Policy, Intervention, and Prevention


advocacy, research, policy, and practice in the broad field of intimate violence and abuse generally focus on a single aspect of the problem—for example, IPV, child maltreatment, or elder abuse. Thus, when we turn to examine society’s efforts to prevent and treat intimate violence, we find that policies and practices focus on only a single form of violence and abuse. There are no overarching laws and interventions designed to ameliorate or prevent every form of intimate violence.

A second important facet of examining policies, interventions, and prevention efforts is to consider how each policy and practice initiative balances compassion and control. Physicians Alvin Rosenfeld and Eli Newberger (1977) note that there are two competing philosophies applied to treating child abuse, and the same is true for all forms of intimate violence. On one hand is the compassionate approach. Human service professionals who treat violence and abuse from this perspective approach it with an abundance of human kindness and a non-punitive outlook on intervention. The compassionate approach views abusers as victims themselves. The cause of abuse may be seen in social and developmental origins and not in the abuser. Abusers and offenders, rather than being viewed as cold and cruel monsters, are seen as deprived and needy human beings. Compassionate intervention involves supporting the offender and his or her family. Homemaking services, parenting classes, health services, childcare, substance-abuse treatment, and counseling are the typical interventions brought to bear in the compassionate approach.

On the other hand is the control model. The control model involves the aggressive use of interventions to limit, and if necessary, punish and incapacitate the offender. The control approach places full responsibility for actions with the abuser. Control interventions include arrest, prosecution, and expedited termination of parental rights.

Child maltreatment, with the exception of sexual abuse and exploitation of children, takes a decidedly compassionate approach to policy and practice. When the first mandatory reporting laws were enacted in the late 1960s, advocates and lawmakers agreed that reports would be made to human service branches of government rather than to the police. The narrative supporting the choice of having reports go to social service agencies was that those who maltreat their children have either psychological deficits or social deficits that, if remedied or addressed, would allow parents to successfully and safely provide for their children. As discussed later, there is also a legal foundation for taking a compassionate approach to child maltreatment.

On the other hand, the policy and practice approach to intimate partner violence (IPV) takes a strong control approach for offenders and a compassionate approach for the victims. IPV is viewed simply and straightforwardly as a crime. In the 1970s, women’s advocacy groups brought lawsuits against police departments and prosecutors for failing to adequately protect victims of IPV. Advocates pushed for strong control responses to intimate violence and sexual assault. Here, too, legal and constitutional precedents supported calls for a control, as opposed to a compassionate, approach to IPV.

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