Join us on the Pussycat Cast with Karen as we discuss the Duluth Model and why donating to or supporting organizations that use it is actually causing more harm than good. Tune in @8pm Eastern
Duluth’s Dysfunctional Design
by Hannah Wallen
The Duluth model is the most commonly used partner abuse intervention program in the United States. According to the book, “Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model,” The program was mainly developed by the book’s authors, Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar, with contributions to its formation by a small group of battered women’s activists who they asked to critique their work. The program’s original version was based on interviews with women attending educational classes offered by the Duluth battered women’s shelter, filtered through a feminist perspective. The book’s introduction describes how the the details were hammered out by the group play-acting a class session, with these critics asking questions from the standpoint of victims and the program’s authors providing answers.
The program itself is based on the feminist theory that domestic violence is a male behavior involving keeping control in relationships through violence. Men are presumed invulnerable to domestic violence based on the ‘status’ aspects of feminism’s Patriarchy theory. This is the excuse used gender the issue with an eye toward only treating violence as aggression when men engage in it, and only treating it as self-defense when women engage in it. Pence and Paymar used a visual aid titled “the Power and Control wheel” to illustrate their assertions, drive home the feminist theory behind them, and infer credibility upon the program.
Adoption of this model by much of the family violence victim’s advocacy movement contributed to the United States congress voting to modify the Family Violence Prevention and Services act of 1984 with, essentially, its replacement, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. VAWA allowed for family violence shelters, previously nondiscriminatory by law, to begin excluding men from most victim’s services, including housing for victims seeking escape from abusive partners. Most locations instead respond to male victims with offers of perpetrator programs. At best, a battered man can hope to be housed in a hotel for a few days, or directed to a homeless shelter, and there is no assistance for battered fathers with children in tow.
There is compelling evidence against the beliefs on which the Duluth Model is based, including the demographic assumptions. Angela Moore Parmley, Ph.D., from the Department of Justice, wrote in “Violence Against Women,” Vol. 10, No. 12, 2004, p. 1424, “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women.” What could be more damning to the assertions on which the law is based than the Justice department seeing no decrease in criminal incidence resulting from its application?
Research shows that contrary to the claims of the program’s originators, most partner violence is bi-directional, meaning that both partners engage in it, and women initiate violence more often regardless of whether the violence is bi-directional or uni-directional. Women, in other words, are the majority of partners who assault first, and the majority of partners who assault a partner who does not hit back. This does not bode well for the Duluth Model’s theory of patriarchal power and control.
The program’s critics even include one of its own authors. In the book “Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from Duluth and Beyond,” co-authored with Melanie Shepherd, Ellen Pence admitted the model was ideology-driven and its framers had ignored the phenomenon’s reality in order to cling to that ideological view. Speaking for myself,” she wrote, “I found that many of the men I interviewed did not seem to articulate a desire for power over their partner. Although I relentlessly took every opportunity to point out to men in the groups that they were so motivated and merely in denial, the fact that few men ever articulated such a desire went unnoticed by me and many of my coworkers. Eventually, we realized that we were finding what we had already predetermined to find.”
Unfortunately, you can’t put the hangover back in the bottle. The Duluth Model continues to dominate the family violence victim’s services industry, and the beliefs behind it are codified into U.S. law which is now being copied all over the western world. Adherence to it has become the biggest obstacle to reducing the overall incidence of domestic violence in the U.S. and anywhere else the program has been adopted and the law changed to match.
What has this led to?
Support resources for abuse victims are reserved for women to the exclusion of men due to insufficient social and legal consideration for abused men.
There’s insufficient consideration for abused men because men’s experience of abuse is viewed as the rare exception to what is normally a women’s issue.
Men’s experience of it is viewed as the rare exception to what is normally a women’s issue because activists who work with abuse victims see very few men among them.
Activists who work with abuse victims see very few men among them because abused men don’t seek support resources.
Abused men don’t seek support resources because they know they’re not available to or intended for men, and there’s even a stigma associated with men who admit to being abused and who seek to use those resources.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
So feminists look at the point in that self-perpetuating cycle where abused men do not try to obtain access to resources that aren’t for them and don’t fit their situation, and say, “Look, here – this is the problem. Men don’t seek help!”
They never take into consideration the fact that seeking help from a system that won’t serve you doesn’t get you anywhere, and the more desperate your need, the bigger waste of time it is to do that.
MRAs look at the point in the cycle where the victim’s support system ignores abused men, and point out that as the problem – if men could GET help, the cycle would break. Feminists respond by arguing the very things that keep the cycle going – that abused men are a rarity, as evidenced by the observations of volunteers at organizations which only help women, and therefore providing resources for abused men would be an unnecessary drain on resources needed for the so-called primary victims. Some even go so far as to suggest that male abuse victims should start their own shelters because Patriarchy.
So abused men get castigated for not seeking help, castigated for seeking help, accused of siphoning help away from women, blamed for not having access to help that is reserved for women, and marginalized by people who treat the fact that places which only help women and treat men who contact them as perpetrators instead of victims don’t see very many men seeking help from them.
And what’s the response to those of us who have the audacity to point out the insanely dysfunctional, self-perpetuating nature of that set of circumstances? OMG! YOU HATE WIMMIN!
This problem isn’t something which ideologues working in victim’s services are interested in fixing, many because to do so would require abandoning deeply held beliefs, and others because perpetuating the existing narrative is their meal ticket. Ultimately, to reduce family violence, our society must stop praising and paying ideologues for ignoring the actual dynamics and manifestation of the phenomenon and gendering our society’s response to it. For the industry to walk back a wrong step of this magnitude, it must face public scrutiny, public criticism, and public pressure on legislators to revert the law back to the days before Duluth’s influence… and before feminism’s influence on the support system.