Women's Perceptions of the Impact of a Domestic Violence Treatment Program for Male Perpetrators

Karen S. Hayward, PhD, RN, SANE-A; Susan Steiner, PhD, RNC, FNP; Kathy Sproule, MS, RN, FNP-C


J Foren Nurs. 2007;3(2):77-83. 

In This Article


Of the eight participants, six were employed in nonprofessional jobs and two were students. All of the women except one had completed high school. The mean age of the subjects was 32 years. Seven of the women were Caucasian, and the remaining subject was Hispanic and was English speaking. All of the women's male partners were found to have a history of domestic violence in their homes of origin. The five areas of inquiry in this study included communication, alternatives to violence, personal safety, accountability, and remorse.


In this study the majority of women interviewed described changes in communication pattern in the relationship as a positive outcome of their partner's participation in batterer treatment. Six of the eight women said the communication between themselves and their partners since participation in treatment had improved. Of these six, four specifically asserted that their partners were better able to express their feelings and emotions.

"We talk a lot, I mean I think it's better. It's definitely better. We talk about more things, like what might be bothering him."

"We do talk more now when problems come up and he doesn't just blow up at me all the time any more."

Alternatives to Violence

When asked about the alternatives to violence their partners were using since treatment (if they had used any), seven of the women in the study said their partners had employed diversion techniques. Diversion was found to be an effective alternative to violence in most families. One woman said her husband was so much better at controlling his anger that he rarely had to use the diversion, that they were nearly always able to discuss issues reasonably.

Diversion techniques used by the men included going for a drive, engaging in activities he enjoyed outdoors or in another part of the house away from his partner, leaving the house, going home (for those who were no longer living together), and going to work.

"Now he leaves the house when he gets mad. He goes and drives around usually."

"Thinking before he reacts. I'll go home or he'll go home. I wouldn't trade having my own house right now, I just wouldn't. I mean if it works, it works. We have had issues with that in the past, we both wanted everything to work now, but we've learned that everything takes time."

Personal Safety

The study participants were asked to compare the level of safety they felt since their partner completed the treatment program to how they felt before he started treatment. Again, seven of eight women indicated they felt safer with their partner after he had completed treatment, than they did before. Six of the seven were much more comfortable in their partner's presence, and one said she felt more certain that he was not going to harm her physically, but felt that he would possibly damage property if he became angry. The other participant perceived her partner, from whom she was separated, as still capable of hurting her physically, and remained reluctant to let him in her house, especially if he was under the influence of alcohol.

"I have increased feelings of safety. I am definitely more comfortable with him, but that could be because of me."

"I definitely feel much safer. It was hard for me to predict how he was going to act or what was going to make him mad. I've learned a lot too. One thing he learned from the program was how to ask for help. He would never ask for help before but he is more open now."


When asked about the level of responsibility the subjects felt their partner had taken for their violent behavior since treatment, two of the women said their partner definitely took responsibility for his past behavior. Three women said their partner had taken partial responsibility for his actions. Six women perceived their partner as continuing to blame them for past violence, including the subjects who said their partner took only partial responsibility.

"He still thinks it's my fault. He believes that if I wouldn't have acted in a certain way [pause] we don't even try to talk about stuff like that."

"He realizes that even though I might start a fight with him by asking him to help me with stuff around the house when he's tired [pause] his job is really stressful. Anyway, now he knows that even though I don't always act the way he wants me to, it isn't right to push me around and stuff."


When asked whether they had perceived their partner as genuinely remorseful for the use of violence in the relationship, seven of the women in the study indicated that they had felt their partner was remorseful.

The ways the women thought the men were expressing remorse were quite diverse. One woman said she felt her husband was showing his remorse by going to private counseling with her. She also perceived him as being more sincere and asking more often for her input in making household decisions. Many of the women said their partners validated their feelings and showed more understanding than before they completed the treatment program. Four women said their partner had actually verbally expressed to them that they were genuinely sorry for their actions. Two said they perceived their partners as feeling guilty about their past actions, and one said her husband was sorry when he was sober. One woman said her husband was showing he was truly remorseful by trying to help other men in the same situation. While many of the women said their partner was remorseful for using violent behavior, most contradicted this by saying he continued to blame her for the violence.

"He has told me he is sorry at different times. I can tell that he is. Sometimes I can tell that he feels guilty."

"He said he was sorry for pulling my hair... He didn't really beat me up or anything, but I know he feels bad for the way he used to act."

Central Themes

From in-depth examination of the responses to the questions, four central themes emerged. These included the impact of additional counseling of the partner and/or victim on the relationship, the need to address past or present substance abuse, continued emotional and psychological abuse since treatment, and self-blame on the part of the victim.

Most of the participants viewed their partners as being more open when communicating their feelings and attributed this change, at least in part, to the Men's Nonviolence course. The women who were most positive in their perception of the change in communication were the women who had also sought counseling on their own during this period, and whose partners obtained counseling in addition to the court-ordered treatment program.

Another theme that emerged through data analysis was that of past or present substance abuse. Fifty percent of the perpetrators in this study were using illicit drugs or abusing alcohol at the time of their arrest. With one exception, the men had cut back considerably or stopped abusing substances completely during or since completing the treatment program. The women whose partners had decreased their substance use or abstained entirely described more of a positive impact on the relationship than did the women whose partners continued to abuse alcohol. Women whose partners had continued to use substance(s) expressed a continued feeling of fear in the relationship exacerbated by the use of alcohol and/or illicit drugs.

Although many of the women continued to take partial blame for their partner's actions, most of the men had completely stopped abusing their partners physically. The men were described as more predictable by most of their female partners and all the women felt their perpetrators were better able to control their anger. Whether or not the women sought private counseling for themselves, many continued the theme of self-blame that is common among victims of domestic violence. The reasons stated for the perception of being at fault included drinking with their partner and starting arguments with the perpetrator.

Seven out of eight female victims said they felt safer with their partner since he had completed the treatment, however these victims said they were continuing to experience some form of emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse. Although for most victims in the study the physical violence had decreased following their partner's treatment, these other forms of abuse had continued particularly in the presence of partner use of alcohol or illicit drugs.


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