Sunday, 6 September 2015

Taking an in-depth look into domestic violence research - The Duluth Model

Author: Drew Roan.

Part 1: The Duluth Model - This article
Part 2: The Conflict Tactics Scale -
Part 3: UK figure of DV -
Summary - Domestic violence is an emotive and often poorly understood topic. Feminist discourse often focuses on issues facing women and girls that result from domestic violence. Unfortunately, research and data can often be biased, being driven by politics rather than strong evidence. This is the first in a series that will analyse different models available. Later we will attempt to analyse the impact on victims and their opportunity to seek help.
 The Duluth model helped to drastically raised awareness and improve responses for victims of domestic violence, including implementing rehabilitation training for abusers. However, there appears to be exceptionally weak evidence that the model works as intended. The model favours an ideological approach rather than an evidence based one.
Using EgaFem's #nownswap test of equality: it fails.

Gloria Steinem once called Domestic Violence (DV) "original violence"(1).

Over the last few decades, interest and studies on DV have increased dramatically, improving our understanding. However, comparable studies are often incredibly contradictory. Before discussing the impacts and supporting data of DV, we should examine the common models of behavioural analysis.

The "Duluth Model" is arguably the world’s most dominant model, used in 50 states in America and 26 countries worldwide (2), including the UK, USA, Canada and more. In 2014 the "Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence" based off the Duluth Model was called the best system in the world for reducing violence against women and girls (3).

However, there is significant criticism as it being inefficient, unsupported by psychological or scientific evidence, and may be making things worse (4), in addition to it discriminating against men (5) (6).

A brief history and summary:

The Duluth model was created by a community of feminist activists and battered women advocates in the 1970's. This gave birth to the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, established in 1981. (7) It was a radical program that not only looked at behavioural programs but called for greater co-operation and communication from local law enforcement, courts and domestic violence programs to prevent further acts of abuse. (8)

Treatment programs include mandatory education classes to discuss negative behaviour patterns, diaries to record thoughts and experiences for assessment and discussions about how society conditions men to be violent. Men are then encouraged to respect and understand women's anger within relationships and to observe their own contribution to this behaviour. (9)

You may have seen the following wheel of power and control, which stems from the Duluth model:

As shown in the Wheel of Power and Control, the Duluth Model uses language that places the blame of DV on men and considers the victim to always be women.

For example, taken from the Wheel of Power above, (emphasis mine) “Using Emotional Abuse: Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names...” rather than than using gender neutral language such as “putting them down. Making them feel bad about themselves.”

The model seeks to put women's voices and safety at the front to reduce male perpetrated violence as much as possible and through its' educational programs. teach men about violent and abusive patterns of behaviour they may exercise.

The evidence that women are always victims and men are always perpetrators which underpins this method will be investigated in a future article.

From the "About" page at, you can find this helpful breakdown of the model's concepts:

Positives aspects of the Duluth Model

Originally the Duluth Model promoted radical change. The DAIP (Domestic Abuse Intervention Program) was ground-breaking in unifying the criminal justice system and domestic abuse programs in its' attempts to prevent further violence against women.

The Duluth Model continues to be widely praised by feminists such as Karen Ingala Smith of nia (10) for its' insights into structural violence as well as its' focus on address societally conditioned violence, as explained by Edward W. Gondolf. (11)

It has also been claimed that the Duluth model's programs have yielded a success rate as high as 69 percent reducing re-offending within the first three months of entering the program. (12)

Criticism of the Duluth Model:

The National Institute of Justice in America released a report in 2003 which studied batterer intervention programs based on the Duluth Model (13). It concluded there was little to no evidence the programme helped to re-educate or reduce rates of recidivism in general. It highlighted that the few who did find a benefit were married, employed and/or home-owners and were less likely to re-offend as a result.

Another two studies (Shepard, 1987, 1992) on the treatment outcome of the Duluth model found the recidivism rate rose to 40% within 6-12 months of starting the program. Meanwhile a 10 year longitudinal study on rearrests relating to domestic violence found rates of re-offending rose to 50%. (14)

A study by Davis, Taylor, & Maxwell in 1998 (cited by 15) noted there was an extremely high drop out rate (as high as 75% of participants in one case). The researchers concluded this was due to feelings of alienation created by the programme which failed to improve the attitudes of the participants.

One common criticism is the Duluth Model excludes male victims and female batterers. Within it's framework, a man who batters does so due to social expectations. A female batterer defies this social constructs, thus, the model claims, she cannot be labelled a batterer even if they are the sole aggressor. (9)

A study by Dutton and Corvo in 2006 (16) noted the foundation of DAIP was formed on incredibly weak evidence. The original study was tiny, with only four men and five women completing the course. Despite the miniscule sample size and questions over credibility of the results, it was used to push reforms. In addition, this evidence was not gathered by a team of psychologists, but by a pair of radical feminists and a small handful of representatives from EMERGE Boston. This data was not tested by an independent team of experts before it was promoted.

Another concern is how the Duluth model treats mental health issues. The Duluth model claims "to attach a clinical diagnosis to the batterers' use of violence provides a rationalization for behaviour that may not be accurate" (9). This may lead to all DV being treated the same, rather than on a case by case bases, leading to inappropriate treatment i.e. the Duluth model being used when other intervention maybe more suitable. Additionally Feder, Wilson, and Austin (cited by 15) reported in 2005 that the court-mandated treatment of the Duluth Model may not be the most effective option and even discourages research into alternative treatments.

The #nounswap test

Here at Egafeminist, we use the #NounSwap Test as a measure of equality of opportunity.

This simple test exchanges nouns to test if opportunities and cultural response are the same, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation and so forth. Our motto of  'A Victim is a Victim' means if even only one man is a victim, or one woman the perpetrator, this must be dealt with fairness and equality. (17)

When applied to the Duluth Model, this is the result:

"The model seeks to re-educate women about women's roles in violence against men. Women are taught that society conditions them to be violent against men and even encourages them. In this framework, women who batter men are doing so because they are encouraged to be abusive, men who batter women are defying the social order and thus cannot be treated as batterers. It is unreasonable to apply a clinical diagnosis to the use of violence as it provides a rationalization for behavior that may not be accurate.".

We need to further examine the assumptions used to underpin the perspective that only men can be batterers and look at the scale of abuse with regards to gender. However at first glance this statement, when compared to the original, fails the #NounSwap Test due to the different treatment afford each gender, purely on the basis of sex.

In it's original form it deliberately excludes male victims of DV, which may discourage men from seeking help and impact cultural attitudes towards them.

In addition, it is unclear how the Duluth model would consider two women in an abusive relationship, or how/if it takes other factors into account, such as addiction and mental health.

Next time, I will be examining another method of analysing domestic violence called the Conflict Tactics Scale and seeing how this holds up accordingly.

Until then, take care of yourselves.














15), (p. 122)



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