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 http://www.apa.org/psyccritiques/.”↩
1.Hicks, D. (2011). Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.↩