Below is a summary of a January 2013 report entitled, What works to reduce recidivism by domestic violence offenders? This report was published by Washington State Institute for Public Policy. All statistics, research findings, and information related to Washington state’s domestic violence laws presented below, were drawn from the Institute’s report which can be accessed here..
Following a 2012 legislative mandate, Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) set out to update it’s review of the literature on the efficacy of domestic violence (DV) treatment programs. In particular, WSIPP focused on treatment outcomes for offenders mandated to Duluth-style programs. According to the institute, Washington State law requires that DV treatment programs adhere to Duluth Model guidelines which conceptualize domestic violence as the following: “…a gender-specific behavior which is socially and historically constructed. Men are socialized to take control and to use physical force when necessary to maintain dominance”. Substance abuse, mental illness, dysfunctional relationship dynamics, and other potentially relevant etiological issues are not seen as related within this model. In Washington State–as well as in states with similar laws–the use of non-Duluth treatment programs such as cognitive behavioral therapy, substance abuse treatment, or anger management is prohibited.
In January 2013, WSIPP released a report outlining the results of their systematic review of group-based treatment for domestic violence offenders. Below are some of the most pertinent findings.
Summary conclusions: “Based on six rigorous outcome evaluations of group-based DV treatment for male offenders, we conclude that the Duluth model, the most common treatment approach, appears to have no effect on recidivism. This updated finding is consistent with our (and others’) previous work on this topic. There may be other reasons for courts to order offenders to participate in these Duluth-like programs, but the evidence suggests that DV recidivism will not decrease as a result” (pg. 12)
Impact on recidivism for “Duluth-like” programs: “We also considered programs to be similar to Duluth if the study authors said the curriculum included “power and control” dynamics, “sex role stereotyping,” or gender-based values. Six of the 11 effect sizes assessed Duluth-like programs. We analyzed separately the results of these six effect sizes and found that, on average, programs using Duluth-like models had no effect on recidivism (see the upper panel in Exhibit 3); therefore, this approach cannot be considered “evidence-based” (or research-based or promising)” (pg. 6)
Impact on recidivism for non-Duluth Model programs: “…when these other non-Duluth models are analyzed as a whole, the combined effects indicate a statistically significant reduction in DV recidivism (the lower “average effect size” in Exhibit 3). The average effect was a 33% reduction in domestic violence recidivism” (pg. 6)
The models that indicate efficacy with regards to reducing repeat incidents of DV offending in Exhibit 3 include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (Palmer, 1992, and Dunford, 2000b)
Relationship enhancement (Waldo, 1988)
Substance abuse treatment (Easton, 2007)
Group couples counseling (Dunford, 2000a)
Based on their research, WSIPP also suggest that addressing offender psychopathology through therapy aimed at treating Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could be efficacious. This is particularly promising they note, given that both BPD and PTSD are highly prevalent among DV offenders and both disorders are associated with impulsive and aggressive behavior (pg. 7)
Rethinking our Dependence on the Duluth Model Paradigm
Research such as this is hugely important for the domestic violence field. Data on rates of DV incidents and on rates of DV incidents which end in homicide continues to show that domestic violence remains a major social problem. The development and utilization of evidence-based treatment models which can be shown to reduce recidivism has never been more pressing. In their January 2013 report, WSIPP highlights that 44 of 50 states in the U.S have legal guidelines that stipulate the kind of treatment professionals can legally administer. Furthermore, “In 28 states, standards for DV treatment specify the Duluth model by name, or require that power and control dynamics—central to the Duluth model—must be included in the treatment curriculum”.
This mandate is highly troubling. When put to the test via rigorous research standards the Duluth Model fails time and again to reduce rates of re-offending and yet it remains the treatment of choice for professionals engaged in this difficult work. In light of this failure, a paradigm shift regarding our conceptualization of domestic violence, including how we view and work with both victim and offender, is needed. A suggestion such as this which challenges the core assumptions of the feminist-rooted Duluth Model is viewed by many as an anti-woman, victim-blaming stance. We cannot however continue to allow criticisms and challenges such as this to prevent us from developing innovative work in the area of violence intervention and treatment.