No ironclad evidence exists to prove that intervention and prevention classes are the miracle cure for domestic violence. But treatment can make a difference — and the judicial system would be smart to require this rehab of as many offenders as possible.
A new study by the University of Texas at Dallas found that Dallas County abusers who were sent to the classes were less likely to commit another act of domestic violence than those sentenced only to time in a cell.
The 2,000-plus misdemeanor cases the UTD team analyzed involved first-time offenders and less-violent crimes. The rehab-over-jail approach seems particularly effective here: Catch the problem — and work to correct it — before behavior is ingrained in the psyche.
Instruction starts with educating the culprit on what actually constitutes abuse as well as the basics of leading a nonviolent life.
That might sound way too elementary to many readers, but remember that the destructive behavior usually grows insidiously — impatience and harsh teasing turn into name calling and cold shouldering, then into denigrating emotional abuse. At some point, the blows turn physical.
Successful anti-abuse education also must persuade the class that violence is a choice. Why would you punch a spouse in anger when you’d never think of cutting loose on your boss or cable guy?
The best way to accept lessons like these is shoulder-to-shoulder with other abusers. Accountability within the group and a commitment to check in with one another over the long haul are key.
Support for anti-battering education doesn’t mean kicking the judicial system out of the picture. Classes work only if partnered with the courts and law enforcement.Focusing on treatment instead of incarceration may also persuade more victims to cooperate with law enforcement instead of protecting their partners if they think they might get help instead of being jailed as a result of their participation in the case.
Obviously this isn't a prescription for every case - especially the more extreme ones - and there's evidence that some domestic violence treatments aren't necessarily effective. But Judge Cañas is probably right that society's punitive mindset toward abuse prioritizes punishment over behavior modification in a significant number of cases where more could be done to change the family dynamic rather than simply punish, grandstand, and move on.