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The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge Project
Manuscripts and Online Data Base
Overview of Findings by the Authors

#17 The Effectiveness of Intervention Programs for Perpetrators and Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

Christopher I. Eckhardt, Christopher M. Murphy, Daniel J. Whitaker, Joel Sprunger, Rita Dykstra, & Kim Woodard
188 pages.
Full manuscript available in Partner Abuse Vol.4, Issue no.2 (2013), pp. 196-231

The review involved a detailed summary of all studies published primarily since 1990 using randomized or quasi-experimental designs that compared an active intervention program to a relevant comparison condition. These studies included 20 studies investigating the effectiveness of ‘traditional’ forms of batterer intervention programs (BIPs) aimed at perpetrators of IPV, 10 studies that investigated the effectiveness of alternative formats of BIPs, 16 studies of brief intervention programs for IPV victim-survivors, and 15 studies of more extended intervention programs for IPV victim-survivors.

Results indicated that interventions for IPV perpetrators showed mixed evidence of effectiveness regarding their ability to lower the risk of IPV, and available studies had many methodological flaws that produced biased findings affected by various design and interpretive limitations. More recent investigations of novel programs with alternative content have shown more promising results in reducing IPV likelihood, although caution is in order given the limited scope of this research and challenges affecting whether these novel interventions can indeed be broadly implemented in criminal justice settings. Among interventions for victim-survivors of IPV, a range of therapeutic approaches have been shown to produce enhancements in emotional functioning, with the strongest support for CBT approaches in reducing negative symptomatic effects of IPV. Studies examining brief interventions for victim-survivors have reported inconsistent effects. Several studies have found significant increases in safety behaviors, but enhanced use of community resources is often not found. Overall, it remains unclear whether brief safety interventions produce longer-term reductions in IPV re-victimization. Among more structured interventions for survivor-victims, supportive advocacy in community settings has been shown to reduce the frequency of re-victimization relative to no-treatment controls, although rates of re-victimization remain alarmingly high in these studies.

The results of this review suggest at least two important recommendations regarding intervention programs for IPV perpetrators and victims. First, the accumulated findings suggest that some intervention programs for IPV perpetrators and victims are effective at reducing the likelihood of IPV and improving individuals’ quality of life. However, the quality of research underlying these findings is not of consistently high quality, the breadth of findings is quite limited, and the strength of these effects varies considerably depending on the population studied. Nevertheless, if one asks the question of whether there is evidence indicating whether programs are indeed effective at preventing new episodes of violence and improving the lives of survivor-victims, then the answer appears to be a somewhat qualified ‘yes.’ This affirmative conclusion applies more directly to interventions for victim-survivors, whereas conclusions about interventions for perpetrators are far more equivocal.

Second, there is little evidence to indicate the superiority of one type of intervention over another. The available research suggests that a wide variety of interventions appear to reduce or eliminate IPV among perpetrators and victims. Thus, there is no empirical justification for agencies, state organizations, judges, mental health professionals, or others involved in improving the lives of those impacted by IPV to limit the type of services offered to clients, or to restrict the theoretical and ideological underpinnings of such methods. For example, some of the strongest IPV-preventive effects among BIPs were associated with alternative, non-traditional interventions that focus on constructs such as readiness to change or motivational enhancement methods. This suggests that practitioners and policymakers should consider and attempt to implement a variety of different intervention methods for both perpetrators and victims in order to reduce IPV.

The results of this review also indicate that the research base underlying this area of inquiry is severely limited. We were able to identify only 30 studies of BIPs and 31 studies of intervention for victim-survivors that met our inclusion criteria. This is a critically small number of intervention studies for an area of such public health significance. A variety of important limitations were present among available studies.  Most were conducted in the U.S., most presented the kinds of biased conclusions that follow from the use of non-randomized designs, most had significant design implementation problems, and there were few attempts at replication. Future researchers in this area would be wise to broaden the type of interventions under evaluation to extend beyond the typical and traditional intervention packages than currently exist, and to examine whether specific components of interventions are associated with behavior change. In addition, researchers should extend the types of outcomes assessed beyond measures of recidivism, and to study a wider range of perpetrators and victims (e.g., studying female perpetrators and/or male victims; examining treatment effectiveness in non-U.S. samples).

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