I don’t know how many times I have seen written on the Probation Orders of a domestic violence perpetrator, a condition to attend an anger management course.
When I was initially employed with Corrective Services, over fifteen years ago, this seemed a reasonable request. I imagine for most of the general public who have not been exposed to education about domestic violence, this continues to seem reasonable.
However once you have a good understanding about domestic violence, and the differences between it and anger management, this recommendation appears unhelpful at best. It can even be harmful as it provides the offender with a way to justify and minimise his offending, for example, with excuses such as “I just lost it”, or “I can’t control my anger”.
Domestic Violence vs Anger Management
Let me share with you what I have learned about domestic violence, and why anger management is not the solution.
- Poor anger management infers a loss of emotional control, whereas the ultimate purpose of domestic violence is to maintain control within a relationship and involves measures, sometimes premeditated, meant to control and overpower the will of the victim.
- A person struggling to manage their anger will be angry in many different situations and with many different people. However a domestic violence perpetrator will often be charming to others, presenting himself as the ‘good guy’; meanwhile, he will be violent and domineering towards his partner, usually behind closed doors. This demonstrates that he is able to ‘control’ his anger but chooses not to.
- The domestic violence perpetrator systematically dominates his victim, removing her self-esteem and self-respect. He terrifies her with a planned campaign of violence, threats, isolation, intimidation, humiliation, guilt and other mental and emotional control tactics. This is usually underpinned by negative beliefs about women gained throughout their lives, and more often than not, from their family of origin. Referring to this as an ‘anger issue’ misses the point completely.
In summary if we want to address the problem of domestic violence, we need to address the real issue which is power and control. We don’t do victims or perpetrators any justice if we simply dismiss the problem as being a case of poor anger management.
Author: Shelley Jacks, B Psych (Hons), AMAPS.
Shelley Jacks is a registered psychologist with over 15 years’ experience treating male perpetrators of domestic violence in a forensic setting. She provides risk assessment and pre sentence reporting in relation to this type of offending.
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