Criminology Batterer Intervention Programs
Christopher D. Maxwell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0275


Since the mid-1970s, Western-leaning nations have focused on measuring and responding swiftly and punitively to domestic violence in all of its many forms (e.g., child abuse, spouse abuse, elder mistreatment). Within this arena, many advocates, academics, governmental staff, and legislatures have focused their attention on addressing what is now generally labeled intimate partner violence (a.k.a., wife abuse, domestic violence, spouse assault, batterer). While significant resources have gone toward understanding the victims’ experiences and providing them with both justice and comprehensive services, a similar focus has not existed for understanding and effectively intervening with the perpetrators of this violence. Within this space, just two questions have garnered the most interest among scholars and advocates. The first question is whether criminal sanctions, particularly the use of arrest, specifically deter future violence. The second is whether the perpetrators’ participation in a therapeutic batterer intervention program (BIP), particularly following a court order, reduces their likelihood of future violence. This bibliography focuses on studies that assess BIPs, specifically those designed to test whether BIPs reduce violence between intimate partners. It provides a general overview of BIPs, a section describing the development of the Duluth BIP, a review of BIP outcome and attrition studies, and a discussion of recent developments regarding the nature of these interventions.

General Overviews

Batterer intervention programs (BIP) have existed in one form or another since at least the 1970s. Saunders 1977 notes that the first generation of these programs used a range of approaches, including addressing family stressors (e.g., parenting, finances, communications, sexuality); the batterers’ substance use; and/or other mental health challenges, such as difficulties with emotion regulation. With the advent of preferred arrest laws for wife abuse in the 1980s, BIPs proliferated across the United States. Babcock, et al. 2007 describes the earliest programs as largely grassroots efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence in communities. These grassroots efforts were followed by regulatory bodies in many states developing standards for the design and curriculum of these programs, often without an empirical basis. Healey, et al. 1998 reports that by the late 1990s, thirty-seven states had or were developing standards for batterers programs and that 80 percent of BIP clients were mandated to attend by a court. Rothman, et al. 2003 reports that by 2001, BIPs existed in every continent and in at least thirty-eight countries. Saunders 2008 describes the nature and outcomes of the men’s group intervention model, the most common of all BIP formats. Murphy and Meis 2008 summarizes the rationale supporting the use of individual treatment programs, and McCollum and Stith 2008 analyzes the evidence for couple counseling and proposes steps to use this modality safely. The individual and couple counseling regimens are both considered controversial approaches, despite research that often shows equivalent outcomes relative to standard BIP. The edited volume Lehmann and Simmons 2009 describes seven newly proposed programs based on a strength-based perspective that arose during the 2000s. While much of the policy debates and research programs have focused on male participation in BIPs, Kernsmith and Kernsmith 2009 reports an evolving interest in how to address, therapeutically, female batterers as well.

  • Babcock, Julia C., Brittany E. Canady, Katherine Graham, and Leslie Scharlt. 2007. The evolution of battering interventions: From the dark ages into the scientific age. In Family interventions in domestic violence: A handbook of gender-inclusive theory and treatment. Edited by J. Hamel and T. L. Nicholls, 215–246. New York: Springer.

    This chapter provides a brief history of how BIPs developed in the United States and a comprehensive assessment of why the initial protocols failed to reduce violence among program participants. The chapter then provides a detailed roadmap for how program protocols can be modified to more closely align them with the evidence regarding the causes of intimate partner violence and with treatment modalities that are likely effective.

  • Healey, Kerry, Christine Smith, and Chris O’Sullivan. 1998. Batterer intervention: Program approaches and criminal justice strategies. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

    This report provides a comprehensive review of the early literature about the first generation of batterer intervention programs. The authors summarize the literature about the problem and causes of intimate partner violence followed by a review of the first twenty years of literature regarding batterer intervention programming. They then describe how the criminal justice system uses batterers’ treatment programs to respond to intimate partner violence.

  • Kernsmith, Poco, and Roger Kernsmith. 2009. Treating female perpetrators: State standards for batterer intervention services. Social Work 54.4: 341–349.

    DOI: 10.1093/sw/54.4.341

    This paper examines the early state standards guiding batterer intervention services to assess the extent to which they address services for women and differentiate between men and women. The authors report that few states require services that meet the needs of female batterers. They recommend that researchers develop gender-sensitive models that address the unique circumstances of women referred to batterer intervention services.

  • Lehmann, Peter, and Catherine A. Simmons, eds. 2009. Strengths-based batterer intervention: A new paradigm in ending family violence. New York: Springer.

    This book provides insight into eight theoretically based approaches for batterer therapeutic models techniques. All approaches were chosen for inclusion because the editors believed these approaches rely on a strengths-based approach as a mechanism to end intimate partner violence. The proposed techniques range from motivational interviewing to emotional regulation strategies. The book includes cases studies and counseling tools and is appropriate for social work and other clinical training programs.

  • McCollum, Eric E., and Sandra M. Stith. 2008. Couples treatment for interpersonal violence: A review of outcome research literature and current clinical practices. Violence and Victims 23.2: 187–201.

    DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.23.2.187

    This article reviews studies assessing couple treatment programs and finds that this strategy is as effective as traditional male-only batterer intervention program. The authors provide a list of practices to use when using this protocol, including connecting programs with the community’s domestic coordinating committee, screening couple for inclusion in couple treatment, and including safety planning and ongoing safety assessment with contingency plans for increased risk.

  • Murphy, Christopher M., and Laura A. Meis. 2008. Individual treatment of intimate partner violence perpetrators. Violence and Victims 23.2: 173–186.

    DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.23.2.173

    This article describes individual treatment interventions programs for intimate partner perpetrators and the research that supports their use. Initial research indicates that motivational interviewing, conducted individually, can increase clients’ engagement in the change process. The authors discuss both the challenges and benefits of group treatment and individual treatment, respectively, for this specific clinical population.

  • Rothman, Emil F., Alexander Butchart, and Magdalena Cerda. 2003. Intervening with perpetrators of intimate partner violence: A global perspective. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

    The report provides results of an international survey of batterer intervention program. The survey used quantitative and qualitative questions to describe the nature of these programs’ protocols. Fifty-six programs from thirty-eight countries completed the survey. The authors report that a notable percentage of BIP protocols are not based upon systematic evidence, lack trained staff, and are not linked with battered women’s service agencies.

  • Saunders, Daniel G. 1977. Marital violence: Dimensions of the problem and modes of intervention. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 3.1: 43–52.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.1977.tb00444.x

    This paper reviews early theories explaining intimate partner violence and methods for treating batterers. The author identifies shortcomings with the early theories and treating protocols. The author then describes an intervention for couples that aims to enhance the couple’s problem-solving abilities and provides suggestions for improving law enforcement training, legal reforms, and shelters for the victims of abuse.

  • Saunders, Daniel G. 2008. Group interventions for men who batter: A summary of program descriptions and research. Violence and Victims 23.2: 156–172.

    DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.23.2.156

    This article summarizes research on men’s batter intervention programs implemented in a group setting and provides a narrative review of research assessing the effectiveness of such programs.

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