Partner Violence. Prevention and Intervention

Chapter Summary by
Sherry L. Hamby

Chapter summary, as it appears in:
Partner Violence: A Comprehensive Review of 20 Years of Research
Edited by Jana L. Jasinski and Linda M. Williams (1998)
Made available by Sage Publications

In many respects, both prevention and intervention for partner violence are in their infancy. Shelters, the first service offered specifically for partner violence, originated only in the 1970's, and other programs have developed even more recently. Although many of these programs are well thought-out and take advantage of existing knowledge about the cause of partner violence, their success has been mixed. Perhaps the firmest conclusion that can be drawn is that even when considerable resources are spent and a variety of community institutions are involved, partner violence can still be quite an intractable problem. Providers in this field must be prepared to deal with a substantial number of individuals, both perpetrators and victims, who do not seem to change. Although it is generally that case that definitive outcome studies have not yet been done, some avenues for future services and service evaluation are suggested by this review.


Prevention efforts are growing rapidly throughout the United States, especially those that focus on teenagers. Most, however, are still rather brief interventions, and their long-term impact has not been conclusively demonstrated. In particular, the effects of community wide efforts are not well known because most studies of change at the community level have not looked at the effects of specific interventions. In the future, anti-violence programs for teens will probably become more fully integrated into the educational curriculum. Providers of such programs should also be aware, however, that some may cause a "backlash effect," or increase in violence, among a small percentage of participants. Offering relationship-training skills to engaged or newly married couples, perhaps through institutions such as the military, churches, and community centers, is a promising avenue that has received only minimal application and study. In general, programs that focus on teaching protective factors, such as healthy relationship skills, may be more effective than programs that focus on warning about risk factors.


Current efforts at social control of perpetrators may be meeting with some success. Over one half of perpetrators appear to cease their violent behavior during the 6-month to 1-year period following identification of the violence by law enforcement or other community agencies. It is not clear, however, what contributes to these results or how much these results differ from the cessation of violence that occurs without intervention. Conclusive evaluations of individual change in perpetrators' behavior have not yet been done. Perhaps even more importantly, the impact on the community of changes in arrest and other intervention policies has essentially gone unstudied. It seems possible that effects on the community may have long-term deterrent effects that are not observed over the course of several months or even a few years. Thus, most providers and other partner violence professionals agree that such interventions need to be continued despite only modest evidence of their efficacy.

The study of services to victims is not well developed. Of the models that have been developed so far, the Coordinated Community Action Models (CCAMs), in particular, are promising avenues for improving the provision of services to victims in addition to perpetrators. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done to develop and evaluate services that are tailored to the needs of individuals who have sustained partner violence. It seems most likely that models based on helping individuals recover from trauma will be most applicable.

In the development of future interventions, one important area that has received little attention is the issue of matching individuals to treatment. Basic research on typologies of batterers is progressing, but these findings have yet to be incorporated into treatment models. It seems likely, for instance, that legal interventions will be most important for perpetrators who have extensive criminal histories. Similarly, couples who have experienced less severe forms of violence may be most suitable for couples therapy.


Providers from a variety of backgrounds are increasingly coming to recognize the importance of addressing partner violence. New efforts at training providers to screen for and intervene with violence should broaden the number of people who are served. Providers are also becoming increasingly cognizant of unique safety and other issues that need to be addressed when working in the partner violence field. The importance of addressing one's personal violence histories is becoming increasingly recognized, as is the need to deal with vicarious traumatization. With this expansion of trained providers, one hopes, both prevention and intervention services will continue to develop and improve.



  1. Future school-based programs may benefit from being longer and more fully integrated into the curriculum.
  2. Programs that focus on teaching protective factors, such as healthy relationship skills, may be more effective than programs that focus on warning about risk factors.
  3. More research needs to be done on the effectiveness of community-wide prevention efforts, such as public service announcements.
  4. More evaluation needs to be done on the effects of social structure changes. Such evaluations could be either longitudinal or cross-sectional (or both). Future programs may encourage teenagers and others to become actively involved in community efforts to prevent violence--for example, by developing their own school awareness campaigns or by alerting them to ways they can join local community action groups.


  1. Screening for partner violence and safety planning should be fundamental components of all services, from hospital emergency rooms to individual counseling.
  2. The development of programs tailored to treating victims of partner violence should receive increased attention that is on a par with the development of programs for perpetrators.
  3. Victim blaming and falsely communicating a sense of safety should be strongly avoided in any service modality.
  4. Respect for victims' stories, coping strategies, and self-worth should be emphasized by all service providers. Researchers should also try to increase the study of competent responses to violence (Hamby & Gray-Little, 1997).
  5. Coordinated community action models (CCAMs) are the best models currently available for service provision.
  6. Services should include assistance with gaining needed economic resources, social services, and legal advocacy. Services should not focus exclusively on self-esteem or other psychological issues.
  7. Shortening intake assessments, explaining about the purposes of treatment, and following up on no-shows may decrease dropouts from batterers groups.
  8. More attention and resources need to be devoted to comparative analyses of alternative interventions and the benefits of matching perpetrator to treatment.
  9. Sanctions, especially legal sanctions, for noncompliance with treatment should be consistently applied.
  10. Social impact and other forms of community assessment need to be integrated into outcome research.
  11. CCAMs might develop further by encouraging the inclusion of extended family members as part of the planning and execution of the response to violence (as has been done in one province of Canada regarding community response to child abuse; Pennell & Burford, 1994).


  1. Although several training programs are available for providers who intervene with violent individuals and their victims, programs for those who provide preventive services could not be located. Such programs are needed.
  2. Providers should receive specialized training and supervision that focus on preventing or intervening against violence. Providers in this field should be aware of relevant social, political, and dynamic issues that contribute to the problem of partner violence.
  3. Providers should be thoroughly aware of their own victimization and perpetration histories, if any, and of their attitudes toward partner violence. Sufficient self-exploration, training, and personal therapy should take place so that transferential responses to victims and perpetrators are minimized.
  4. More experienced providers should also continue to receive support and ongoing peer supervision to help minimize the effects of vicarious traumatization.
  5. Safety issues, such as avoiding seeing clients at night in an otherwise empty office, are important considerations for all providers who work with partner violence.
  6. Training should include an increased emphasis on cultural, religious, and socioeconomic issues and how such issues affect all services.


Hamby, S.L. & Gray-Little, B. (1997). Responses to partner violence. Journal of Family Psychology, 11, 339-350.

Pennell, J., & Burford, G. (1994). Widening the circle: Family group decision making. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 9(1), 1-12.

Feedback Join Us Site Map VAWPrevention Home
  National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center © Copyright 2000
(843) 792-2945/telephone       (843)  792-3388/fax