The Men’s Resource Center provides individual and group counseling for men who have experienced domestic violence whether as the perpetrator or the recipient. Our work has shown that not all domestic violence or abuse is the same. There are important distinctions to be made where treatment options are concerned. These domestic violence assessments can also bear weight in situations such as divorce and child custody cases. At the start of October — Domestic Violence Awareness Month — Randy Flood, Director of the Men’s Resource Center and an evaluator at the Fountain Hill Center for Counseling and Consultation and Ben Burgess, also an evaluator with Fountain Hill sat down with attorneys Connie Thacker and Allison Sleight to discuss the role of domestic violence assessments in divorce and child custody issues. Here is part of that conversation.

Identifying the Scope and Severity of Domestic Violence

Flood: Particularly, more recently, we’re looking at identifying the scope and severity of domestic violence and looking at the typology, because there used to be this idea that it was a one-size-fits-all (coming out of the battered women’s movement) which was more the coercive control form of domestic violence and the most severe. And so we are now aware of other forms of domestic violence that need to be evaluated so that you can design parenting time plans and treatment from that.

Thacker: What about this concept of domestic violence assessments? I mean how do you assess, ’cause often times, again, it’s one parent versus the other parent and where’s the continuum of the violence? I mean, “my spouse speaks to me inappropriately and is demeaning and controlling financially.” Is that really domestic violence, domestic abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse? We see all kinds of those. So, how do you guys try to assess that?

Burgess: Well, what we’re looking at specifically is how it impacts someone’s ability to parent and co-parent. So, for instance, when Randy talked about coercive control, if a parent is afraid of the other parent, if there’s a level of psychological fear, that obviously impacts co-parenting, where you can’t have co-parenting in cases like that.

But, on the other hand, if there was an instance of separation-associated violence where someone pushed the other or slapped the other at the time of divorce when they’re going through the most stressful experience in their lives, that needs to be treated differently than a coercive control case. Not that it doesn’t need to be treated and dealt with appropriately, but it needs to be dealt with differently.

Gender-Inclusive Power and Control Wheel

SAVE: Gender-Inclusive Power and Control Wheel

Power and Control Dynamics

Flood: In the assessment process, to differentiate between those two types you would look for whether there was preexisting domestic violence prior to the announcement of the separation. Because if it’s a separation associated typology you would have typically a fairly normative marriage situation — they might not have gotten along, they might have just had differences beyond parenting, or an affair might have happened — and then, all of a sudden, you have this intense separation where a lot of times we talk about “divorce psychosis” where people just kind of become disintegrated and their best character is not present at that moment, and they make choices that are out of character.

And so that would be treated, as Ben says, very differently than a 20-year marriage where there was coercive control around the power control wheel, whether it was financial control, you have verbal abuse, you have jealousy, and withdrawing people from family and friends, and you have using the church, everything – it’s a full-court press, an oppressive system for the victim.

Men’s Support Groups

Sleight: And I think we keep mentioning treatment and using that word. What does that treatment look like? What do you guys do at the Men’s Resource Center? What can people expect?

Flood: The treatment of choice for — we specifically work with men because it’s a men’s resource center — and so the treatment of choice is group therapy because that’s a place where men can learn accountability and gain insight into the problem because in domestic violence it’s a crisis in accountability. That’s the primary problem is that they’re not able to be accountable for their behavior. And so you have to move them into accountability and then they can learn different strategies and skills, change some of their belief systems about women, and that can help them move to a place of having more egalitarian, respectful relationships.

Domestic Violence Self-Assessments and Support

As we state in the podcast, there’s not a one-size-fits-all form of domestic violence — it can be verbal, physical, controlling, isolating. If you think you may be a victim of domestic violence, take this anonymous self-assessment that can help you decide if you might be in an abusive domestic relationship. If you are in immediate danger or feel unsafe, call 911.

On the other hand, if you have been told you exhibit abusive behavior (or if you know you do), take our domestic violence assessment test. We use it most effectively with individuals who have engaged in abusive behaviors toward their partners as a way to understand their own personality style, triggers for abusive behaviors, and self-management strategies. If, after taking this anonymous, self-administered test, you decide to make a change in your life, contact the Men’s Resource Center at 616-456-1178 or seek online domestic abuse counseling. We are here to help.

Resources: Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233.