The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics

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Lundy Bancroft, Jay G. Silverman & Daniel Ritchie

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    Foreword

    Twenty years ago, my colleague David Wolfe and I began extensive clinical and research explorations to better understand and counsel children growing up in violent homes. We were troubled to discover through our work that community professionals in various helping and legal systems were largely overlooking the plight of children exposed to the battering of their mothers. Although the potential traumatic effects of child physical and sexual abuse were widely recognized at that time, the similar psychological impact on children of domestic violence was little understood. The community appeared to accept the misconception that children without visible injuries could not be suffering great harm.

    A further obstacle to expanding professional understanding in this area has been the tendency of batterers to make themselves unavailable for participation in services or research studies, so they have often remained invisible and poorly understood. Our early studies, for example, often centered on abused women in shelters because of their accessibility to us. Unfortunately, this focus led us to link children's emotional and behavioral problems primarily to their mother's physical and psychological well-being, without adequate attention to how the conduct of batterers was fomenting the dynamics we were observing. While we were correct in observing that children often recovered more successfully when their mothers healed well, we did not always recognize the complexity of the psychological injury to children and the disruption to family dynamics that batterers can cause.

    Fortunately, progress in this area has been substantial in recent years. Since we wrote Children of Battered Women in 1990, there have been many important scholarly publications on the special needs of children in violent homes, which in turn have contributed to steps forward in policy, research, intervention, and prevention. Many communities in the United States and Canada now offer specialized programs for these children, and service providers are sometimes connected to the broader domestic violence network through local coordinating committees or councils.

    Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman have now further deepened our understanding of the trauma done to children of battered women with this very thoughtful and practical volume that turns the spotlight onto the attitudes and behaviors of batterers as parents, examining in concrete and illuminating detail the home conditions that domestic violence creates. The authors simultaneously clarify many misconceptions that still exist about the short- and long-term impact batterers can have on children.

    Bancroft and Silverman move beyond the narrow clinical perspective that is sometimes applied to viewing the emotional and developmental risks to these children, offering in its place a view that takes into account the complex ways in which a batterer's abusive and controlling behaviors are woven into the fabric of daily life. The shift in perspective that the authors bring is perhaps captured most succinctly by their appropriate recommendation that the current term children exposed to domestic violence be replaced with children exposed to batterers. This change serves to underline batterers' accountability and responsibility for the effects of domestic violence in a way that impersonal terms such as violent homes or conjugal abuse do not. Perhaps more important, the new term draws attention to the fact that the parenting of batterers can bring multiple sources of trauma to children's lives in addition to the terror of violence toward their mothers. For example, Bancroft and Silverman document the evidence that batterers are at a greatly increased risk to physically or sexually abuse children, often use the children as weapons against the mother, can sow important divisions between children and their mothers and among siblings, and may be psychologically abusive to children. They outline the complex and insidious processes through which batterers hamper children's social and emotional development.

    Bancroft and Silverman also shed light on the common misconception that the trauma to children of domestic violence ends when the parents separate, devoting much of their text to exploring how the abuse of power and control in violent relationships may continue through disputes over child custody, visitation, and child support. They successfully challenge existing theories about high-conflict divorce and parental alienation that minimize and misinterpret the batterer's pattern of manipulative and coercive behaviors and that tend to shift blame for the children's emotional difficulties—including their fear of their fathers—onto battered mothers.

    I have observed that family law lawyers and judges often fall prey to becoming the agents of batterers to continue the harassment of abused partners through prolonged court proceedings and conflicts about postseparation parenting. Because batterers are more likely to fight for custody of children and, as likely as nonbatterers, to be successful in this action, more intensive reading and training in this area is essential for forensic professionals. I happened to be interrupted in the midst of reading The Batterer as Parent by an emergency call by a lawyer for an abused mother who had just received a court judgment ordering her to share joint custody with the batterer on the basis that the batterer had never abused the children directly, only the mother. These words came from a well-regarded judge with over two decades of child custody litigation experience.

    To assist in addressing problems of this kind, Bancroft and Silverman offer systematic and useful guidelines for assessing the risk to children from batterers. This assessment tool should become a standard part of the practice of custody evaluators and courts in making decisions that promote the safety and security of children. In addition, the authors offer complementary guidelines on evaluating genuine change in batterers as parents, which are essential given that custody and visitation disputes may continue before the court for many years. Although constructive interventions sometimes take place with the batterer during this period, perhaps including the imposition of supervised visitation, the court may be placed under constant pressure to reduce such safeguards and counseling requirements based on promises rather than on actual changes in the batterer.

    This book will challenge communities to extend services and training on behalf of children exposed to batterers. A clear focus on the impact of batterers as parents will enhance the quality and comprehensive nature of intervention and prevention services. Bancroft and Silverman should also inspire researchers to test the many implied hypotheses about batterers' impacts on children.

    As someone with 30 years of experience working with the police and courts in a more collaborative response to domestic violence, I found that The Batterer as Parent left me with a fresh perspective and new ideas for clinical practice and research in this area. I am confident that other readers will be stimulated in a similar fashion. I hope that this book comes to be seen as required reading for all judges, lawyers, custody evaluators, child protection workers, therapists, and advocates involved in domestic violence cases.

    PeterJaffe, Ph.D., Director, Center for Children and Families in the Justice System

    Preface

    The Batterer as Parent is rooted in the experience of doing counseling work in batterer intervention programs. The years spent directly involved in learning about and challenging the thinking and behavior of abusive men led to the core insights that we have set out to share here. We observed countless times how psychologically destructive our clients were, leading us to a growing set of questions about how a batterer's presence in the home would affect children emotionally day to day, not just during his periodic incidents of outright physical or sexual violence. We set out, then, to describe what it is exactly that batterers do at home that have such profound implications for the children exposed to them. The research that we were originally aware of described emotional and behavioral effects on children of exposure to domestic violence but did not seem to explore much the mechanisms by which that harm took place. What exactly are the sources and characteristics of the suffering that the children of battered women endure? Is their distress primarily tied to the trauma of witnessing frightening violence toward their mothers? Or is this violence perhaps just the beginning of the challenges that these children face? Do batterers differ from nonbattering men only when they are being violent, or is there actually a much more extensive set of distinctions in how abusers relate in the home?

    As we began to examine these questions, we came across an extensive body of research that appeared to be less well-known—or at least less known to us. We found, in fact, that dozens of researchers had explored below the surface of children's experiences and had reached conclusions that were often startlingly similar to what we were observing clinically. We saw an increasing collection of findings indicating that the behavior of men who batter sends many destructive ripples through the lives of families, ripples that are far more complex than have commonly been recognized. The first level radiates from a batterer's day-to-day behaviors toward his partner, each of which has implications for children in the home. The second grows from the batterer's approach to interacting with children, which is often built upon the same set of selfish and dehumanizing attitudes that drives his treatment of his partner. And the third level reverberates in every direction, for it has to do with the family interaction patterns that a batterer engenders, affecting all relationships in the home. A grasp of these dynamics is critical to the task of any provider—and to a battered mother herself—who wishes to promote recovery and healing in a family affected by the actions of a battering man.

    Our goal, then, is to prepare the reader to identify and to respond to the range of individual and family dynamics that can be created by battering behavior. Moreover, we are eager to help community members understand that these dynamics rarely disappear when a battered mother leaves her abusive partner; they live on in the patterns of interaction that have been established and, often more directly, in the batterer's use of ongoing intimidation and violence and in his use of litigation for custody or visitation. Therefore, professionals and others wishing to assist mothers and children need to understand a host of sources of emotional injury to a mother and her children, as well as appropriate strategies for fostering recovery. In fact, we propose in this book some substantial shifts in the thinking that currently prevails regarding the nature of children's trauma and their needs for recovery in cases where they have been exposed to domestic violence perpetrators.

    As we prepare this second edition of The Batterer as Parent (with the assistance of Daniel Ritchie), we observe important changes from a decade ago. The available research on children of battered women has grown tremendously. We know more than ever about children's distress, the impact on mothers, and the intergenerational transmission of domestic violence perpetration. There have been leaps forward in the development of advocacy and therapeutic strategies for supporting the safety of children and helping them heal. Far more professionals are aware now that batterers cause harm to mother–child and sibling relationships and understand the importance of directing services toward healing those relationships, not just individuals. We have also seen more attention being paid than before to the parenting of men who batter and the need to influence their treatment of children as part of holding them accountable overall.

    There have been other important developments over this period that we observe with less enthusiasm. Research on domestic violence over this period has become less focused on the primacy of identifying and stopping male violence against females, drifting more toward a gender-neutral view of domestic violence that divorces this crime from its historical and social roots. As we explain in this edition, we have grave concerns about the implications of this research trend for children. This period has also seen an exponential growth in the use of “parental alienation” theories and charges against battered mothers; modern society has come to a stance where it accuses battered mothers of parental unfitness for exposing their children to batterers and then, postseparation, does an abrupt about-face to accuse them of unfitness for their efforts to limit their children's exposure. In this context, we have felt it urgent to expand considerably our discussion of parental alienation theories. In a somewhat related development, there has been a growth in the belief that there are many men who use violence against their female partners without any intent to control or intimidate in what has been termed common couple violence. However, our reading of the research suggests that this phenomenon is actually not at all common, and we raise concerns in these pages about the acceptance of these questionable formulations.

    The literature on children's recovery has grown some over the past 10 years but still has received much less attention than other aspects of domestic violence. We have added some attention to these questions but remain eager to see more energy in our field aimed in this direction.

    We direct this book to domestic violence professionals, therapists, child protective and court personnel, battered mothers, and anyone else who is in a personal or professional position to touch the lives of children of battered women. We believe, for example, that school personnel, parent trainers, custody evaluators, and providers of supervised visitation can all draw from what we have written. It is our hope that the insights that we have shared here, combined with our detailed practice recommendations, can increase the effectiveness of interventions on behalf of the children of battered women.

    Although we have referred extensively to published research, this book is grounded largely in our extensive experience working directly with men who batter and their families. As group leaders in programs for abusers, we have counseled over 1,000 battering men and have been involved in approximately an additional 1,000 cases through supervising other batterer intervention counselors. Our clients have covered a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and racial groups, including men from over 20 different countries of origin. Our clients have included a few hundred voluntary participants, with the remainder court mandated; voluntary clients have tended to be middle to upper-middle class, whereas court-mandated clients have come from across the class spectrum, depending on the community in which a particular court is located. We have also offered a large number of case consultations to child protective workers and attorneys. In addition, Bancroft has performed approximately 50 custody evaluations for various Massachusetts courts, with most of those cases involving allegations of domestic violence. We also have legal case experience from other states and provinces as a result of our consulting work. Silverman has produced a large body of new research since our first edition, and you will see numerous references to that work in the pages ahead.

    We acknowledge that the clinical experience upon which we have based many of our conclusions, although extensive, has been restricted to a few geographical sites. Our work in batterer intervention programs also involves a preponderance of court-mandated clients; at the same time, our custody evaluations and research interviews largely have involved cases without such criminal proceedings. We wish to emphasize the need for further research to test and deepen the analyses and recommendations that we have put forth in this book and to expand their applicability to diverse racial, cultural, and socioeco-nomic groups. We also look forward to refinement by other professionals of the tools we are proposing for distinguishing the level of risk that a particular batterer presents to children's well-being. Finally, we wish to underline the fact that the parenting behavior of batterers appears to fall on a continuum, as we strive to make clear in the pages ahead, and that batterers do not all manifest the full range of parenting problems that we describe here.

    We wish to make two notes regarding terminology. First, throughout this book, we have chosen to use the term batterers rather than the phrase men who batter. We understand that the former term runs the risk of creating the impression that battering behavior is unchangeable or inherent, which is not our belief; rather, we employ the term for a different reason, one having to do with gender inclusivity. We believe that the research and clinical evidence available to date on lesbian and gay male batterers suggest that the preponderance of our descriptions of battering men may also be substantially accurate for those who abuse same-sex partners. We therefore have chosen to use the more inclusive phrase.

    Second, we have tried to adopt the most widely used legal terms possible, but some definitions are necessary here because terminology and court structure vary from state to state. We have used family court to mean any court handling custody, visitation, and child support. We find that, in many states, these courts are distinct from those having jurisdiction over child protective matters, which are commonly called juvenile or dependency courts. The terms custody evaluator and guardian ad litem refer to anyone appointed by a court to make recommendations regarding custody or visitation; we find that, in most states, this role tends to be filled by a lawyer or mental health professional.

    Finally, we wish to thank a number of people for their contributions, intended or otherwise, to this book. We are grateful to our editors at SAGE, Jeff Edleson and Claire Renzetti; David Adams, Susan Cayouette, Chuck Turner, and Ted German, all currently or formerly of Emerge, the original batterer intervention program in the United States; Anita Raj; Lonna Davis; Kim Slote and Carrie Cuthbert; Michelle Lambert and Doug Gaudette; Joan Zorza; Mo Therese Hannah; Barry Goldstein; Carlene Pavlos; and Steve Holmes. We wish also to thank the Ford Foundation for its funding of research on custody and visitation litigation in the context of domestic violence, research upon which we have drawn in this book. We appreciate the comments provided to us from the following reviewers: Angella Lewellyn Jones, Elon University; Jennifer Kukis, Lorain County Community College; Philip M. Stahl; and Amy Chanmugam, University of Texas, Austin. Finally, our thanks to Peter Jaffe for his encouragement regarding early drafts of articles that became chapters in this book and for generously agreeing to contribute a Foreword. Lundy Bancroft wishes to thank Carole Sousa, who was the pioneer in educating him on the effects of domestic violence on children.

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    About the Authors

    Lundy Bancroft is also the author of Why Does He Do That?, the country's most-read book on domestic violence, and of When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse. The Batterer as Parent won the 2004 Pro Humanitate Literary Award from the North American Resource Center for Child Welfare. Lundy was a counselor for batterers and a clinical supervisor in batterer intervention programs for 15 years, with involvement in over 2,000 cases. He also served extensively as a custody evaluator (Guardian ad litem), child abuse investigator, and expert witness in child custody and child welfare cases, and he led groups for teenage boys exposed to domestic violence. He has been training judges, probation officers, and other court personnel on men who batter and their effects on children for 16 years and has been a frequent presenter for child protective personnel, therapists, law enforcement, and medical providers.

    Jay G. Silverman, Ph.D., is Professor of Medicine and Global Public Health at the University of California at San Diego. He is a developmental psychologist with 20 years of experience in partner violence as a practitioner and researcher, including direct counseling experience with hundreds of men who batter. He has led multiple large-scale international and domestic research programs on issues of gender-based violence against adolescent and adult women and girls; this work has resulted in more than 100 studies, many of which have been published in the highest tier of peer-review scientific journals including Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, Pediatrics, and the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. His research has included examinations of the social contextual influences on the etiology of male-perpetrated partner violence; the nature and health consequences of adolescent dating violence; perpetration of child abuse among men who perpetrate partner violence; judicial behavior and the experiences of battered mothers in child custody cases; the role of partner violence in men's transmission of HIV to their female partners; the nature and HIV risks associated with trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation; and the role of partner violence in unintended and teen pregnancy, coercion regarding abortion-related decisions, poor health during pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and infant and child morbidity and mortality.

    Daniel Ritchie, M.S.W., has worked with military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse and with children and adolescents experiencing a wide range of psychosocial issues including domestic violence. He has contributed to work published in Smith College Studies in Social Work.

    Margaret Miller, Ed.D., is a psychologist in private practice working with children and adolescents. She is the former Clinical Director at the Family Advocacy Center at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she specialized in treating children and adolescents who had been traumatized by sexual abuse or witnessing domestic violence, and in evaluating cases of suspected or alleged abuse.


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