Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Counseling's value debatable

Batterers need longer-term help, advocates say

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Daniel Trujillo of the Batterer's Intervention Program believes short-term counseling can create "sophisticated" batterers.
(Michael Snyder photos)
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        The middle-aged businessman sat with his legs crossed, chewing gum. Of the four men, who all nodded grimly at a visitor, he seemed the most relaxed.

        “We're not proud of being here,” he said pointedly. “None of us are.”

        For an hour, they didn't talk much about what brought them to their straight-back chairs in this softly lit, windowless room at the Batterer's Intervention Program in Warren County. Instead, they focused on where they've been since.

        “Without this class, I don't think I could probably handle what I'm going through right now,” the businessman said.

        The road these men began at least six months before is shared by thousands ordered into counseling since Ohio enacted a law four years ago that more than doubled domestic violence arrests.

        But that road doesn't go far enough, say advocates for victims of domestic violence. Though they welcome counseling for batterers as a supplement to their work with victims, advocates say it often is too short — perilously so.

        Court-ordered counseling that lasts less than six months often creates “sophisticated” batterers who use psychological abuse while skirting the legal system.

        “He may stand up in front of her, shake his fist, leave a bullet on the table,” said Daniel Trujillo, coordinator of the nonprofit Warren County program. From 1990 until last December, Mr. Trujillo ran the Amend program for batterers at the YWCA of Cincinnati, the oldest such program in the Tristate.

        “Sometimes a little something is dangerous,” he said.

        Now, in the aftermath of the legal change that led to more court-ordered counseling, activists in Ohio say the state needs to join a national trend of long-term therapy for batterers.

        But the “preferred arrest” law — which urges police officers to arrest someone on domestic violence calls, with or without the victim's assent — actually makes that harder, The Cincinnati Enquirer found.

        Among the reasons:

        • Some defense attorneys complain that hundreds of men are needlessly arrested and forced into time-consuming, costly counseling. They oppose long-term treatment.

        • Judges express concern about further clogging an overworked court system.

        • Supporters of tough anti-battering measures say the law includes no measure to track its impact with statistics that could support their push for more counseling. Punishment of batterers' truancy is sporadic.

        Similarly, there has been little evaluation of the counseling programs' effectiveness.

        At least one federally funded study is evaluating batterer's intervention programs. A Hamilton County committee began meeting last spring to find ways to assess them.

        “(Abusers) really have to change the way they think and behave, and that's long-term,” said Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network in Columbus. ""We're kidding ourselves to think someone can change in six weeks.”

Some drop out
        The Ohio Domestic Violence Network recommends a minimum six months of court-ordered counseling and up to two years for batterers. But many batterers in Greater Cincinnati are ordered only to attend anywhere from 14 to 20 weeks in counseling.

        In short-term therapy, some batterers go through the motions, putting in class time to avoid jail time, experts have found. Others learn to intimidate their partners in ways that leave no evidence. At least a third drop out of area classes with a good chance of not getting thrown into overcrowded jails for skipping out.

        Batterers are ordered by judges into counseling in place of jail after a conviction on domestic violence-related misdemeanor charges. Some offenders in Warren County can have their charges dropped after completing the class. Counseling exists for female batterers, though women make up a small percentage.

        If some female victims are not psychologically threatened during short-termed counseling, they are at least deceived.

        Batterers use counseling during a “honeymoon” stage to convince wives or girlfriends they've changed.

        “I think that women hold out a lot of hope that counseling will stop the violence and change men's behavior,” Ms. Neylon said, “and sometimes that could be a false hope.”

        Some states are mandating standards for domestic batterers' programs.

        In California, batterers are made to attend a minimum of 52 weeks of counseling. Kentucky is in the process of implementing statewide standards, which call for a minimum of 20 weeks in counseling. Ohio and Indiana do not have any standards and there is no plan to adopt any.

        At the Amend program at the YWCA of Cincinnati, which served 1,265 adults and 260 adolescents from Hamilton and Clermont counties last year, most batterers attend 14 weeks of counseling.

        When the Batterer's Intervention Program in Warren County began three years ago, advocates asked judges to place men in counseling for four weeks, said Janet Hoffman. She is the executive director of the Abuse, Rape and Crisis Shelter of Warren County, which oversees the batterers program. Once established, the shelter saw the need to make a bigger impact on the batterers.

        Now, nearly all the 200 men that come through the Warren program each year are required to attend two phases, or a total of 14 weeks. About 10 percent are ordered into a third phase, which could last up to 38 sessions.

        Counselors are pushing judges to order more into the third phase.

        “For some (batterers), you see some lights go on for issues they never thought about before,” Ms. Hoffman said.

        The problem, though, is gauging a real change in the way a person thinks, said Terry Carlisle, executive director of Comprehensive Counseling Service, a nonprofit agency in Middletown. with programs for mental health, chemical dependency and domestic violence.

        “We don't have anything like a urine test for this, unless the victim says he's still doing this or that, and the victims often back down after the arrests,” Mr. Carlisle said.

Impact not measured
        The Ohio law that doubled domestic violence arrests in 1995 did nothing to track its impact on courts or the effectiveness of the counseling that often follows.

        Too many other battles were being waged to worry about statistics, said Ms. Neylon of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, one of the main backers of the bill.

        Statewide domestic violence arrests jumped from 16,682 in 1994 to 42,709 in 1995 — a 156 percent increase.

        In 1998, arrests in Ohio stood at 35,269, though Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland failed to report yearly totals. Yet the law carries no sanctions against cities that don't report the numbers.

        About a third of batterers drop out of classes in both the Amend and Warren County programs. It's left to the local probation departments to follow up.

        “What good is sentencing them to a year's worth of batterers intervention, and they don't show up after the third week and no one holds them accountable?” Ms. Neylon said.

        But to James A. Nicholas, the law goes too far.

        Mr. Nicholas, an assistant public defender in Hamilton County, says the law pressures police officers to arrest someone to avoid completing the lengthy paperwork required if they don't.

        “What you're doing is punishing everybody,” he said. “It shouldn't be where someone gets arrested just because the cops are called.”

        Also, the court-ordered counseling in the Y's Amend program creates a financial burden on his clients. The first 14 weeks in Amend cost $360 and then $20 a session after that.

        “I'm dealing with people trying to work for a living,” he said.

        Aside from the cost to defendants, judges have other concerns about long-term counseling.

        Sondra Fronimo is director of Ohio's oldest batterer's program at for-profit Melymbrosia Associates in Canton. Four years after the program began 18 years ago, officials pushed the minimum counseling period to a year because victims complained about continued intimidation.

        Melymbrosia Associates ran into resistance from judges who did not want to drag out cases that long. “It creates a lot more paperwork for the judges,” Ms. Fronimo said.

        Ordering long-term treatment for batterers could backfire, said Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Timothy S. Black. Judge Black helped con vene the Hamilton County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council in response to the 1995 law.

        “The longer the treatment the better,” Judge Black said. “But the reality is that many of these cases end up with the defendant pleading no contest and taking responsibility for their conduct and getting found guilty.

        “They are not going to make that admission if they are looking at 52 weeks ... If that's all you can get is 14 weeks, then get it.”

Study under way
        A local effort is under way to judge how well batterers programs work. The Committee on Batterers Intervention Treatment Evaluation, with representatives from University of Cincinnati, the YWCA of Cincinnati and Hamilton County courts and probation, has been meeting since the spring. They're preparing to form a study, said Debbie Brooks, associate executive director of the YWCA of Cincinnati.

        “It's really hard to track these things because they might not get an offense or charge, but they might be offending,” Ms. Brooks said.

        The YWCA has been running Amend for batterers since 1982, making it the first such program in the region.

        A survey of 140 men referred from Hamilton County Municipal Court to the program for 14 weeks in 1997 showed that 12 percent were re-arrested for domestic violence related charges within two years, she said.

        That compares favorably with a 29 percent national average found by the U.S. Department of Justice for men in programs during the same amount of time, Ms. Brooks added.

        Edward Gondolf is research director at the Mid-Atlantic Addiction Training Institute based at Indiana University of Pennsylvania outside Pittsburgh.

        The institute is beginning its sixth and final year of a $2 million study funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study focuses on programs for domestic batterers in Pittsburgh, Denver, Houston and Dallas. Programs range from three to nine months and the study is following about 860 men.

        Results so far indicate that the men in the longer programs reassaulted at a slightly lower rate as those in the shorter programs, Mr. Gondolf said.

        Two and a half years after starting the programs, between 40 percent and 45 percent of men in all the programs reoffended, he said.

        But another factor skews the numbers: batterers who quit showing up for class.

        Between 30 percent and 40 percent of the men dropped out by the third month in all the programs.

        “What we have is that the men who stay in the long-term programs are the guys who need it the least. The guys who need it the most are dropping out by three months,” Mr. Gondolf said.

        Of those who completed their classes, 35 percent reoffended, he said. Of those who dropped out, 50 percent assaulted again.

        “Length in and of itself isn't the issue. It's duration plus swift and certain response from the criminal justice system.”

Participants speak
        The man in the Adidas blue T-shirt and blue shorts smiled shyly at the end of the hour at the Warren County batterer's session. An Enquirer reporter was allowed to attend on condition the participants remain anonymous.

        “It helped prepare me to become a newlywed,” he said. “This is a brand new change for me.”

        He has been in the program for 26 weeks since serving six years in prison on domestic violence related charges.

        “Some guys come in and say this is a brainwashing program,” he said. “They're reluctant because they were ordered to go by the judge.”

        He has learned about managing anger and stress, he said, and the change is one in “morals and values. It was the way I was raised. There was domestic violence in my background. I seen it, learned it as a kid. So when I got drunk and angry, I referred to the old lifestyle. And here I sit.”

        The businessman commented: “I think you've done real well.”

        Dressed in blue jeans and black shoes with a pen clipped to his white knit pullover, the businessman fiddled with a wallet as he described his mental journey through the Warren County program.

        The 25 weeks in the sessions so far have taught him how to control his temper and communicate with his wife.

        “This morning, I was trying to leave for work, and she was in an emotional state, and I actually sat down in a chair and asked how I could help,” he said. “Before, I probably would have walked out the door.”

        But he then slipped into what counselors call a batterer's tendency to blame other people.

        “There's a lot of women who should be here,” the businessman said. “(His wife) and other people should understand that all a man is trying to do, all I'm trying to do, is make a living. And I'm getting in trouble.”


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