who was also serving two consecutive life prison terms for murder. This woman had shot her partner in the head with a rifle as he lay sleeping in their bed; she was convicted by a jury that also rejected expert testimony concerning the psychological effects of her abusive relationship. Her conviction was reversed in December 1988 by the Nevada Supreme Court (Larson v. State, 1988) because of her trial attorney's ineffective assistance (bad advice to reject a proposed plea bargain). She was released from custody about a year later as a result of a plea bargain for manslaughter that was finalized with the district attorney's office after the case was remanded for a new trial. In the last few years, I have represented two other battered women who shot their abusers. I hope my comments will be useful to others who prepare defense strategies in similar cases.
[Page 224]Beth killed Steven (or Sam, as he liked to be called) on Saturday night, April 9, 1988, in front of their eleven-year-old son, Daniel. The lead homicide detective prepared an affidavit dated April 28, 1988, to justify the warrant for Beth's arrest. In his affidavit, the detective referred to statements Beth and Daniel made to the police shortly after the shooting; to a crime report filed on February 8, 1988, that listed Beth as the victim of a battery by Steven and described Steven's arrest and release from custody for that offense; and to the physical evidence at the scene of the shooting—all of which suggested to the detective “that a justifiable homicide situation may exist.”
The detective further stated in his affidavit that he told Beth at the police station that night the circumstances “may justify the homicide of her husband but that the decision to prosecute was ultimately in the hands of the district attorney's office and that it would be made at a later time.” The detective further affirmed that after Beth asked for an attorney at the beginning of her initial interview, he told her that if she gave a statement to him, she would be allowed to leave police headquarters that night rather than facing probable arrest.
The detective's affidavit also stated, however, that the description of the shooting Daniel gave during his second interview with the police four days later suggested Steven was staggering and at least partially incapacitated at the exact moment of the shooting and may have been physically incapable of conducting a life-threatening physical attack at that moment. Thus, Beth may have had the opportunity to resort to an alternative to the use of deadly force, as she had allegedly done many times in her seventeen-year marriage. The detective opined that there was sufficient probable cause to believe that Beth's admitted actions did not constitute justifiable homicide. He requested an arrest warrant for homicide with use of a deadly weapon.
Even more troubling for Beth's defense was the detective's account in his affidavit of his interview with a woman who was one of Beth's neighbors. This woman and her husband socialized regularly with Steven. She said Beth had on more than one occasion made the statement, “I'll blow his fucking head off,” and that one time Beth told her, “I'll blow his fucking head off, and I will get away with it because I will say he battered me.” The woman also told the detective she heard Beth make threats to Steven to the effect that she would poison him and put black widow spiders in his bed.
Apparently these accusations of premeditation and subterfuge made by the woman, coupled with the speculative possibilities of escape and/or nonlethal recourse, persuaded the detective to recommend that Beth be charged criminally.
[Page 225]Beth was arrested on May 5, 1988. She made her first appearance in Justice Court on Monday, May 9, 1988, to be arraigned on the charge of open murder (which includes first- and second degree murder) with use of a deadly weapon. The court referred her to the public defender's office for representation. Fortunately, the next day she was released from custody on her own recognizance. The presiding judge had read the detective's affidavit, recognized that Beth had suffered years of abuse, and was impressed that Beth was not a danger to the community or a flight risk. This judge's courageous decision was a portent of the events during the next ten and a half months, which culminated in Beth's complete vindication.
When Beth first came to my office, she was accompanied by her advocate from the battered women's shelter. Although Beth had received support from the shelter before and after her arrest, she was desperately in need of professional psychological assistance. I contacted the psychologist who testified in the Larson case mentioned above, but his caseload was too heavy for another major immediate commitment. He referred me to Dr. Evelyn Hall. Although I believe he would have been helpful in this case, I know that no one could have done better than Eve. This book and Beth's recovery are the products of Dr. Hall's sustained efforts throughout the past seven-plus years. Professionally and personally, I admire, respect, and like her very much.
It soon became obvious to me that Beth's seventeen-year history of abuse should be reconstructed and documented in detail to facilitate my efforts to obtain the eventual dismissal or optimal reduction and disposition of Beth's criminal charges and/or to prepare for a jury trial. At my request, Beth began to put her story on paper.
In late September 1988, my secretary and I met with the deputy district attorney assigned to prosecute this case. We presented to her a compendium of material that included letters from a forensic psychiatrist, from a therapist (Dr. Hall), from the executive director for the shelter, and from Beth's advocate. The material included numerous letters from people personally aware of Beth's history as a battered wife and reports that substantiated many of her allegations of physical abuse through the years. We also displayed Beth's good employment history, various medical and insurance records, and letters from her three sons.
Although I reasoned with the prosecutor for a voluntary dismissal of the charges, I realized that her team chief had prosecuted the woman I had represented at the Pardons Board and might not be receptive to my position. [Page 226]Battered woman's syndrome is not a legal defense to murder. No firm offer to settle the case had been made by the district attorney when the preliminary hearing began on October 6, 1988.
The same judge who released Beth on her own recognizance was still on the case. The prosecutor told him that she intended to present only two witnesses and then rest her case because she felt their testimony would be sufficient to establish the requisite probable cause to justify binding the case over for trial under existing Nevada case law. My associate's research revealed, however, that a recent case from the Federal District of Nevada (Groesbeck v. House-wright, 1988) held that “unlawfulness” is an element of the crime of murder in Nevada. Furthermore, in a September 1988 opinion (Sheriff v. Gleave, 1988), the Nevada Supreme Court stated that certain defenses may be presented and sustained at a preliminary hearing, which, if established, require as a matter of law that a criminal charge should be dismissed at that stage. Armed with those legal arguments, my goal at the preliminary hearing was to establish convincingly, through the prosecution's own witnesses, that Beth had acted in self-defense. I crossed my fingers that the presiding judge would have enough gumption to dismiss the case if I succeeded.
I had discussed the facts of this case many times with Beth, but my most important fact-oriented discussions were during my two meetings with young Daniel. Shortly after being retained, I went to the apartment complex where Steven was shot. Beth arranged for herself, Daniel, and me to enter an apartment identical to the one in which she and Daniel had lived. We reenacted the events of the night of the shooting from start to finish. Weeks later, I met with Daniel and his two older brothers in my office while Beth waited in the lobby. We again discussed in detail Daniel's recollections. Preparing Daniel to be a witness at the preliminary hearing was crucial to the ultimate disposition of this case because his testimony and that of the pathologist established an unrebutted case of self-defense for Beth.
The first witness was the chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy. He described two gunshot wounds: one bullet went into the upper right chest from right to left at a 45° angle, irreparably destroying the heart; the other penetrated the left upper arm from left to right and went into the chest at a 15° downward angle. The first wound surely was fatal; the second was life-threatening but survivable if prompt medical attention had been rendered. Minor scratches and abrasions on Steven's forehead were also described.
[Page 227]On cross-examination, the medical examiner said that the superficial scratches and abrasions on the forehead were consistent with Steven being hit over the head with a flowerpot from a frontal direction contemporaneous with the shooting. He also testified that the head injuries were relatively insignificant because they would not have impaired Steven by rendering him defenseless or unable to aggressively pursue Beth during an attack if that was his intention. He also commented on an excerpt in a book written by a famous forensic pathologist that cited a case history of a police officer who was shot through the heart with a .38 and then drew his own service revolver, fired six shots, walked across the street, and opened his patrol car door before he collapsed. The medical examiner's testimony was totally consistent with our theory of self-defense. On direct examination, the second witness, Daniel, gave a straightforward account of the shooting for the prosecutor. On cross-examination, he described an incident that occurred a couple of months earlier when Beth and Steven got into an argument and Steven pounded on her, swung her around, and threw her on the ground. Daniel recalled several earlier fights between his parents. He also mentioned recent telephone threats made by Steven to Beth and said she would block their apartment door with furniture while she and Daniel slept in the same bed.
Daniel also testified about coming home with his father during the evening of the shooting after he and his father played racquetball at Nellis Air Force Base; he said that his father had been acting “weird.” He did not see his father drink alcohol earlier, but Steven's blood alcohol level was one and a half times the legal limit for driving when he died. Beth and Steven told Daniel to go into his room, which was about fifteen to twenty feet away from the shooting, and he described overhearing their conversation. It began normally and escalated into a loud argument and fight. Daniel described running into the living room and attempting to separate his parents. He saw the flowerpot crash, his father stagger backward, his mother get the gun, his father crouch, rise, and approach his mother, and the ensuing gunshots. This was a terrifying situation with his mother screaming and crying. He thought his mother was terrified because he had never heard her scream like that before. He thought his father would have hurt Beth if she had not shot him and probably would have beaten Beth badly. There was no way Beth could have escaped. Daniel ran out of the house and down the alley about 100 yards before Beth caught up with him, and he had never seen his mother that way before. She looked really scared. She was crying.
[Page 228]A few days later, I gave copies of the two recent cases that supported my oral motion for dismissal to the judge and prosecutor. Before the next court hearing, we met with the judge in chambers, and he told us that he was going to grant it. Another courageous decision. When the judge formally dismissed the case in open court, he stated on the record that the only witness to the crime was Daniel, whose testimony was not going to be contradicted. He sympathized with Daniel being in this terrifying situation and agreed with my analysis of the law. He said,
I think that the testimony that was given to me in this preliminary hearing is overwhelming to show that the killing of the deceased in this manner was done in self-defense and was so overwhelming that I'm going to rule, as a matter of law, that this killing was done as a matter of self-defense and I'm hereby dismissing the murder charges against the defendant.
After the preliminary hearing, the district attorney's office appealed this decision to the trial court. The issues were fully briefed by both sides and the trial court denied the appeal.
Beth was lucky. Lucky to be released without bail to assist in her own defense. Lucky to appear before two judges who did not pass the buck to a jury and run the risk of facing adverse political consequences (judges in Nevada are elected).
I believe that the deputy district attorney who prosecuted this case was sympathetic to Beth's plight. She was moved when I showed her an old photograph of Beth sitting on the tub in a bathroom in one of her previous marital homes with blood streaming down her face from a busted nose and a thick big-buckled belt that Steven used for sadistic beatings. I did not learn about the rapes and other sexual degradations until after I read the manuscript for this book.
In most cases, when unarmed abusers are killed by their partners, strong sentiments for the deceased and his family coexist with those for the defendant. There are at least two sides to almost any story. A typical homicide case is examined and judged from the first levels of investigation, through the charging and plea bargaining processes, and through contested court hearings by an array of people in authority who are charged with the responsibility of making tough decisions. Sometimes, on review, these decisions appear to be arbitrary and capricious, especially in a death penalty context.
[Page 229]It is not an easy job to defend battered women accused of murder. Patience, understanding, diligence, and resources are necessary. Money is required for many services. The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women in Philadelphia (215–351–0010) is a center that provides information and resource material to attorneys, battered women's advocates, and expert witnesses who are assisting battered women charged with crimes.
This was a relatively clear-cut case of self-defense. Most others are not so simple. Nevada has a rule of evidence (Nev. Rev. Stat. §48.061) that became effective on June 30, 1993, specifically permitting the introduction of evidence of domestic violence and expert testimony concerning the effect of domestic violence in criminal cases. The trend in this country is to admit such evidence in court. The extent to which it can mitigate a murder charge down to justifiable homicide or even manslaughter is uncertain. Defense attorneys and other advocates should be alert to develop the potentially powerful argument that sustained psychological abuse can be as much if not more threatening and devastating than immediate or imminent physical attack. The laws that govern the legal defense of self-defense in most states are still predicated on contemporaneous physical threats only. Changes in these laws by legislatures are needed to empower juries to render more humane verdicts.
Throughout this country, participants in our criminal justice system are becoming increasingly aware of the enormous toll that violence in the home exacts from our society. While education, intervention, and prevention are worthy endeavors, we who work in this system are presented too often with a fait accompli. We then must strive to achieve what is fair and just for both the living and the dead. I believe that what happened to Beth in court was about as fair and just as she should have expected. Without luck, however, her story might not have had such a bittersweet, happy ending.[Page 230]
Teaching I Am Not Your Victim: Anatomy of Domestic Violence[Page 231]
“This is a compelling book that you will not be able to put down.” These are the words that I say to my students every semester when I assign this book. Given that this generation has grown up with the Harry Potter series, the Twilight series, and The Hunger Games series, they are often understandably skeptical. However, I have yet to have a student who was not moved by this book, and those who do not read the book prior to the class discussion of the material always do so afterward. Before they begin reading, I tell my students that it will not be an easy read—I have read this book no fewer than 18 times since it was published, and it never becomes easy—that it will be difficult and heart wrenching at times. I warn them in advance that the violence described is graphic and all too real. I encourage them to put the book down if necessary—to not read it all at once, because it can be overwhelming—and I encourage them to talk with me if they are struggling with the topics covered in the book. I spend time discussing university and local resources for assistance in each of my courses, and sometimes, this book has triggered students to reach out for assistance. With all of this as preamble, students are impressed and inspired by I Am Not Your Victim; they do indeed read it cover-to-cover and, to my joy, most often without complaint!
[Page 232]Since its publication in 1996, I have used I Am Not Your Victim in sociology courses each year. I first used this book in my Family Violence course and, given the success with which it was received by my students, I then began using it in Sociology of Gender, Violence and Victims, and (some years) Social Problems. Those students who plan to enter the field of criminal justice, law, and victim advocacy have been particularly responsive to this book. They are most drawn to an analysis of the institutional breakdown in response to Beth and, in particular, how Beth was mistreated by law enforcement, military personnel, and the juvenile court system. Students who have an interest in pursuing advanced degrees in social work have been interested in Beth's interaction with mental health professionals and how members of her social network, including her biological family, failed to respond to her in supportive ways. There are several common questions that arise every time that I teach this book:
Why does she stay? As those who work with or study women who are victimized by their partners will attest, this is the most frequently asked (and hated) question about battered women. Historically, it was presumed that battered women stayed with their partners for a variety of reasons, including their own psychopathology, low self-esteem, and masochism. Theories such as the Battered Women's Syndrome, which portray women as helpless victims caught in a cycle of violence, have been offered in explanation of why some women make the decision to stay (Walker, 1984). As Susan Miller (in Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 250) argues,
The image of the helpless passive victim, who “chooses” to remain in an abusive relationship, contributes to the stereotypes that belie another truth, namely, that remaining in an abusive relationship can also be viewed as a survival struggle in which a woman is desperately trying to shield her children from harm, maintain daily tasks, and figure out how and when to safely make the break.
Indeed, simplistic explanations that blame women for staying often fail to recognize the complexities involved in why many battered cannot leave their abusers—fear, lack of resources, economic constraints, threats of losing their children, religious convictions, and love for their abuser, to name only a few of these complex reasons. One of the most compelling reasons is indeed fear of what will happen to themselves and their children if they do leave. As Beth's story indicates, all too often, the violence increases during times of separation and divorce. Beth wrote about what happened after she was separated from Sam:
[Page 233]Nothing really changed. Sam still came around as he pleased. He seemed to get more and more violent with sex and to need more and more of his “sex toy.” … He had a key to the house, so I never knew when he would come in but it was usually in the middle of the night after he was drunk. He would tell me how my body belonged to him, how he could do anything with it any time he wanted, and that I'd better not forget it. (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 71)
Such experiences are not uncommon, as research indicates that physical and sexual violence often increase following separation and/or divorce (Bergen, 1996; DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). Thus, fear of what will happen to oneself and one's children is a very legitimate fear, given the dangers involved and the risk of homicide when women are able to leave (see Browne, 1987; DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 2009).
In teaching this book, I focus on Beth's amazing resilience and the creative strategies she used to protect herself and her children. In spite of the horrific physical, emotional, and sexual violence she suffered at the hands of Sam, Beth was able to obtain her driver's license, finish a degree, work at multiple jobs, and raise her children. Rather than focusing on her victimization, I encourage students to examine her strategies for survival and her resiliency—how, despite the violence and failures of the medical, criminal justice, and military institutions, Beth survived.
Why does he abuse? The second most frequently asked question in teaching this book is about Sam's behavior and why he was violent. Many will argue that Sam must have suffered from mental illness in order to behave so violently. As a large body of research in the field of violence against women has documented, the vast majority of men who abuse their partners do not suffer from mental illness. Mental illness is generally believed to explain about 10% of men who abuse (Bancroft, 2002). Instead, many men abuse their partners because they believe that they have a right to do so. There is frequently a sense of entitlement in this patriarchal culture, in which abusers feel legitimized in using physical, emotional, and sexual abuse to control their partner's behavior. This sense of entitlement is particularly problematic when it is supported and reinforced by peer groups and institutions, as we see in Beth's story. When Beth shared her experiences with her family, Sam's family, Sam's friends, his military commander, and various other individuals, she was met with disbelief and was often blamed for her failures. For example, when Beth complained about the violence to Sam's family, she was told, “You married him and your kids [Page 234]need a father, so you have to live with him” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 35). She was met with a similar response when she told Sam's sergeant about the violence; his response was, “From what Sam's told me about you, I don't blame him for beating the hell out of you” (p. 121). This served to justify and legitimate Sam's violence against Beth and reinforced his sense of entitlement, that he had a right, as her husband, to control her. This was particularly true throughout Beth's story whenever she challenged Sam's authority or questioned him about how their money was being spent. In one situation, Sam responded to Beth's questions about missing money with, “Shut your stupid mouth. If the military had wanted me to have a wife, they would have issued me one. You're just excess baggage” (p. 23). This quote epitomizes Sam's sense of entitlement, his controlling attitude, and his belief that the Air Force would endorse his mistreatment of his wife because she was perceived as a nonentity.
To explain why Sam as well as other abusers are violent to their intimate partners, it is best to turn to those who have expertise in working with abusive men (see Edleson & Tolman, 1992; Gondolf, 2002; Pence & Paymar, 1993). In particular, as students read I Am Not Your Victim, I also have them read Lundy Bancroft's (2002) book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. This book provides important insight into the coercive and controlling patterns of behavior that abusive men employ with their partners. As Bancroft (2002) argues, it is almost like someone hands abusers a playbook on how to control their partners—isolate them, demean them, convince them they are worthless, try to manipulate them into thinking they are crazy. This is exactly what Sam does to Beth, and in many ways, he is a classic case study of an abusive man.
Reading about the tactics of abusive men and the rationale for why some men abuse is essential when teaching this book in order to shift attention solely from Beth and her reactions (or inability to react) to Sam. This is particularly important for identifying the root of violence against women not in the mental illness of the abusers or some other form of psychopathology but in focusing on power and control. When that sense of power and control is threatened, we see an escalation in the violence. This was certainly the case in Beth's story, as she experienced an escalation from verbal abuse on her wedding night to physical abuse and sexual violence. The violence intensified both in frequency and severity for Beth as she fought to gain her independence and Sam increasingly lost control over her over the course of their 16-year relationship.
[Page 235]What are the long-term effects for Beth and her children? Some answers to this frequently asked question are provided with the interview that Claire Renzetti and Jeff Edleson conducted with Beth for this new edition. Beth continues to be a resilient survivor, as do so many women who have been abused by their partners. She lives her life with those whom she loves best surrounding her, including the animals to whom she has always been drawn, and those, like Bill, who have offered her love and companionship. It is important to consider the variety of ways in which women are impacted by violence. While not necessarily specific to Beth, many women who suffer extreme violence at the hands of their intimate partner suffer long-term effects including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, disordered sleep, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior. Other health consequences commonly include chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, problems with the immune system, and poor general health. It is not unusual for women who have been abused by their intimate partners to experience distrust and a fear of beginning other relationships (Basile & Black, 2011).
When reading this book, it is impossible not to question the implications for Beth's children, whose lives were directly impacted by Sam's violence. There is a growing body of literature that examines the effects of witnessing abuse for children (see Edleson, 2011). Children may directly witness experiences of violence, as was often the case for Beth's sons in this story, or they may hear violence taking place through walls or see the implications of the violence in the aftermath in the form of bruises, lacerations, tears, and broken objects. In this book, Beth's sons not only witnessed the violence, but they were also frequently victimized themselves by Sam. In two of the more extreme cases, Matt suffered a severed artery after he was kicked out of a window, and Daniel was in the home when Beth killed Sam in self-defense. In her story, Beth recounts a variety of ways in which the boys responded to the violence in their home, including behavioral problems in school, running away from home, interactions with law enforcement, anxiety, depression, disordered sleep, and aggression with peers and partners. As research indicates, children who are exposed to violence in their homes have a variety of responses and experience short- and long-term effects. Beth's children are certainly not alone in witnessing experiences of violence in the home. A recent study of children aged 14–17 indicated that 27% of these children reported exposure to domestic violence in their lifetime (Finkelhor, Turner, Ormrod, & Hamby, 2009). [Page 236]Beth's story and recent interview compel us to recognize that there are real, long-lasting consequences to the violence that characterizes the lives of many women and children in our society.
In conclusion, students (and faculty) are moved and inspired by Beth's story. Importantly, it is not only a fascinating read, but it has a profound effect on many who read it. When I teach this book, I always find that it is specifically mentioned in course evaluations as one that students find important to their learning experiences. Some students have stated clearly that while they did not enjoy reading it, they think that it was important that they did. For some, this realization comes after they leave the classroom. Such a case is exemplified by one of my former students who recently paid a visit to my office. She had been a student in my seminar on family violence, and in talking about her life since graduation, she shared with me how this is a book that she held onto and continues to think about. It has helped her in her own life to understand some of her experiences and has been useful with friends and family members who were experiencing intimate partner violence. She has purchased several copies of the book to give to people who she thought could benefit from it. I have done the same on many occasions.
Considering the Children: Child Exposure to Domestic Violence[Page 237]
In Beth Sipe's account of her moving and pain-infused experience, she speaks to a variety of complex issues intimately connected to domestic violence, including the impact of domestic violence on her three boys, Matt, James, and Daniel. Their experience of child exposure to domestic violence (CEDV), which is defined broadly as the multiple experiences of children not only witnessing or seeing violence but hearing and observing the aftermath of the violence (Edleson, 2006; Edleson et al., 2007; Fantuzzo & Mohr, 1999), is a devastating example of the way family violence radiates out to impact all family members. Currently, prevention and intervention efforts to address CEDV are framed as a fundamental area of research in the larger field of domestic violence and have grown into a specific and active field of study for researchers and practitioners alike. The following commentary briefly presents the current literature on several key areas: (1) the prevalence of CEDV, (2) the complicated nature of assessing the impact of CEDV, (3) measuring CEDV, (4) the debate over defining CEDV as child maltreatment, (5) health outcomes for children exposed to domestic violence, and (6) responding and intervening.The Prevalence of Child Exposure to Domestic Violence
Seventeen years after Beth Sipe's story, I am Not Your Victim, was first published, we possess greater knowledge of the national prevalence of CEDV [Page 238]both in the general population (Finkelhor et al., 2009) as well as among children who also experience physical and/or sexual abuse (Hazen, Connelly, Kelleher, Landsverk, & Barth, 2004). Recently, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), the most comprehensive nationwide survey of incidence and prevalence of child exposure to violence to date (Finkelhor et al., 2009). This national random sample survey of 4,549 households showed that one in 15 children (6.6%) were exposed to intimate partner violence between parents—or between a parent and that parent's partner (Finkelhor et al., 2009).
In another national study, the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) findings provide additional evidence of the prevalence of CEDV, specifically co-occurring within families involved in the child welfare system (Hazen et al., 2004). Overall, out of the sample of 3,612 female caregivers of children reported to child protective services because of suspected abuse or neglect and who maintained their children at home, 44.8% had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and 29% reported that they had experienced intimate partner violence in the last year (Hazen et al., 2004).
While the NSCAW and the NatSCEV both provide a larger national view of the lifetime prevalence of CEDV in the population, issues regarding the overall methodologies used in research to assess not only the prevalence of CEDV but also the impact of it on children continue to plague the field and will be discussed in the next section. Despite these limitations, both of these national studies highlight the overwhelming number of children, like Beth's boys, who are exposed to domestic violence and, for some, other adverse experiences in their lives as well.The Complicated Nature of Assessing the Impact of Child Exposure to Domestic Violence
When reflecting on the experience of Matt, James, and Daniel, it is readily apparent that their exposure to their father's violence toward their mother was not the only source of trauma they experienced. Their lives were truly complex on many levels. In circumstances when exposure to violence between caregivers is not the only traumatic experience children endure, the assessment [Page 239]of CEDV's unique impact becomes difficult to separate from other potential sources of trauma, such as intersecting experiences of poverty, physical and/or sexual abuse, caregivers' mental health, institutional racism, and community violence. Therefore, practitioners and researchers seek to understand and assess children's experiences of exposure to domestic violence and also consider other forms of trauma and life circumstances the child may have experienced as well as the range of exposures and the ways co-occurring traumatic experiences may impact children's development as well as their long-term health as adults (Cross, Mathews, Tonmyr, Scott, & Ouimet, 2012; Wolfe, Crooks, Lee, McIntyre-Smith, & Jaffe, 2003).
Study findings support this need to consider the frequency of a child's exposure as well as the unique impact of CEDV and other adverse experiences such as maltreatment (Dube, Anda, Felitti, Edwards, & Williamson, 2002; Wolfe, Crooks et al., 2003). For example, the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study (Dube et al., 2002), a retrospective study of 17,337 adults, found that when adults had witnessed intimate partner violence as children, the total number of other ACEs those adults had experienced increased considerably. In addition, there was an increase in the prevalence of every category of ACE as the frequency of witnessing domestic violence increased (Dube et al., 2002). Studies looking at multiple victimizations experienced by children demonstrate that children's experiences are varied (Finkelhor, Ormrod, & Turner, 2007). This variation may be accounted for by the differences due to the range of exposure as well as the evidence that early life exposures to trauma do not impact all children similarly (Briggs-Gowan, Carter, & Ford, 2012). These findings point to the importance of assessing the frequency of children's exposure in addition to assessing the existence of co-occurring adverse or traumatic experiences as well as the protective and other risk factors present in a child's life. Moreover, the ACE Study findings demonstrate the long-term impact of CEDV, building more evidence for the need for increased understanding and intervention efforts.Measuring Child Exposure to Domestic Violence
Faced with the growing knowledge of CEDV's prevalence and impact, one of the important and current areas of scholarship has been the development of scales to measure child exposure to domestic violence from child self-reports. [Page 240]Child self-reporting helps to address the limitation of prior scales that rely solely on adult caregivers' assessments of children's experiences (Edleson et al., 2007; Schuler & Nair, 2001) as well as the issue that parents' or other key adult informants' reports are different from those of their children (Sternberg, Lamb, Guterman, & Abbott, 2006). One example of a child-report measure is the CEDV Scale, a 42-item tool that provides a standardized and multidimensional method to measure child exposure to domestic violence by Edleson and his colleagues (Edleson et al., 2007; Edleson, Shin, & Johnson Armendariz, 2008). The introduction of the CEDV Scale provides a tested measure of children's exposure to domestic violence.
The development of the CEDV Scale items included a review of previously used scales (e.g., Things I've Heard and Seen [TISH] questionnaire; Richters & Martinez, 1990) and consultation with an international panel of experts. Following this process, the 42 items from the CEDV Scale were categorized into six subscales: (1) level of violence in the home, (2) level of exposure to violence in the home, (3) level of exposure to other forms of community violence, (4) level of child involvement in violent events, (5) risk factors in the child's home life, and (6) other victimizations the child has experienced at home (Edleson et al., 2008). Online resources for the CEDV Scale, including a print version, are available at http://www.mincava.umn.edu/cedv. Although relatively new to the field, the CEDV Scale has been used by researchers throughout the world, including published studies in South Africa (Makubela, 2012).
In addition to the CEDV Scale, there are several other scales used by researchers and practitioners to measure CEDV, including the adult Conflict Tactics Scales (Straus, 1979; Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996), adapted by Kolbo (1996) for use with children, as well as the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire (Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2005), which measures not only exposure to domestic violence but also macro system violence, including community violence and war. Continued refinement of the measures used to assess CEDV must persist, including increased evaluation of the scales' internal and external reliability and validity.The Debate Over Defining Child Exposure to Domestic Violence as Child Maltreatment
Even without a formal CEDV child report assessment, reading about Matt, James, and Daniel's experiences of exposure to domestic violence may evoke [Page 241]deep feelings, even feelings of doubt about whether Beth or Sam were parents who could safely protect and care for the boys, leading a reader to question whether involving child protective services may have been appropriate at an earlier time than after Sam's death. Readers' internal debates are an external reality in the current public and policy debate about whether CEDV should be legally defined as child maltreatment (Edleson, 2004). Defining CEDV as maltreatment from a child welfare perspective presents a way of bringing welfare system responses into the arena of intimate partner violence, thereby protecting children and assuring their safety by legislating exposure to violence as a form of child maltreatment. However, domestic violence advocates argue that mothers are often blamed or held accountable (e.g., lose custody) for the effect of their own victimization at the hands of another adult (Douglas & Walsh, 2010; Goodmark, 2010). These concerns regarding blaming and revictimizing the mother are important and relevant in this discussion; they must not sway practitioners, policy makers, and researchers alike to actively avoid a means to creatively and fairly address issues of children's safety, a point discussed in the following section.
In addition to the issues of how different professionals view the significance of framing CEDV as child maltreatment, there are major challenges faced by child welfare systems in states that have legally defined CEDV as maltreatment and thereby created mandatory reporting. State experiences, such as in Minnesota (Edleson, Gassman-Pines, & Hill, 2006), present real concerns about public support for a comprehensive child welfare system response when CEDV is redefined as maltreatment without a subsequent increase in public funding for or training of child welfare services (Mathews, 2012; Nixon, Tutty, Weaver-Dunlop, & Walsh, 2007; Weithorn, 2001). In addition, systems are slow to respond to major changes and sometimes fall back to their prior practices, as demonstrated by some of the national Greenbook Initiative demonstration projects (Malik, Silverman, Wang, & Janczewski, 2008; Malik, Ward, & Janczewski, 2008). These projects were based on the best practices for coordinated interventions by child welfare, domestic violence prevention, and juvenile justice and family court systems (identified in Effective Interventions for Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice, also known as the “Greenbook,” edited by Schechter and Edleson, 1999) to work effectively with families in addressing the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence.
Looking at child welfare approaches that already exist, Cross et al. (2012) suggest that family assessment, which is known as differential or alternative[Page 242]response in many states, is a good fit for addressing the issue of domestic violence (DV) and CEDV while minimizing negative outcomes for mothers and children. Differential response as a national approach does not seek to substantiate the allegations of (low to moderate) abuse or neglect but, instead, works to assess the strengths within a family and provide voluntary services to mitigate risks.Health Outcomes for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
Although we do not know the specifics of Beth's children's long-term health outcomes, research has shown that exposure to domestic violence may impact every aspect of a child's life, including physical, mental, social, and behavioral health functioning (Edleson, 1999; Fantuzzo & Mohr, 1999; Holt, Buckley, & Whelan, 2008). In studies examining preschool-age children (Ingoldsby, Shaw, Owens, & Winslow, 1999; Litrownik, Newton, Hunter, English, & Everson, 2003), school-age children (Jouriles, Spiller, Stephens, McDonald, & Swank, 2000; Kerig, 1998), and youth (McGee, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1997) exposed to domestic violence, outcomes are often organized around internalized (e.g., depression, anxiety) and externalized problems (e.g., conduct problems, aggression) and include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a few studies (Levendosky, Huth-Bocks, Semel, & Shapiro, 2002; Muller, Goebel-Fabbri, Diamond, & Dinklage, 2000).
While research on problems associated with CEDV has provided clear documentation of both the presence of internalized and externalized behavior problems, there are several key areas that remain the subjects of debate. One of these key areas is the specific influence of the child's developmental stage during exposure. Some research suggests that development matters when assessing the impact of domestic violence on children (Martin, 2002; McIntosh, 2002). In a review of the literature on the impact of exposure to violence on children's health and developmental well-being, Holt et al. (2008) found differences in the phases of early childhood, school-age, and adolescence, perhaps due to the particular tasks and processes of development during these ages. For example, early exposure may create more severe problems for children, as it occurs at the crucial pattern-setting phase of development. However, when Wolfe and colleagues (Wolfe, Crooks et al., 2003) examined children's developmental stages as a moderator in a meta-analysis of literature on CEDV in preschool, [Page 243]school-age, and adolescent children, they could not identify a clear relationship. This was possibly due to the great variability in the studies' methodologies. From the first edition of this book to the present time, researchers have been critical of methodological issues in the research examining the effects of CEDV (Fantuzzo & Mohr, 1999; Holt et al., 2008; Wolfe, Crooks et al., 2003), including inadequately measuring and statistically accounting for potential confounding variables, such as a child's age, and co-occurring trauma such as child maltreatment.
While CEDV research may be perceived as separate from the lived experiences of children and their families, the core purpose of this empirical work is driven most often by scholars who were or are currently actively engaged in the larger movement to end domestic violence, violence against women, and child maltreatment. Therefore, the push to continue rigorous, methodologically sound research that includes large-scale longitudinal studies (Wolfe, Crooks et al., 2003) is inspired and motivated by these larger aims, which include prevention and intervention models of practice.Responding and Intervening
There is a clear need for women's advocacy organizations, child welfare organizations, criminal justice systems, and health care systems to work together for the common good of all family members (Cross et al., 2012). For the children affected by exposure to domestic violence to have the opportunity to heal and develop resilience, the systems that surround them will need to develop and sustain coordinated and comprehensive treatment pathways that address the multiplicity of issues faced by children and their caregivers.
Several intervention initiatives have emerged over the last two decades that directly address this need, such as the Greenbook and Safe Start Initiatives. Six national Greenbook Initiative demonstration sites received federal funding from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to implement the recommended practices. A multisite evaluation was conducted examining levels of implementation of the suggested practices and any outcomes of these changed practices (Edleson & Malik, 2008). In general, the evaluation, based on surveys of child welfare workers, demonstrated significant changes, including written guidelines for reporting domestic violence, working closely and sharing resources with local domestic violence services providers, and [Page 244]regular domestic violence training (Banks, Landsverk, & Wang, 2008). However, fewer intra-system implementations of Greenbook practices were seen in both the court system (Malik, Silverman et al., 2008) and among the domestic violence prevention organizations (Malik, Ward et al., 2008), although both systems demonstrated leadership at each of the demonstration sites. This evidence speaks to the difficulty in changing ingrained patterns of practice and how, even with funding and extensive technical assistance to support innovative practice, long-term changes were difficult to achieve. Additional, and perhaps different, strategies are needed to address the lack of change in the court and domestic violence systems.
In addition to the Greenbook Initiative, the Safe Start Initiative, another federally funded initiative, is designed to encourage the shaping of systems to address children's exposure to violence, including domestic, family, and community violence (Safe Start Center, 2008, 2011). Funded through the OJJDP, Safe Start projects encompass a variety of efforts grounded in the two goals of the Initiative: (1) to provide families with the most evidence-based practice for children and other family members who are exposed to violence and (2) to conduct high-quality research to test the effectiveness of the practices to improve the services for children and their families who are exposed to violence. The Safe Start demonstration sites' goals are to increase the collaborative and comprehensive partnerships between systems in key areas such as domestic violence/crisis intervention, early childhood education/development, health, mental health, child welfare, family support, substance abuse prevention/intervention, law enforcement, courts, and legal services (Kracke, 2001). Using a case-study methodology to examine the initial Safe Start demonstration sites, evaluators found that systems were becoming more responsive and integrated as a result of the Initiative's implemented policy and procedure changes (Hyde, Kracke, Jaycox, & Schultz, 2007).
Along with the large-scale Greenbook and Safe Start Initiatives, practitioners who work with children in a variety of settings are also developing group-based interventions that are delivered in schools (Thompson & Trice-Black, 2012), community settings (Graham-Bermann, 1992, 2001; Lee,
Kolomer, & Thomsen, 2012), and shelters (Graham-Bermann, 1992, 2001). Models of specific group interventions have also been developed, including the evidence-supported group program, the Kids' Club (Graham-Bermann, 1992, 2001), which aims to nurture resilience and to augment children's recovery [Page 245]from effects of CEDV through separate support groups for the children and their mothers. Recent findings from a study of the Superheroes program for children ages 6–11 who were exposed to domestic violence showed a decrease in participants' symptoms of psychosocial impairment, depressive symptomology, and several problematic behaviors (Lee et al., 2012).
Overall, from the community and system-wide initiatives to small groups led by social workers in schools, the response to children exposed to domestic violence must include an awareness of the complexity and uniqueness of their particular situation. Responses need to be tailored to individual children, be developmentally appropriate, and build on resiliency factors in a child's life (Holt et al., 2008), including mindfulness and adaptation to children's racial and ethnic identities and communities.Conclusion
Child exposure to domestic violence is inescapably yoked to violence between their caregivers. To be committed to preventing, intervening, and stopping domestic violence, one requires inclusion of the other. Understanding the impact of CEDV can lead to prevention and intervention efforts to end violence against both children and adult victims and benefit children, parents, families, and communities. There is a need to argue for the allocation of new resources and time for services focused on CEDV. If children like Beth's boys are to grow up in safety and with an intact sense of well-being and self-efficacy, then we must challenge ourselves to learn, implement, and refine our skills of advocacy, research, and practice to holistically address the social reality of domestic violence.[Page 246]
Intervention by Criminal Justice in Cases of Intimate Partner Violence: What Does Beth Sipe's Story Teach Us?[Page 247]
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Reading Beth Sipe's story of her interactions with police, prosecutors, and the court system provides an opportunity to take stock of the changes to the criminal justice system over the past 25 years and to ask just how different Beth's experiences would be today.
Beth's first mention of the police comes after an incident around Christmas 1973, when Sam beat Beth so severely that he broke two of her teeth (which she swallowed), split her lip, and broke her nose. Sam kicked Beth in the ribs and hit her over the head with a metal lamp, causing her to pass out. Severely injured, Beth took her two children and left Sam for three days, trying to avoid the police, worried about the impact of a police report on Sam's military career and knowing that if the police became involved “he'd really kill me” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 45). When she returned home, she confided to a neighbor what had happened; the neighbor urged her to call the police. Beth responded in the way that many women at that time would have responded, before police and prosecutors began to take domestic violence seriously: “Calling the police will only make it worse” (pp. 45–46). Worse because of the consequences for [Page 248]bringing the power of the state to bear against Sam. As Beth notes after one assault, the time in jail would just make Sam angrier, and he would “get all boiled up, and come home to beat me again” (p. 104). But worse, too, because of how little the intervention of the criminal justice system had to offer women at that time, even women as badly beaten as Beth was during those incidents. In 1973, the standard police response to a domestic violence call was to advise the husband to take a walk around the block to cool down before returning home—guidance that was actually included in police training manuals. In the unlikely event that an arrest was made in a case involving domestic violence, prosecution was by no means guaranteed; rates of prosecution were ridiculously low, with prosecutors claiming that they could not bring domestic violence cases to court successfully, given the reluctance of women to testify against their husbands. This was the backdrop against which Beth Sipe initially made decisions about calling the police.
The criminal justice system's response to domestic violence would not change significantly, in fact, until the city of Torrington, Connecticut, was held liable for its inaction in the face of violence similar to that faced by Beth Sipe. Like Beth, Tracy Thurman's husband, Charles, had physically attacked and repeatedly threatened her; unlike Sam, Charles Thurman was convicted of breach of the peace (for breaking Tracy's windshield). He received a six-month suspended sentence and a two-year conditional discharge and was ordered to stay away from Tracy in November of 1982. Notwithstanding the court's order, Charles Thurman repeatedly threatened his wife between December of 1982 and May of 1983. Tracy Thurman, in turn, repeatedly requested that the police arrest Charles for violation of his probation. The police took no action.
On June 10, 1983, Charles found Tracy in a friend's home. Tracy called police, who did not come immediately, and after about 15 minutes, Tracy went outside the home to try to protect her son, Charles Jr., from his father. In response, Charles Thurman repeatedly stabbed Tracy Thurman in the chest, neck, and throat, then, in the presence of the officer who arrived 25 minutes after her initial call, kicked Tracy twice in the head. Three additional officers arrived, but no one took Charles into custody until he again approached Tracy while she was lying on a stretcher, bleeding. Tracy Thurman sustained injuries that have left her paralyzed to this day. After the federal district court refused to dismiss Tracy Thurman's civil rights lawsuit against the city, the city settled with her for $2.3 million.
[Page 249]Over the 17 years that Sam Sipe battered his wife, the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence changed drastically. In the wake of Thurman v. City of Torrington, municipalities began to adopt mandatory arrest laws, requiring that police make an arrest in domestic violence cases whenever probable cause existed to do so. Rather than allowing police to exercise discretion in determining when to arrest, mandatory arrest laws presumed arrest. Mandatory arrest laws were designed to ensure that men were held accountable for their violence against their wives through the intervention of the criminal justice system. Mandatory arrest laws played an important expressive function as well; declaring that domestic violence was a serious enough crime for all men who abused to be arrested sent the message that society would no longer tolerate violence against women, whether that violence played out in public or in the private sphere of the home. And to the extent that success is measured by an increased number of arrests since the passage of the laws, mandatory arrest laws have been successful: Arrest rates have gone up significantly since the adoption of mandatory arrest laws.
Mandatory arrest laws never fulfilled advocates' expectations for police response, however, and Beth Sipe's story illustrates several of the manifestations of that failure. Although both Colorado and Nevada had mandatory arrest laws during the time when Beth and Sam were living in those states, police circumvented the requirements of the mandatory arrest laws by simply refusing to respond to Beth's calls. On one occasion, police told Beth they could not respond because she had left the home; on numerous others, because she called in response to Sam's increasingly violent threats rather than when she was actually being beaten, the police claimed they could not intervene. Beth recalls,
Several times, after especially violent calls, I called 911 for help, but the only help I got from them was, “Call after he gets into the house.” I was amazed; I thought, “Trying to break in isn't against the law? He has to be inside?” To me, that was no help. How many times had I tried to call for help when Sam was beating me, only to have him jerk the phone out of the wall? (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 116)
Police continued to give Beth this response even after Sam had been arrested and released on bail in early 1988. Presumably, the new threat to kill Beth would have been a violation of Sam's conditions of release, which should have elicited a stronger reaction than “Call back when he's in the apartment [Page 250]with his hands on you” (p. 131). Even when, after calling the police himself, Sam hit Beth in front of the police in Denver in June, 1980, he was not arrested. The failure of police to respond to calls or to make arrests reinforced Beth's sense that they would not be helpful, discouraging her from seeking assistance and thus depriving her of one potential resource for addressing Sam's abuse—the very problems that mandatory arrest was meant to address.
But it has never been clear exactly how much arrest really does to deter men from continuing to terrorize their partners. Research on the impact of arrest in Minneapolis bolstered the initial support for mandatory arrest. Studies conducted in 1981–1982 by Lawrence Sherman and others linked arrest to lower rates of recidivism among perpetrators of domestic violence, suggesting that arrest deterred men who abused their partners from committing further acts of violence. Although Sherman was cautious about the results of the study, advising against the adoption of mandatory arrest laws until further research had been conducted (Sherman, Smith, Schmidt, & Rogan, 1992), jurisdictions across the country hurried to pass such laws, spurred by the prospect of exposure to the kind of liability the City of Torrington had experienced. Attempts to replicate the Minneapolis study validated Sherman's caution, however. Further studies in six additional cities found deterrent effects in some locations, no effect in others, and, problematically, an increased risk of future violence in other jurisdictions. Sam Sipe's experience bears out Sherman's caution as well; although he was not arrested for all of the abuse he perpetrated, he was arrested twice, which did little to deter his violence against Beth. It is an open question as to whether arrests on more than those two occasions would have made a significant difference in Sam's treatment of Beth.
One pernicious unintended consequence of mandatory arrest laws has been the increase in the number of dual arrests and arrests of women subjected to abuse. Again, Beth's story is instructive. Beth's first interaction with police precedes the implementation of mandatory arrest laws in Virginia but bears a striking resemblance to the stories of women arrested under these laws. During a particularly horrific incident in April, 1978, Beth pointed a gun at Sam, who laughed at her and took it away. Sam left the home but returned with the military police. After Sam led them to the gun, Beth was taken into custody, despite the obviously severe injuries she had sustained, including a broken finger. The police refused to take her to have her injuries treated and refused to allow Beth to press charges against Sam for the abuse. Handcuffed in front of her children [Page 251]and led from the home, Beth was taken to Richmond State Mental Hospital, where she was held overnight with 20 other women before being released the next day after a psychiatrist recognized that she was a victim of abuse. Although the police intervention in this case did not lead to criminal justice consequences for Beth, the willingness of police to take Beth into custody despite the evidence of abuse is consistent with the stories of women arrested in mandatory arrest regimes. Since the inception of mandatory arrest laws, arrest rates among women have increased significantly in some jurisdictions (Chesney-Lind, 2002; DeLeon-Granados, Wells, & Binsbacher, 2006). Moreover, police who hear conflicting stories of abuse at the scene of a domestic violence incident are increasingly likely to take both parties into custody; one study found that dual arrests occurred in 33% of family court cases the year after mandatory arrest policies went into effect in Connecticut (Martin, 1997). Worse, some officers threaten to take both parties into custody, telling women subjected to abuse that child protective services agencies will be called as a result of their arrest. Faced with the consequence of losing their children, women subjected to abuse agree to withdraw their allegations if their partners will as well.
Mandatory arrest laws are also problematic because they deny women like Beth the ability to make calculations about the impact of arrest on their safety and on other aspects of their lives: their ability to economically support their children, the reactions of their supportive communities, and the like. Beth, like many women, called the police at those times when she most needed their help and determined that the risk of calling was outweighed by other factors—for example, her desperation in November, 1974, when Sam took James from the home, was sufficient to spur her to call police, who escorted Sam back from the state border and returned James to Beth. On the two occasions when Sam was arrested in mandatory arrest jurisdictions, it was not Beth who called the police. In April, 1979, Beth believed that neighbors must have called the police after a particularly brutal beating; early in 1988, Sam was arrested after James called 911. Neither time could Beth make a calculation as to whether her needs—for safety, for economic support, for stability for her children—would be best met by police intervention. In a mandatory arrest regime, women are (in theory, if not always in practice) offered only one outcome when police respond and, knowing that to be the case, may choose not to ask for assistance at all.
Sam Sipe was never prosecuted for his abuse of his wife. Even after the number of arrests for domestic violence began to grow as a result of mandatory [Page 252]arrest policies, prosecution in cases involving domestic violence remained rare. Prosecutors argued that they could not successfully prosecute without the assistance of the victim—assistance that, in many cases, was not forthcoming, as women often refused to testify against their partners or recanted their claims. In response to the frequent unavailability of the only witness who could substantiate the prosecution's claims, prosecutors adopted two kinds of policies. Some began to build their cases as though there would be no victim able to testify, basing cases on evidence other than the victim's testimony (physical evidence, statements to police, medical records, and the like)—a policy known as victimless prosecution. Jurisdictions also began to adopt no-drop prosecution policies, which committed prosecutors to pursuing cases whenever they had sufficient evidence to do so. No-drop policies vary in their severity; in “soft” no-drop jurisdictions, prosecutors work with women subjected to abuse to increase their comfort with testifying and provide services and supports to assist them in participating in prosecutions but do not compel them to testify. At their most stringent, however, prosecutors in offices with “hard” no-drop prosecution policies force women subjected to abuse to testify by using subpoenas, bench warrants, and body attachments (i.e., a court order requiring law enforcement to take custody of and bring to court a witness who fails to comply with a subpoena) to compel their presence, tactics that can result in imprisonment of women who still refuse to testify. Prosecutors defend these policies, stating that “No-drop policies that do not compel victim cooperation lack credibility” (Hanna, 1996, p. 1891), but it is hard to believe that the battered women's movement intended for the incarceration of women subjected to abuse to be the outcome of its pro-prosecution advocacy.
The failure to prosecute cases involving domestic violence was deeply problematic, sending the message to Beth and other women subjected to abuse that the criminal justice system did not take their injuries seriously and did not care about protecting them or punishing their abusers. But policies like no-drop prosecution swing too far in the other direction, substituting prosecutorial goals, judgments, and decisions for those of women subjected to abuse and depriving women of agency in choosing how to respond to abuse. Researcher David Ford (1991) has argued that women can use the threat of prosecution as a tool for equalizing power imbalances within a relationship—but only if they can control how that tool is used. With the advent of mandatory interventions, women have lost some ability to use the criminal justice system as a “power resource” (p. 318). Mandatory interventions deny women subjected to abuse that power.
[Page 253]The criminal justice system was at its most proactive in Beth's life when Beth was the defendant. Beth was taken into custody shortly after she shot Sam on April 9, 1988. Despite her visible injuries, she was not taken to a hospital. After being questioned by detectives—and denied counsel—she was told that her case looked like self-defense and she was released. Nonetheless, after several further conversations with detectives, Beth was rearrested on Thursday, May 5, 1988, and her children were taken into state custody. She spent Mother's Day weekend in jail, not appearing in court for arraignment until the following Tuesday, when she was charged with first-degree murder. Despite the prosecutor's assertion that she was a flight risk, the judge released her on her own recognizance, based on the abuse she had suffered. When the police came to process her paperwork, however, they referred to her as “that murderer” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 165). Over the next several months, Beth's attorney, Bill Smith, provided prosecutors with documentation of Beth's abuse; nonetheless, when the judge dismissed the charges, finding no evidence of wrongful killing, prosecutors appealed the ruling and re-charged Beth with first-degree murder, alleging that Sam had not attacked Beth on April 9 (despite the evidence about the attack that had earlier been presented in court). Although all of the charges against Beth were ultimately dismissed, the threat of prosecution continued to hang over Beth's head: “Because there was no trial, I will never be completely free of this threat” (p. 222).
But Beth was lucky, compared to other women subjected to abuse who have killed their abusers. Many of these women spent substantial amounts of time in jail before courts agreed to review their cases in the 1990s and early 2000s, leading to the release of at least 124 women in 23 states by 2002. Some women who killed their abusers are still incarcerated today. The similarities between the stories of Beth Sipe and Dixie Shanahan, for example, are striking. Scott Shanahan inflicted black eyes and bruises upon his wife, regularly threatened her, dragged her by her hair, held her at gunpoint, and tied her up and left her in a basement for days. On August 30, Scott Shanahan beat his pregnant wife all morning, then, taking a break, told her, “This day is not over yet. I will kill you” (Goodmark, 2012, p. 80). Dixie Shanahan shot her husband during an interlude in his last attack on her, when she believed he was reaching for a gun to kill her. Dixie Shanahan continues to serve a sentence of 10 years to life (commuted from 25 years to life) for shooting Scott Shanahan.
So just how different would Beth's experiences with the criminal justice system be today? It is probably more likely that Sam would have been arrested [Page 254](if the police had been called) and probably more likely that Sam would have been prosecuted (if an arrest had been made) in 2013 than in 1983. Probably, because in some places, the mandatory intervention revolution still doesn't seem to have taken root; advocates in some rural areas, for example, report that police still don't arrest abusers and that prosecutors still don't aggressively pursue cases of domestic violence. The consequences of arrest and prosecution are not as clear. While arrest rates have risen as a result of mandatory arrest, prosecution rates have not—they have actually fallen in some mandatory arrest jurisdictions. Crimes of domestic violence are still most frequently charged as misdemeanors, and convictions garner limited, if any, jail time. Unless his brutal beatings of Beth were charged as felonies, Sam would still be unlikely to serve a significant sentence for his actions. Under federal law, Sam would certainly have been deprived of his weapon if convicted, which would have jeopardized his military career (and, as a result, arguably posed a greater threat to Beth's safety). It is impossible to know whether, with criminal justice intervention, Beth would still be on one side of a loaded gun, with Sam on the other. But it's clear that Beth's options about when and how to interact with the criminal justice system are somewhat more limited in a world of mandatory interventions.
In the end, it's hard to know what impact, if any, that criminal justice intervention would have had on Sam's behavior. For some abusive men, the intervention of the criminal justice system is sufficient to prevent them from further abuse. For others, the methods of abuse simply shift from those that are clearly criminal (physical violence) to noncriminal emotional and economic abuse, the kind of abuse that Beth describes throughout her story (and the kind of abuse that escalated for Beth after Sam no longer had unfettered access to her). And for still other men, nothing the legal system does will deter their abuse: Not protective orders, as is clear from the recent murder of Zina Haughton, a Milwaukee woman shot to death by her husband, Radcliffe Haughton, three days after she received a protective order. Not arrest, as Sam Sipe's continued abuse of Beth shows. Not prosecution, as exemplified by Kenneth Woodruff, who was prosecuted six times for abusing his partner over a four-year period and stopped only when he was incarcerated for 15 years. Not even incarceration will stop a truly determined abuser such as Robert Ridley, who left a halfway house in Washington, DC, to kill his partner, Tiffany Gates. None of the interventions we have yet devised can or will stop a truly determined [Page 255]person from abusing and even killing his partner. Intervention by the criminal justice system is simply a reaction; it does not purport to understand what causes people to abuse their partners, to prevent that abuse from happening, or to provide an intervention that curtails that abuse permanently. Intervention by the criminal justice system is an interlude for most women, an opportunity to stop the abuse in the instant, to take stock of the relationship, and to make determinations about how to move on from that moment in time. And while that is a valuable service for many women, the creation and implementation of the criminal justice response to domestic violence has not appreciably lowered rates of domestic violence in the United States. Moreover, even if the system worked perfectly, it still may not be a viable response for many women, such as undocumented women afraid of deportation; women who rely on their partners for economic or parenting support and don't, as a consequence, want their partners incarcerated; or women who are not interested in being separated from their partners through the intervention of the criminal system. Despite the hopes of battered women's advocates and the claims of those who believe it to be the best way to address domestic violence, the criminal justice system still isn't an effective response for all women subjected to abuse. The more things change, the more they remain the same.[Page 256]
“The Physical Pain Was Bad, but the Mental Health Anguish Was Worse”[Page 257]
The physical consequences of severe intimate partner violence are immediate and disturbing. Indeed, the bruises, broken bones, black eyes, and bloody lips are what generally capture the attention of the lay public, news reporters, health care professionals, criminal justice system workers, and lawmakers. Although difficult to digest and comprehend, the images of Beth Sipe's hand after it was forced down the garbage disposal and of her battered face after a severe beating are acute and vivid symbols of what it is like to be in a violent relationship. However, many victimized women report that the invisible wounds are the most detrimental and long lasting—the ones you cannot take a picture of or put a cast, ice, or a bandage on. After Beth's husband, Sam, shredded her hand, she noted that “my emotional pain was even greater than the physical pain.” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 41). The title of this commentary is a quote from Beth and one that accurately summarizes the emotional toll of being in a violent relationship.Partner Violence Victimization and Mental Health
Research has consistently demonstrated that violence inflicted by intimate partners adversely affects women's mental health (Campbell, 2002; Golding, 1999). [Page 258]A variety of psychological and emotional symptoms have been associated with partner violence, including anxiety, substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. The latter two conditions are especially prevalent in victims of partner violence and are applicable to Beth's story.Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
As I read Beth's horrific account of the abuse she sustained, I began to compare her situation to that of a combat veteran. Like a soldier in the midst of war, Beth had to be constantly on guard—in fact, she described herself as “battle ready” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 120) and began sleeping with her gun. Beth had nightmares, flashbacks of violent incidents, and reported that she “was scared all the time, my hands always sweaty” (p. 111). And just like a soldier, Beth had a realistic fear for her life. When she visited family or left town without Sam, she described this experience as a “tonic” (p. 108) for her stress, much as a soldier would describe the time between tours. However, unlike a soldier, Beth was often defenseless, and Beth's enemy was someone she loved and had once trusted. As with many women in violent relationships, Beth was suffering from PTSD.
Several studies have demonstrated a strong link between victimization from partner violence and PTSD. A comprehensive meta-analysis revealed that women in violent relationships are nearly four times as likely to have PTSD compared to women in nonviolent relationships (Golding, 1999). Unlike the broken bones and bruises suffered at the hands of an abuser, PTSD symptoms tend to outlive the violent relationship (Campbell & Soeken, 1999). This is typified in Beth's description of her PTSD symptom of hypervigilance: “Because I had been betrayed so many times by Sam … this made me overly watchful and overly reactive to anything that even hinted at betrayal” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 200).Depression
The rate of depression among victimized women is substantially higher than it is for women in the general population (Golding, 1999). Symptoms of depression include the presence of a sad or depressed mood for a lengthy period of time, loss of enjoyment or interest in activities that were previously pleasurable, changes in weight or appetite, changes in sleep, fatigue, feelings of helplessness or worthlessness, guilt, indecision or problems with concentration, and [Page 259]thoughts of death or suicide. Beth encountered all of these symptoms during her marriage to Sam and after his death. At one point, Beth stated, “I got so depressed I didn't want to make friends anymore” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 159). Beth also reported low self-worth, even to the point of referring to herself as “bitch” (p. 159). After Sam's death, Dr. Hall described Beth as “totally beaten down, withdrawn, and profoundly depressed” (p. ix).
Unlike physical illness, psychological health rarely fits into a discrete diagnostic box. For example, it is common for women in abusive relationships to experience a range of psychological consequences (e.g., depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness, disassociation, hypervigilance) consistent with a diagnosis of complex PTSD (Briere & Jordan, 2004). Indeed, research has shown that women in violent relationships are more likely to exhibit symptoms consistent with a comorbid diagnosis of PTSD and depression, as opposed to either depression or PTSD alone (O'Campo et al., 2006).Marital Rape
While the physical violence endured by Beth was seemingly unbearable, the sexual assaults appeared particularly traumatic. As is the case with many women in physically violent relationships, Beth was forced to repeatedly have vaginal and anal sex, a fact she did not share with most others until well after Sam's death. My own research (Temple, Weston, Rodriguez, & Marshall, 2007) and that of others (Culbertson & Dehle, 2001) has demonstrated that marital rape is as traumatic or more traumatic than stranger or acquaintance rape. Moreover, women in violent relationships who are also sexually assaulted by their partner report poorer mental health than women who sustain “only” physical violence (Campbell, 1989). Another study found that the severity of a partner's sexual violence significantly predicted women's level of PTSD symptoms, even after considering the effects of physical violence (Bennice, Resick, Mechanic, & Astin, 2003).Threats and Psychological Abuse
Throughout her marriage, Beth was constantly threatened with physical violence and beat down by psychological abuse. Sam referred to her as stupid and worthless, denied her essential financial support, alienated her from friends and family, and made it difficult for her to work, find transportation, enhance her education, receive needed health care, and obtain access to contraception. [Page 260]She was made to feel, and often was, dependent on him. The threat of violence, including deadly violence, was always present. Sam killed Beth's beloved dog, cleaned and brandished his gun in her presence, and consistently reminded her that he would see her dead “before I give [her] a penny” (Sipe & Hall, 1996, p. 120). Recounting these horrible examples of Sam's psychological abuse, it should not be surprising that mounting research indicates that this form of aggression may be more detrimental to women's mental health than physical violence (Follingstad, Rutledge, Berg, Hause, & Polek, 1990).
Sustained psychological abuse has been associated with negative mental health outcomes such as PTSD symptoms and depression (Coker et al., 2002; Mechanic, Weaver, & Resick, 2008). For example, Arias and Pape (1999) found that the frequency and severity of psychological abuse, but not physical violence, predicted PTSD symptomatology. Similarly, Baldry (2003) found psychological abuse to be a stronger predictor of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem than physical violence. In addition, psychologically abused women may lose feelings of self-worth and assertiveness, which undermines their decision-making processes and, ultimately, their ability to leave a violent relationship (Arias & Pape, 1999; Cascardi & O'Leary, 1992).
These studies suggest that the course and effects of partner physical violence and psychological abuse are distinct. Discriminating between the two forms of abuse is important, as the interventions likely vary. For example, many mental health professionals likely interpret physical violence as more traumatic than psychological abuse to women's mental health. Consequently, there may be a strict focus on the physical nature of the abuse while ignoring the psychological abuse. If psychological abuse does indeed impact women's mental health above and beyond physical violence, there may also be legal implications. For instance, in a child custody hearing, a woman claiming she was abused by her partner may not be taken seriously if the abuse was “only” psychological, despite the research that suggests it may be as or more harmful to mental health than physical violence.Mental Health Care Responses to Intimate Partner Violence
Although Beth eventually found a good therapeutic match in Dr. Hall, several opportunities to intervene and possibly stop the violence were missed [Page 261]by other health care providers. Emergency room physicians and psychiatrists treated the wounds and symptoms as opposed to screening for and treating the underlying problem. Given the overrepresentation of partner violence victims in health care settings and the high prevalence of psychological problems among women in violent relationships, health care professionals should consider screening for partner violence as a routine part of their practice. Notably, the benefits of screening have been debated, as identification of women in violent relationships may not result in improved quality of life and improved outcomes (MacMillan et al., 2009). Thus, calls for universal screening must be met with concomitant increases in availability of and access to resources and evidence-based treatment.
Given the ubiquity of partner violence, especially in healthcare settings, it is surprising that mental health professionals receive relatively little training in the treatment of victimized women. In the early stages of intervention, the primary goal is to keep the patient safe by minimizing the level of danger, implementing a safety plan, and facilitating access to community resources. Mental health professionals need to focus on the removal of partner abuse from the relationship to alleviate the psychological problems as opposed to focusing solely on the psychological problems through symptom-focused techniques or medication. Establishing and maintaining rapport and mutual trust at this stage is key—whether this is the first time the victim has revealed violence or, as with Beth, the system has not been responsive to their situation. Once women are no longer in immediate physical danger, the focus of therapy should be shifted to helping women cope with the psychological effects of being in a violent relationship. For example, in the case of Beth, building up her self-worth and social support network after years of psychological abuse and alienation was essential to her recovery. Depending on the needs of the individual client, treatment should eventually focus on the violence itself. For example, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy helps victims identify and address intrusive memories and maladaptive thoughts related to the violence.Conclusion
As a society and as healthcare professionals, we need to be better prepared to prevent Beth's story from repeating itself. Primary prevention programs that begin with young adolescents and focus on preventing dating violence and [Page 262]promoting healthy relationships are urgently needed. Perhaps events would have unfolded differently had Sam's anger, conflict resolution style, and negative views of women been addressed as a teenager or earlier—prior to the establishment of his negative pattern of relating. While the blame lies solely with the perpetrator, Beth could have benefited from exposure to characteristics that define healthy and unhealthy relationships and been taught to recognize warning signs such as substance use and stalking, both of which were prevalent in the early days of her relationship with Sam.
Beth persevered, despite the mental health and criminal justice systems' responses. Her resilience, coupled with the fortune of meeting a gifted attorney and a responsive and caring clinician and advocate, made this possible. While the system has improved with the passing of the Violence Against Women Act and increased availability of resources such as battered women's shelters, victimized women should not have to rely on fortune to escape a severely violent relationship. We need to strengthen our support system—one that screens, identifies, helps, and advocates for victims of relationship violence so that victimized women never find themselves in a situation where they have to take matters into their own hands.
Reaching the Men: Involving Boys and Men in Efforts to End Violence Against Women[Page 263]
Beth Sipe's heartrending story of survival compels a thorough exploration of the opportunities missed by social service, health, and criminal justice systems to respond to her victimization and to intervene on her behalf. Lessons from this exploration are still relevant today. Excavating the systems surrounding Beth is just one part of the task that her experience demands, however. Also embedded in her story are critical lessons about the opportunities for prevention and intervention represented by the individuals and systems that surrounded Sam Sipe. In particular, Beth's story provides a framework for identifying ways that men—both those who are family and friends of people who use violence and those in the systems and communities that surround perpetrators—are important resources for preventing, interrupting, and ultimately ending intimate partner violence. This commentary will focus on how Beth's story can help us think about ways to engage men and boys in violence prevention and about the roles that men can and do play in ending violence against women. Here, the attention is not explicitly on how we reach men who use violence in their relationships but on what Beth's story suggests about mobilizing men in all of the contexts encircling families like Beth and Sam's, thereby increasing the likelihood that the violence is disrupted or perhaps prevented altogether.[Page 264]Engaging Men and Boys in Violence Prevention: An Overview
Increasingly, reaching out to men and boys as partners in addressing violence against women has become an integral component of antiviolence work. Around the world, efforts to engage men span a range of activities and goals, from increasing men's awareness of intimate partner violence to helping them foster and model respectful relationships in their families to supporting their ability to take a proactive stance in their communities against gender-based violence. Often organized by and for men, men's antiviolence organizing has become a globally prevalent strategy to end domestic and sexual violence (World Health Organization, 2007).
There are powerful reasons for placing greater emphasis on proactively engaging men as active participants in violence prevention. Research suggests that most U.S. men view intimate partner violence as a substantial social problem, perceive that community institutions do not adequately address violence against women, and see themselves as playing a role in reducing violence (Hart Research Associates, 2007). This means that boys and men potentially constitute a vast but still relatively untapped resource for speaking out against violence, for reaching out to survivors like Beth, and for being vocal within male spaces and friendships about opposing misogyny. In the past, however, prevention efforts aimed at men often approached this audience primarily as a group of potential perpetrators (Katz, Heisterkamp, & Fleming, 2011), providing lists of behavioral dos and don'ts that may have felt shaming, irrelevant, or off-putting to men and boys who otherwise might have seen themselves as antiviolence change agents. More recently, therefore, efforts to reach out to men have incorporated a more positive, strengths-based focus that approaches men as part of the solution to ending violence (Berkowitz, 2002).
At the same time, there is considerable evidence that men comprise the majority of perpetrators of sexual violence and of intimate partner violence that result in serious consequences for victims (Black et al., 2011). In part, this is linked to the well-substantiated relationship between traditional ideas about appropriate masculinity and risk for violence. Men who rigidly subscribe to notions of masculinity as embodying aggressiveness, fierce independence, and dominance over women are at markedly greater risk for using violence in their intimate relationships (Abbey, McAuslan, Zawacki, Clinton, & Buck, 2001). [Page 265]Indeed, Beth's account includes many specific instances of Sam articulating these kinds of gendered beliefs, noting that as the husband, “I'm in charge of the money” (p. 23), that “a good wife doesn't question her husband” (p. 23), that Beth belonged “at home with the kids … and didn't need to go out” (p. 37), and that he was in “complete control of everything” (p. 72). When men are offered opportunities to reevaluate perceived links between masculinity and dominance, research suggests that they may be more receptive to prevention messages that come from other men or from men they see as like themselves (Casey, 2010; Earle, 1996). Flood (2011) notes that the confluence of these factors means that men may be simultaneously socialized and at risk for employing violence in relationships as well as uniquely well-positioned to positively influence the attitudes and behaviors of other men and boys.
Taken together, these indicate that men's participation is an important part of ending gender-based violence. Awareness of this has generated an explosion of educational and community mobilization programs aimed at increasing male antiviolence involvement. Sam's life and the contexts through which he moved during his time with Beth offer mileposts for exploring the nature of and opportunities represented by engaging men, from doing prevention work with individual boys and men to expanding men's involvement in antiviolence community mobilization and social change efforts.Preventing Violence Before It Begins: Engaging Boys
Stopping violent behavior before it develops, or primary prevention, means reaching people prior to the onset of a problem. Patterns of abusive behavior often emerge in adolescence (White & Smith, 2004) and sometimes take root initially as a result of risk factors present in childhood. Among these risk factors are experiencing childhood abuse and/or witnessing violence in the home (Ehrensaft et al., 2003). Although most child witnesses of domestic violence do not employ violence in their own adult relationships, rates of subsequent perpetration are higher among boys who have survived or witnessed maltreatment (Stith et al., 2000). There are hints that these dynamics were relevant for Sam. Beth notes that Sam's aunt compared Sam's behavior to that of his father, and Sam's patterns of physical abuse, control tactics, and emotional manipulation appeared to be well established when he met Beth as a young man.
[Page 266]Early adolescence is a critical window for prevention intervention—prior to the solidification of attitudes and behaviors associated with violence (Black & Weisz, 2008). Indeed, one form of engaging men and boys is reaching out early to all boys (and for that matter, all young people) to offer information, modeling, and support around enhancing relationship skills such as empathy, respect, communication, negotiation, and conflict management. Fortunately, prevention programs with demonstrated impacts on young people's subsequent violence perpetration or victimization have started to emerge. These include Safe Dates (Foshee et al., 2004), a primary prevention curriculum for middle school students that has been shown to reduce psychological, sexual, and moderate physical abuse perpetration, and Shifting Boundaries, a dating violence and sexual harassment prevention program demonstrated to reduce dating violence perpetration (Taylor, Stein, Woods, & Mumford, 2011). These programs also provide young men with the opportunity to take a positive, active role in taking a stand against violence through participation in poster contests, theater, and other contributions.
Effective prevention programs have become available only relatively recently; it is highly likely that neither Sam nor Beth encountered any preventative information about abuse in relationships as young people. Unfortunately, the rigorous implementation of tested intimate partner violence prevention curricula in schools is still relatively rare and is understandably circumscribed by the multiple competing demands faced by schools. Providing young people with access to information, discussions, and modeling about healthy relationships continues to be a critical need that could be more uniformly included in school curricula but also could be provided more frequently in other kinds of youth settings. Expanded adaptation of evidence-based programs to after-school and athletic programs, faith-based youth settings, and youth-oriented clubs and organizations could ensure that a greater proportion of young people have the opportunity to engage in conversations about healthy relationships, take part in efforts to promote safety and respect, or seek help if they are experiencing dating abuse.
The programs highlighted above can be characterized as universal primary prevention programs, which means that they are implemented with entire communities of young people (such as all students in a particular school), regardless of students' preexisting risk for violence. Given the well-established link between early adverse experiences and later risk for perpetration, it may also be especially critical to provide support and tailored prevention intervention to [Page 267]young people who have experienced risk factors for intimate partner violence and/or who are showing early signs of engaging in aggressive behavior. Currently, there are limited programs with documented effectiveness for this kind of prevention, typically called selective prevention. An exception is the Youth Relationships Project (Wolfe, Wekerle et al., 2003), a prevention program specifically for young people who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect that has been shown to reduce subsequent rates of physical and emotional abuse. Moving forward, a key task for the prevention community is to refine processes for the early identification of young people who are struggling and may be at risk for perpetrating or experiencing violence and to enhance interventions that support them in developing safe and respectful relationship skills.Engaging Men as Positive Bystanders
Men and boys also have proactive roles to play in their peer, family, and social environments, as norms and behaviors that men see reflected in these contexts can also create risk or permission for aggressive behavior toward women. Peer environments may implicitly or overtly reinforce the kinds of attitudes that are associated with violence toward women, such as belittling women or emphasizing traditional, “dominant” notions of masculinity. These links have been documented in male-dominated spaces, including some fraternities, athletic teams, and the military (Loh, Gidycz, Lobo, & Luthra, 2005; Rosen, Kaminski, Parmley, Knudsen, & Fancher, 2003). Believing that one's peers endorse violence against women or coercing women into sex is a powerful predictor of sexual aggression among men (Abbey et al., 2001). Further, many men underestimate the degree to which their male peers place importance upon consent in relationships (Fabiano, Perkins, Berkowitz, Linkenbach, & Stark, 2003) and assume that other men are more approving of violence against women than they actually are (Loh et al., 2005). This can create environments in which there is a false sense of generalized male approval for coercive or abusive behavior toward women. Men who have used violence in relationships are particularly likely to overestimate the degree to which other men use violence in their intimate partnerships (Neighbors et al., 2010). This kind of tacit or assumed male peer support for violence can be found in Beth's account of Sam's life, including faith-based leaders who reinforced traditional gender roles; friends who [Page 268]participated with Sam in watching violent pornography; and military officials, health care providers, and police officers who privileged Sam's words over Beth's. The fact that very few people ever challenged Sam directly about his behavior or attitudes meant that Sam could presume implicit approval of and entitlement to his treatment of Beth.
Although peer and social contexts can transmit and reinforce violence-supportive norms, they are also sites of great opportunity for positively engaging men and promoting norms of respect, equality, and nonviolence. The reality is that most men place a high value on respect and consent in their intimate relationships (Fabiano et al., 2003). Because men tend to believe that other men are more tolerant of disrespect toward women than they really are, however, this “silent majority” of respectful, nonviolent men may feel reluctant to speak up about behavior or comments that make them uncomfortable or with which they disagree. Conversely, when men see their peers speaking up about violence or believe that their male friends would support trying to prevent an assault, men report being more willing to take a stand themselves (Brown & Messman-Moore, 2010). We can speculate that there were many men in Sam's life—e.g., coworkers, friends, neighbors—who took issue with his behavior or the way he spoke about women but perhaps felt that they would be alone in their disagreement, felt unsafe speaking up, or did not know what to say or do. Indeed, research suggests that although many men would like to do something to address violence against women, they aren't sure either how to get involved in what they perceive as a “women's issue” or what to say in the face of inappropriate peer behavior (Casey & Ohler, 2012; Crooks, Goodall, Hughes, Jaffe, & Baker, 2007).
All of these dynamics have given rise to approaches to prevention that try to shift these perceived norms and to empower the vast majority of men who do not endorse violence to be active, positive bystanders. Bystander-based prevention programs engage both male and female members of school communities, college campuses, athletic teams, military units, and other groups as positive potential helpers. Program participants are provided with the specific skills and information needed to challenge disrespectful peer behavior or to safely intervene to prevent an assault. Bystander approaches hold considerable promise for not only stopping individual instances of inappropriate behavior or potential assaults but also for demonstrating that most people disagree with disrespect and abuse, thereby fundamentally reinforcing social norms [Page 269]of respect and nonviolence. For example, at the college level, the anti-sexual assault program, Bringing in the Bystander, has been shown to increase the frequency with which both male and female college students intervene in disrespectful peer behavior and to decrease their endorsement of rape-supportive beliefs (Banyard, Moynihan, & Plante, 2007). Similarly, the Coaching Boys into Men program engages male coaches as persuasive and positive mentors who can help the boys on their teams to develop respectful relationships with girls and women and to increase their willingness to be positive bystanders. A recent evaluation suggests that this program can increase boys' motivation to intervene in peers' misbehavior (Miller et al., 2012). These programs highlight the great potential for men to contribute to ending violence by calling out unacceptable peer behavior or speech, interrupting situations that may lead to an assault, and being positive role models for their friends and their children. These kinds of actions carry enormous possibilities for both circumscribing perpetrators' sense of entitlement to engage in abuse and for surfacing and reinforcing community norms of mutual respect and safety.
Men also have a powerful role to play in reaching out to survivors of violence. Beth identifies three men whose words made a lasting impression on her: an anonymous male caller who warned her about Sam's abuse, a principal at her son's school, and a pastor who told her that she did not have to accept Sam's behavior. On the whole, our communities need more responsive, empathetic, skilled helpers who can provide support to survivors. Because victims of domestic violence are much more likely to first come to the attention of friends, family members, health care providers, police, or other social service providers than they are to official domestic violence service agencies (Black et al., 2011), communities need more well-equipped and accessible avenues through which survivors can find support and assistance. Increasing the number of men with the knowledge and skills to reach out to survivors is a critical strategy for this. As family members, friends, employers, health care providers, and faith leaders, men (and women) are well positioned to reduce survivors' isolation, reinforce that violence is never okay or deserved, and increase victims' resources for safety and hope.
At the same time, some notes of caution are warranted here. Men who use violence against their partners can clearly be extremely dangerous, both to their victims and to people who attempt to intervene. Training anyone, including men, to reach out to survivors or to express disapproval about perpetrator behavior [Page 270]necessitates careful, nuanced attention to victim safety and empowerment and to reaching out in ways that do not further endanger survivors like Beth. Given Sam's extreme and dangerous behavior, it is very possible that attempts by others to directly challenge him or to overtly assist Beth could have increased the danger that Beth faced. Bystander programs therefore must (and do) balance empowering people to refuse to be silent about abusive behavior with doing so in ways that maintain their own and the victims' safety. Engaging men in violence prevention and as positive bystanders also means calibrating men's involvement to their evolving level of awareness about domestic violence and gender inequity. As wider circles of men are invited to take more leadership in violence prevention, some men will come to the work while still sorting through their own sexism or past use of violence. It is critical to both support men in this process and to avoid recreating patterns of gender inequity or placing women at risk by allowing unchecked misogyny or abusive behavior to enter into prevention efforts.Engaging Men as Fathers
One of the most important roles through which men can participate in fostering safe and respectful communities is fatherhood. Increasingly, men's antiviolence engagement efforts have approached men through their role as fathers and built on men's nearly universal desire to be good parents and role models for their children. Initiating conversations with men by starting with the topic of fatherhood can be an entrée that is compelling and important to men and that lays the foundation for later broaching more sensitive issues related to violence against women and men's roles in ending violence. For example, in a global study of programs that engage men in violence prevention, Carlson et al. (in press) found that many organizations initially reach out to men through their roles as fathers and family members, which serves as a point of personal connection to related conversations about modeling nonviolence and respect. In a 2007 survey of over 1,000 U.S. men, nearly 70% of respondents reported that they had already had conversations with their sons or daughters about the importance of healthy relationships (Hart Research Associates, 2007), suggesting an already existing wealth of awareness among men about their position as role models for positive relationship skills. Even in interventions with men who have used domestic violence, fatherhood is emerging as an important [Page 271]focus and point of motivation (Tolman & Edleson, 2011). Fatherhood, therefore, is both a critical, influential role that men occupy in antiviolence work and a compelling strategy for prevention programs trying to help men make a personal connection to the issue of violence.Engaging Men as Agents of Social Change
Beth's story is rife with examples of ways that larger social systems and institutions lacked responsiveness, upheld policies that were deleterious to her safety, or failed to detect the abuse that was occurring in her life. Since her story began, in the early 1970s, massive changes have taken place in the policies and practices of law enforcement, the military, and criminal justice and health systems to radically increase responsiveness to survivors and to hold men who use violence accountable. For example, the Department of Defense established family advocacy programs in branches of the military in 1981 and has since implemented policies to make it easier for victims of intimate partner violence to seek services confidentially without automatically harming their spouses' careers (Rentz et al., 2006). These changes are laudable but incomplete, and men have important roles to play in continuing to advocate for policy, legislation, and practices that support victim safety and offender accountability in the context of intimate partner violence. Although men's engagement at this level has been less defined and researched, male antiviolence allies have been active at working to foster gender equity at larger system and community levels. Globally, men's antiviolence organizations have formed regional and international coalitions that collaborate with women's organizations and domestic violence service agencies to advocate for criminal justice, law enforcement, and social system responsiveness to violence against women (Kimball, Edleson, Tolman, Neugut, & Carlson, in press). Initiatives at this level also employ community mobilization strategies, which have the goal of reaching and rallying larger numbers of average community members around the issue of violence. Perhaps the most well-known example of community mobilization is the White Ribbon Campaign (http://www.whiteribbon.ca), an international event picked up and organized by local communities that can include media and educational campaigns, engaging men in signing a nonviolence pledge, and the distribution of white ribbons as signs of commitment to peaceful, respectful families.[Page 272]Conclusion
In the years since Beth's story was first published, there has been a fundamental shift in how men and boys are included in efforts to end violence, from being addressed primarily as potential perpetrators to being invited to lend their strengths to a shared goal of ending abuse. With this shift has been an explosion of programs aimed at preventing abusive behavior before it develops and of engaging men as antiviolence change agents and partners. While much remains to be learned about the most effective way to reach out to men and to employ their participation in ways that reduce rates of violence, men's engagement has become a critical component of comprehensive violence prevention efforts. In moving toward an increased focus on positively engaging men, it is critical to note that involving men is not an end goal unto itself, but one strategy within the larger project of ending violence and fostering safe families and communities. In increasing men's participation, it is essential to avoid usurping women's leadership in and historical contributions to the movement to end gender-based violence and to instead support and be accountable to those accomplishments. With broader community participation, including that of men, in promoting healthy, respectful relationships; intervening early in abuse; and advocating for policies that effectively address gender-based violence; we can accelerate progress toward the ultimate goal of violence-free communities.
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About the Authors[Page 283]Beth, about the time she met Sam, 1971.
Beth Sipe is a formerly battered woman who has become a survivor. After seventeen years of abuse, she left her violent husband, only to be more severely harassed and threatened when she became independent. The mother of three adult children, she has reclaimed her identity and lives a quiet, productive life.Beth, about the time she met Sam, 1971.
Evelyn J. Hall, PhD, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice for fourteen years. Concurrently, she has served as Clinical Supervisor of the Counseling Office for Temporary Assistance for Domestic Crisis (TADC), a program dealing specifically with domestic violence. A guest speaker for various national and local groups, she has taught continuing education classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, such as Women and Violence, and Families in Crisis.[Page 284]
About the Contributors[Page 285]
Raquel Kennedy Bergen, PhD, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is the author or co-author of numerous scholarly publications and seven books on violence against women including, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers; and Issues in Intimate Violence. With Claire Renzetti and Jeff Edleson she edited, Sourcebook on Violence Against Women and Violence Against Women: Classic Statements. She has served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission since 2004 and serves on the board of VawNet and the Kristin Mitchell Foundation. She has volunteered as an advocate for battered women and sexual assault survivors for the past 23 years. Her current research explores the intersection of women's experiences of sexual, physical and emotional violence.
Juliana Carlson, AM, LGSW, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, where she also is a research assistant and community faculty member. She received her AM from the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. Juliana worked for over ten years as a women's counselor/advocate in domestic violence shelters and as a family and community practitioner. Her research interests include a global understanding of engaging men in gender-based violence prevention, formal supports for new and expectant fathers to reduce child exposure to domestic violence, and the intersectional analysis of poverty and child welfare.
[Page 286]Erin Casey, PhD, is Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Washington, Tacoma. She received her MSW and PhD in Social Welfare at the University of Washington, Seattle and practiced as a social worker in the fields of domestic and sexual violence. Erin's research interests include elucidating the etiology of violence perpetration, examining ecological approaches to violence prevention, including engaging men proactively as anti-violence allies, and exploring intersections between violence, masculinities, and sexual risk. She is currently co-director of the Mobilizing Men for Violence Prevention Research Project, a multi-University collaboration aimed at examining global efforts to partner with men to prevent gender-based violence.
Jeffrey L. Edleson, PhD, is Dean and Professor in the University of California, Berkeley School of Social Welfare. He is Professor Emeritus in the University of Minnesota School of Social Work and founding director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse. He has published more than 120 articles and 12 books on domestic violence, group work, and program evaluation. Edleson serves on the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.
Leigh Goodmark, JD, is Professor of Law and Co-director of the Center on Applied Feminism at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the author of A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System (NYU Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Violence Against Women and the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Professor Goodmark previously directed the Children and Domestic Violence Project at the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and represented women and children in the District of Columbia in custody, visitation, child support, protective order, and other civil matters.
Claire M. Renzetti, PhD, is the Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair for Studies of Violence Against Women in the Center for Research on Violence Against Women, and Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Kentucky. She is editor of the international, interdisciplinary journal, Violence Against Women; co-editor with Jeffrey Edleson of the Interpersonal Violence book series for Oxford University Press; and editor of the Gender and Justice book series for University of California Press. She has authored or edited 16 books as well as numerous book chapters and articles in professional journals. Her current [Page 287]research includes an ethnography of a faith-based anti-trafficking organization, a study of the effects of religiosity on intimate partner violence perpetration, and a survey of NGOs providing services to domestic sex trafficking victims. Dr. Renzetti has held elected and appointed positions on the governing bodies of several national professional organizations. She is the recipient of the Saltzman Award for Contributions to Practice, awarded by the Women and Crime Division of the American Society of Criminology, and the the Lee Founders Award, from the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
William H. Smith, Esq., graduated from Davison College in 1975 and Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles in 1978. He is admitted to practice in California and Nevada and is a member of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, and Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He has tried more than 75 jury trials, including several capital murder cases.
Jeff R. Temple, PhD, is an assistant professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he also serves as the Director of the Behavioral Health and Research Program. He received his PhD from the University of North Texas and completed his predoctoral internship and postdoctoral research fellowship in clinical psychology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Dr. Temple's research focuses on the etiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment of intimate partner violence and teen dating violence. His research has been funded through the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, and several state and foundation agencies.