Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Abusive Partners

What Can I Do To Help Hold Abusers Accountable?

An abusive partner intervention program is not enough to stop domestic violence or change abusers’ behavior. Stopping domestic violence requires the entire community to respond differently to abusers. No one individual or system can do it alone, but every individual and system can do part of it. Click on the tab for your profession, to see practical actions you can take to help hold abusers accountable. If your work is not represented here, click on the last tab to see what all of us, as citizens, can do.

Police Officers

Police officers can begin the process of holding an offender accountable by how they handle their initial response to the call. The OPDV Criminal Justice page contains detailed information for police officers about the following topics and others:

Responding to Domestic Incidents

As a police officer, your role in responding to a domestic incident call is THE SAME AS RESPONDING TO ANY OTHER CRIME SCENE. You must:

  • Conduct an Investigation
  • Gather Evidence
  • Establish Reasonable Cause
  • Enforce the Law

As the typical first responders to calls involving domestic incidents, police are called upon to carry out two primary functions on the scene:

  • enhance the safety of those who have been abused, and
  • hold offenders accountable for their abusive behavior

While offender accountability is your number one objective, police intervention involves taking responsibility for the safety of everyone involved in a domestic incident by securing and controlling the scene, providing detailed documentation and evidence collection, responding swiftly and appropriately, and establishing follow-up services/referrals for everyone on the scene.

Officers know that allegations of domestic violence must be considered extremely serious. All domestic incident calls, even those that involve known victims and repeat offenders, can involve elements of danger, unpredictability, and complex fact patterns. The nature of these calls highlights the importance of providing officers with comprehensive training, policies, and procedures.

Be sure to fully complete a Domestic Incident Report (DIR) and provide the victim with the Victim Rights Notice.

For more information, please see our resources page

Prosecutors

Making the strongest case leads to the greatest likelihood of accountability.

  • Create policies and protocols to ensure that domestic violence cases are handled efficiently and effectively.
  • Pursue evidence-based prosecutions.
  • Collaborate with law enforcement in developing evidence collection protocols.
  • Charge felonies and misdemeanors when applicable. Review prior convictions to charge defendants with higher level offenses where appropriate.
  • Take into consideration an offender’s criminal history, including out-of-state criminal history.
  • If presented with a dual-arrest case, conduct an independent analysis to determine the primary physical aggressor, and proceed only against that offender, not against both parties.
  • Recommend increased sanctions for offenders who do not comply with court orders or conditions of probation.
  • Ensure that all written plea agreements indicate whether the crime involved the use or attempted use of physical force or threatened use of a deadly weapon.
  • If the victim minimizes or recants, review jail calls and visits from the offender to ascertain whether this may be the underlying cause of the minimization or recantation.
    • Continue to ask the victim if the offender has contacted them to try and prevent the victim from participating in trial proceedings.

Victim safety is a vital end in itself, but victims who feel you are concerned for their safety are also likely to be more willing – and more able – to cooperate with prosecution.

For more information, please see our resources page

Judges
  • Ensure that orders of protection are entered into state and federal registries immediately.
  • Enforce orders of protection when they are violated, even in the courthouse.
  • To evaluate risk and identify potentially lethal offenders, take seriously the offender’s:
    • History of weapons use; access to guns.
    • History of threats to kill, strangulation and sexual assault.
    • History of drinking and drugging, and current substance use.
    • Stalking behavior.

Firearms

  • Order suspects to surrender firearms whenever legally permissible.
  • Order that firearms be surrendered to law enforcement, not relinquished into the keeping of family members or friends.
  • Respond promptly to National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) requests for information related to gun sale background checks; if such checks are not completed within three business days, the buyer automatically is allowed to purchase the gun.
  • In New York State, when a defendant is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, courts are required to determine whether the crime fits the federal definition of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (i.e., whether it involved the use or attempted use of physical force or threatened use of a deadly weapon). If it does fit the required definition, the information should be transmitted to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which will pass it on to NICS.
  • Require firearms permits to be surrendered whenever legally permissible.
  • Take all possible steps to prevent the return of firearms to disqualified individuals.

Pre-trial release

  • Consider the offender’s history of firearms use and violation of orders of protection before releasing them pending trial.
  • Access the offender’s prior domestic and non-domestic criminal histories when you make decisions about orders of protection or pretrial release.
  • When setting release or sentence conditions, require a substance abuse evaluation, treatment, or abstinence from alcohol and drugs when appropriate.

Sentencing

  • Impose sentences that reflect the offender's prior criminal histories, including domestic violence convictions.
  • Require police and prosecutors to inform the court if offender reoffends, threatens, or intimidates victims while cases are pending. This may allow additional charges to be filed.
  • Consistently respond to repeat offenses with increased sanctions.
  • Minimize the number of violations you allow before revoking an offender’s probation and incarcerating them.

Using abusive partner intervention programs

  • Use abusive partner intervention programs in combination with probation supervision and other legal sanctions.
  • Make sure your expectations about what a program can and cannot do are appropriate and based on best practices.
  • Only use programs that will support your sanctions and mandates, and swiftly report all noncompliance; promptly return violators to court.
  • Request compliance reports, not progress reports.
  • Clearly notify offenders of the consequences of noncompliance.
  • Follow up program mandates with regular court appearances.
  • Respond quickly, consistently, and with increased sanctions, to repeat offenses, violations of orders of protection, and noncompliance with court orders (including an offender’s first failure to enroll in or attend a court-mandated program).
  • Incarcerate any offender who reoffends while enrolled in, or after completing, a program.

For more information, please see our resources page

 

Probation Officers
  • Make your expectations of offender behavior clear at initial contact and maintain them during the entire supervision period.
  • Supervise at the highest level of supervision possible.
  • Make unscheduled field contacts at the offender’s home, workplace, etc., and record all relevant observations.
  • Where possible, make regular contact with neighbors, and other relevant individuals. Ask if they have heard or seen anything alarming or unusual. Do not violate victim confidentiality.
  • Conduct random checks for alcohol and other drugs.
  • Monitor compliance with all orders and consider increasing the level of supervision if the offender violates them.
  • Do not allow early release for any probationer who is on probation for domestic violence, or who is known to have committed domestic violence.

Using abusive partner intervention programs

  • Make sure your expectations about what a program can and cannot do are appropriate based on best practices.
  • If you require offenders to attend an abusive partner intervention program:
    • Be familiar with the policies and procedures of the program and maintain contact.
    • Respond immediately to an offender's first failure to enroll in or attend a mandated program
    • Treat noncompliance with program requirements as a violation of probation.
    • Enforce court conditions and return violators to court promptly.
    • Violate any offender who reoffends while enrolled in, or after completing, a program.
    • Only use a program that will support your sanctions and mandates, and swiftly report all noncompliance.

For more information, please see our resources page

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Clinicians

Motivating offenders to change is difficult, for several reasons:

  • Offenders’ behavior is based in their attitudes and beliefs
  • Offenders’ behavior is often rewarded and seldom punished.

Despite these difficulties, how you approach therapy with clients who are abusive partners can support your community’s accountability measures. In some individual cases, therapy contributes to an abusive partner’s decision to change their behavior.

Understanding domestic violence

  • Abusive behavior is purposeful
  • Co-occurring mental health or substance abuse issues are not the cause of abusive behavior
  • Treating co-occurring issues will not end abusive behavior
  • Domestic Violence is not a mental health issue
  • Domestic violence can be physical, emotional, sexual and involves a pattern of coercive control

Screening for abusiveness

Screen all clients for domestic violence victimization and perpetration. It is important to screen routinely and regularly. Ask clients if they have or have ever had an Order of Protection against them.  Some abusive partners will acknowledge their abusive behavior, many will minimize and deny their abusive behavior and blame their partners for their behavior. Abusive partners often present as victims and may be difficult to identify.

Victim safety

Do what you can to ensure that your work with an abusive partner does not further endanger the victim– while realizing that you can’t guarantee safety.

  • As far as possible, evaluate the safety implications of your treatment plan. Specific interventions may have safety implications that you are not aware of. Because of the danger that is known to be involved, do not provide:
    • Couple counseling Before agreeing to any request for couple counseling, screen for domestic violence in private interviews with each partner.
    • Anger management as a response to domestic violence.
  • Make victim safety a top priority in handling partner contacts.
  • Write case notes on clients carefully and accurately; never include conclusions about the victimized partner based solely on what the abusive partner says. Carelessly written case notes can harm victims if they are brought into court.
  • If an abusive partner makes threats against their partner or children, inform the partner, the police, and the client’s probation or parole officer (if applicable).
  • Never expect a victim to accept your judgment that their partner has changed. You cannot know for sure, and you may put the victim in further danger if your assessment encourages them to remain in the relationship.

Interacting with the courts

In cases where clients are also involved in the criminal justice system, learn what the court is requiring of your client, particularly whether there is an order of protection against your client. Ask what it requires them to do or not do. Challenge any excuses for noncompliance. Consider discontinuing therapy with a client who continually violates an order of protection.

Responding to abusive partners during sessions

Screening will not ensure that you identify all abusive partners.  The following measures should be taken with all clients:

  • Support respectful ways of handling situations.
  • Encourage clients to examine and change any abusive behavior.
  • Remind clients that they are in control of whether they act abusively.
  • Confront excuses and rationalizations, such as “I was only trying to…”
  • Challenge entitlement beliefs (spoken or unspoken) no matter what they are based on.
  • Confront abusive behavior – toward yourself and others – especially:
    • The use of communication, anger, and boundary violations as weapons of control.
    • Talking about their partners in ways that are lacking in empathy, condescending, contemptuous, and disrespectful; trying to get you to agree with such attitudes.
    • Misogynistic language, if the client has a female partner, or homophobic or transphobic statements if the client is LGBTQ.
  • Avoid colluding with abusive partners, they may try to manipulate you to get you on “their side”. This could include wanting you to see their partner as “the problem” and the civil and criminal justice systems as “unfair”
  • Focus on accountably with abusive partners. Remind them that they are always responsible for their choices and behaviors. Call attention to their minimizing, denying and blaming.  Point out the consequences of their behavior and the impact it has had on their partners and children.
For more information, please see our resources page