The Crime of Punishment*

In the The Crime of Punishment originally published in 1966, Dr. Karl Menninger pondered the question of whether violence was spreading in spite of our legal and court systems or because of those systems. He concluded, “I suspect that all the crimes committed by all the jailed criminals do not equal in total social damage that of the crimes committed against them.” Reissued in 2007, his book is as relevant to all levels of violence today as in the sixties.

In a second book, Men Who Batter, Nason-Clark and Fisher-Townsend (p.7) argue that when battering men believe they are not getting what they deserve, they use power and control to punish their partners or to maintain dominance.” Weaving themselves through case material from male batterers are two interrelated themes reflecting powerful forces in the broader ecological (largely patriarchal) context in which wife battering and other forms of violence take place: respect (including self-respect) and punishment.

Hicks1 (2011, p. 5) has defined respect as something to be earned, yet in patriarchal cultures, it appears that many individuals, groups, and even governments consider respect as something to which they are entitled—by virtue, for example, of their superior strength or power. Indeed, within such cultures, the powerful often seem to confound respect with fear—that is, evidence of another’s fear may be seen as the respect to which the powerful or those desiring power believe they are entitled.

Many of the men’s narratives in the Nason-Clark and Fisher-Townsend study emphasize disillusionment with the punitive nature of traditional batterer intervention programs. One batterer involved in a traditional (patriarchal) program explained, “I felt that they were doing just exactly what I was there for—they were saying they were addressing power and control and abuse, and they were [using those same tools] against me….They were abusing me….” (p.110). Other men described harsh experiences of “being cut down, demoralized, treated like you were dirt…” (p.107). By contrast, participants in STOP programs (state-approved faith-based intervention programs) were more likely to comment, “They are not here to punish you. They are here to help you” (p.109).

As the authors state, “when they first enter any program—and especially a mandated one—most of the men are defensive, unsure what to expect, angered at having been ordered to come, feeling sorry for themselves, and a long way from developing empathy for those they have hurt” (p.131). However, in contrast to more punitive models of treatment, all aspects of the STOP Program were structured around its guiding virtue of respect. When one man was asked about what he had learned from the STOP program, he responded by stating, “I have learned respect for myself first of all, and for everybody around me…” (p.118).

Extending from their frequently troubled childhoods through involvement in the criminal justice and other punitive systems, the men share stories providing valuable insight into the factors fueling a batterer’s violent behavior and the aspects of intervention most likely to foster positive change. These aspects include developing a sense of accountability that may be a good model for all individuals and groups who confuse fear with respect and rely on punishment to “correct” particular behaviors in others–regardless of whether they engage in those same behaviors themselves, or not.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

*Parts of this post were adapted from a book review by Malley-Morrison and Samkavitz “Copyright American Psychological Association. This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal PsycCRITIQUES. It is not the copy of record. Information about the journal is at”

1.Hicks, D. (2011). Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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Still Elusive : Unalienable Rights

Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved vignette of John Trumbull’s painting Declaration of Independence (c. 1818). Engraving by Frederick Girsch.
Image is by Frederick Girsch and is in the public domain.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

These are among the best-known words in the English language and provided the thrust for revolution against an oppressive foreign power.

I am willing to celebrate these words and the potential they invoked for a great new society. But I think it is also important to recognize the extent that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been denied to many people within the United States throughout its history. So in addition to celebrating the Declaration, I will celebrate the creation of several other documents and long for the day when their promises are fulfilled:

The US Constitution
The Emancipation Proclamation
The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
• The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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Oracle, Optimist, Ostrich, or Obfuscator? Part 2. The Multiple Abominations of Slavery

Photograph of an FBI agent leading away an adult suspect arrested in the “Operation Cross Country II”
Image is in the public domain.

In his argument that violence has been declining for centuries, Steven Pinker (Oracle, Optimist, Ostrich, or Obfuscator? Part 1) claims that activities such as “slavery as a labor-saving device were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history”—and certainly slavery has been around a long time, but not equally so in all parts of the world.

However, today, Pinker insists, slavery and other such abominations “are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.”

Such an assertion is disingenuous at best and dangerously deceptive at worst. Has slavery been nothing historically except a labor saving device? Is sex trafficking merely an effort at labor saving? If not, does that mean sex trafficking does not count as slavery? Has Pinker considered all the modern forms that slavery takes?

It seems unlikely that Pinker’s definition of slavery is as broad as that of the U.S. Department of State, whose definition of modern slavery includes forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage among migrant laborers, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking (here’s a horror story on that topic). And how about convict labor, especially given that the U.S. prison population has quadrupled in the last four decades.

These forms of slavery are certainly concealed and often widely condemned when brought to light but many of them are not nonexistent and not even rare in the US and elsewhere in the West.

In a recent article in The Atlantic, J.J. Gould tells us, “150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, buying and selling people into forced labor is bigger than ever.” Indeed, he says, “There are now twice as many people enslaved in the world as there were in the 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade”—with the current global slave population estimated at between 20 million and 30 million people.

Seems to me it would take a lot of statistical shenanigans and redefinitions of terms to translate those figures into a “decline in slavery.”

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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How many times…?

Among the questions Bob Dylan asked us many decades ago are…

Photograph of the slave auction block at Green Hill Plantation, Campbell County, Virginia.
Image is in the public domain.

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?

A people are not really free if, during a prayer meeting in their church, they can be assassinated because they are of the “wrong” color, a color that for centuries has led to dehumanization and the various atrocities that dehumanization allows.

Read the related article in theguardian.

A people are not really free if one by one, two by two, nine by nine, they can be murdered and their murderers, whether they are cops or civilians, can walk free. They are not really free if they are denied equal access to the educational, employment, life opportunities that can help people be free.

Read the related article in Reader Supported News.

A people are not really free when a white American male, Dylann Storm Roof, the recent assassin of innocent black lives in Charleston, South Carolina, has all the hallmarks of a terrorist but the corporate media resist calling him one.

So much easier just to see him as a lone troubled or sick individual, rejected by his girlfriend in favor of a black man.

If the “top story” of recent days concerning the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the countless other stories of racist violence before and since that horrific event are allowed to just blow away in the wind, perhaps murders and war really are the American way. Also see War, Peace, Justice: An Unfinished Tapestry . . ..

Folks generally think of “Blowin’ in the wind” as an anti-war song, which obviously it is, but it is also an anti-racism song. Dylan adapted the melody from an old Negro spiritual called “No More Auction Block,” which originated in Canada and was sung by former slaves who fled there after Britain abolished slavery in 1833. The auction block may be gone but people in our country need to stop looking away and pretending they cannot see the ongoing virulence of racism. It harms us all.

Photograph of the slave auction block at Green Hill Plantation, Campbell County, Virginia.
Image is in the public domain.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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