A Call for Primary Prevention of Violence Against Women // Madeline Brodt

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In popular culture a new spotlight has come to men’s violence against women through the recent accusations against various celebrities and athletes. Many men have been accused of intimate partner violence and/or sexual assault in the past but the dialogue about domestic violence has never been so present in our culture. It is saddening to think that for this to happen women had to be victimized but as feminists, we should embrace this opportunity to decrease the occurrence of violence against women. This is especially true given the high incidence of violence against women where in America every nine seconds a woman is beaten (Bachman & Saltzman, 1995) and one out of five women have been sexually assaulted sometime during their life (Black et al., 2011). Ideologically as feminists we are against violence towards a person simply because of their gender. As psychologists we also believe in the possibility of prevention through interventions that can change behavior and attitudes. However, the majority of psychology tends to focus on treating women negatively impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault rather than the men who perpetrate these crimes. It is important to not diminish the stories of those who have been abused by people who are not men but the majority of perpetrators are heterosexual males who are abusing heterosexual females (Black et al., 2011) and thus may be the place to begin intervening. Why has feminist psychology largely ignored the area of primary prevention? The CDC views violence as a public health problem and promotes primary prevention as the way to intervene (2014). The lack of current feminist involvement is especially puzzling when recognizes that most perpetrators abuse multiple partners (Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004).

There are possibilities for why this may be including a discomfort with a topic that causes a very visceral reaction, dearth of research, and a feminist tradition of centered on devoting resources to those impacted such as the creation of domestic violence shelters or rape crisis center. There are some training programs aimed at adolescents and young adults, which attempt to change the cultural understandings that women are lesser which have shown some success (http://www.datesafeproject.org/). However, these programs are not necessarily based on psychological research and their effects may not be seen for years. What as feminist psychologists are we supposed to do about the men who are abusing women now and are not the target demographic for these programs? I argue that it is our duty as feminist psychologists to begin acting as the driving force behind primary prevention of domestic violence.

I came to this conclusion though a winding series of events that led me to become trained as a group facilitator for a batterer’s program intervention. As a person who is interested in assisting survivors of sexual assault it was an odd choice but my gut kept saying to keep going, keep doing. I trusted my gut and after much processing identified that in my conception of social justice I should be doing more than simply working on one side of the equation, conducting psychotherapy with survivors of violence against women. In order for true social justice action to occur I need to work on the other side as well, the perpetrator. I co-lead one group for perpetrators of domestic violence a week. Afterwards I leave feeling like I have truly done something.

This is not just a question of needing more to practice with perpetrators but also to conduct more research. Research on everything from what the beliefs of men who perpetrate are to how best to intervene to how to best advocate for program implementation. Few researchers are conducting this type of work, though Christopher Eckhardt has been conducting very exciting work. In writing this, I performed a literature search so I could see if I was incorrect in my assessment of the status of this topic in our field. Sadly I was not and I was only able to find a couple relevant articles that adopted a feminist perspective and only one that was published in a feminist journal (Lecouteur & Oxlad, 2010). Let us then change this sad state of affairs. We should start conducting research and put it in action, even if it is unpleasant and uncomfortable to work with perpetrators.


Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bachman, R., & Saltzman, L. (1995). National Crime Victimization Survey: Violence against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, D.C.
Babcock, J., Green, C., & Robie, C. (2004). Does Batterers' Treatment Work? A Meta-analytic Review Of Domestic Violence Treatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 23, 1023-1053.
Center for Disease Control. Violence Prevention Basics: Primary Prevention. (2014, October 5). Retrieved from http://vetoviolence.cdc.gov/index.php/violence-prevention-basics-primary-prevention/

Lecouteur, A., & Oxlad, M. (2010). Managing accountability for domestic violence: Identities, membership categories and morality in perpetrators' talk. Feminism & Psychology, 21, 5-28.
Written by Madeline Brodt

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