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Director's Letter: Batterers – No Easy Answers
Commentary by Kim Wells, CAEPV Executive Director
As I travel around the country speaking to individuals and groups, I encounter all kinds of attitudes and perceptions. Frankly, many people are still choosing to ignore the presence of partner violence in the workplace. They ask questions that telegraph their denial.
On the other hand, companies that are already facing up to the issue ask big, hard questions. And no matter where I go, one question towers above them all: “What should we do about employees who are batterers?” As difficult as this question is to ask, it is even tougher to answer.
One of the reasons we talk more about victims of partner violence is that they are more easily identified, more easily studied, and more likely to come forward to seek help. While research on the subject of victims is certainly varied, it is not nearly as mixed as the subject of batterers.
In the past, psychologists believed that battering was the result of low self-esteem. Yet recent research suggests that narcissism is the trait that seems most highly correlated to aggressive behavior. In terms of the association between anger and partner violence, research findings are mixed. Some reports suggest that batterers have higher levels of general anger/hostility than those who are non-violent. Others studies report that anger and hostility towards a partner is associated with domestic violence, while generalized anger and aggression is not.
So what are the implications—and what should an employer do? Intervention in the workplace starts with a policy that addresses the issues outlined in the SPOTLIGHT article
. Intervention in the community begins when we stand up and report domestic violence when it is observed or overheard.
While batterers may not often come forward to seek help, it is important that employers provide access to resources at work. Some CAEPV member companies make sure that batterers' treatment is covered under their employee benefit plans—hoping to encourage them to self-identify and seek professional help before their abuse gets worse.
We also need to help batterers understand how their actions affect their children—even if the children have never been hit at all. One batterer, after listening to a 911 tape of “Lisa” (a young child calling the police as her step-father beats her mother), told me that no other intervention affected him like that tape did—and that every batterer should be forced to listen to it.
Above all else, we need to do everything we can within our homes, our workplaces and our communities to send the message that battering is unacceptable behavior. And we need to take a stand and intervene to prevent it.