Webinar presenter Dr. Mahri Irvine answered a number of your questions after his presentation, “Domestic Violence 101: What Justice Professionals Need to Understand about the Dynamics, Contexts, and Roots of this Chronic Crime.” Here are a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Is there a way to identify when an offender is at the tipping point of abuse before they take the first swing or before they start to deteriorate into more abusive behavior?
Dr. Mahri Irvine: I think that, you know, so if you’re working with, if you’re a counselor or you’re in a batter intervention program, and you’re able to actually be working closely with that person, that’s probably where you’d get to know that person and be able to start to identify possibly that person’s tipping point. If you are working with a victim or someone who’s worried about their relationships and so they’re coming to you for advice, I think the best strategy would be working with that victim to talk about, looking for patterns in the behavior, I think is really important. So, I think that’s, you know, batterers have a lot of commonalities but then they’re all also individual, unique people. So, I think that would really depend on the specific situation, but that is a great question and I’ll have to look up to see if, maybe any psychologists have done some research on that.
Audience Question: Are there specific approaches you recommend for an advocate when they’re working with the victim of the batterer who is a law enforcement officer?
Dr. Mahri Irvine: I think that one of the really important things to keep in mind here and this might sound cheesy but is to believe in the integrity of that law enforcement department. And yes, we do hear horror stories and the media about police chiefs and higher-level administrators who cover up that type of abuse, but there are also far more police chiefs and administrators who consider this a grave, this is like a traitor’s act, if we have law enforcement officers who are actually endangering their spouses. And so, obviously, with the permission of the victim, you could possibly talk with the victim and see if the victim feels comfortable trying to reach out to someone higher up in the law enforcement agency. But often, what we know about victims of law enforcement offenders is they’re very afraid of the law enforcement. They’re afraid that the batterer’s colleagues in law enforcement are going to help cover that up. So, I think, it’s really important to do some work and try to figure out are you going to get support from the people who are higher up in that agency.
Audience Question: What is the best verbiage when you start with believing?
Dr. Mahri Irvine: Honestly, I think the best verbiage to use can simply be a “thank you so much for sharing” and “I believe you.” I mean, I know working with sexual assault survivors, you can sometimes see this obvious relief spread across their face and there’s physical relaxation when they realize that finally, someone is actually going to take what they’re saying seriously. And if you think about in intimate terrorism relationships, how these victims, they’ve experienced so much gaslighting and manipulation and so many insults, probably with their partner telling them that they’re stupid and that nobody will believe them. That I think very bluntly and explicitly saying “I do believe you and I want to help support you,” I think that can be immensely powerful. If you’re in an agency or situation where you feel you have to be more neutral, what you can do is say “thank you so much and I really want to support, so can you let me know some ways I can support you?”
Audience Question: When judges fail to punish an offender for violating ordered protection, is there research that indicates that this contributes to offenders recidivating with the same crimes?
Dr. Mahri Irvine: There might be some research out there. I know there’s research in terms of when we have offenders who fail to respect those protective orders and then we have law enforcement who don’t enforce the protective orders, then that’s actually where we see an increase in rates of femicide, right, especially when it comes to stalking. I would have to look up that question specifically if we can actually see a pattern between higher rates of recidivism, but I would certainly say, I think psychologically, an offender would feel very empowered to continue being abusive either to the current partner or to a new partner because what he has learned is that a protective order doesn’t actually really mean anything, that it doesn’t really have any serious consequences. So, I would certainly say that it’s very dangerous if we have judges who aren’t punishing people for violating their protective orders because it’s going to empower those offenders to feel like they can go ahead and keep doing whatever they want to do.
Audience Question: Does situational couple violence include roommate violence?
Dr. Mahri Irvine: Again, that might depend on the legal definition of the state or the jurisdiction in which you are living or doing the research, so for example, like in Washington DC, I believe that the definition of domestic violence legally that includes violence and abuse committed by roommates or basically anybody you’re living with. So, that’s where trying to get accurate statistics is really frustrating because it depends on the researcher or the advocates or the law enforcement agency or it depends on “are you going with the legal definition?” and that legal definition might look different from state to state.
Audience Question: Do you think that the research numbers for male victims is lower or less due to a lack of reporting?
Dr. Mahri Irvine: No. I mean, I don’t think so because when we’re doing like anonymous types of reports where the CDC is doing a telephone-based survey and things like that and people are assured of anonymity and things like that, I think we can rely on those types of statistics if we were doing data collection where we were requiring people to walk in and be visibly seen, something like that, they might be a lot more reluctant to participate. So, I think in part it might depend on the method but I definitely think that we can confidently say that there are much higher rates of female victims than there are male victims.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of “Domestic Violence 101: What Justice Professionals Need to Understand about the Dynamics, Contexts, and Roots of this Chronic Crime.”