Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Psychologist slams offenders' anti-violence programme

The new anti-violence programme for domestic violence offenders is being slammed by a leading psychologist. Photo / Thinkstock
The new anti-violence programme for domestic violence offenders is being slammed by a leading psychologist. Photo / Thinkstock

A new anti-violence programme for domestic violence offenders is being slammed by a leading psychologist as dangerous to women and giving "comfort" to abusive men.

Dr Neville Robertson, a Waikato University domestic violence specialist, said the Corrections Department was "doing the abusers' work for them" by forcing anti-violence agencies to adopt the new programme or lose their funding to work with about 3000 offenders a year.

Most agencies boycotted a request for tenders for the new programme issued in April, forcing the department to delay a planned July 1 start date for an initial pilot. The National Network of Stopping Violence Services told Corrections Minister Anne Tolley in April that the programme "significantly increases the potential for harm to already vulnerable women and children".

But the department is now negotiating with agencies individually and no agency contacted by the Herald would comment on the record.

Off the record, agencies said the department had dropped an initial demand to film all sessions in the pilot programme and was now negotiating on the proposed price of $2212 for each offender in the 26-session programme.

But it has apparently not changed any of the contents of the programme's five modules covering beliefs and attitudes that support abuse, managing emotions, alcohol and drugs, relationship skills and the impact of abuse on others.

The programme reflects a deliberate shift away from a feminist approach emphasising male "power and control" to a mainstream approach using cognitive behavioural therapy, which aims to change offenders' behaviour by changing the way they think.

A departmental review of worldwide programmes last year found "no conclusive evidence" that any of them reduced domestic violence, but argued that many men who abused their partners also offended in other ways so the best approach was to address all their personal needs that led to offending, such as employment, personal and family relationships, friends, substance abuse, personal and emotional stability and criminal attitudes.

But Dr Robertson said domestic violence should be treated differently from all other crimes.

"What characterises a domestic violence offender above all else is a set of beliefs that he is entitled to the domestic and sexual services of his partner, entitled to control her life, entitled to her absolute obedience, entitled to not have her show him up in public," he said.

"Unless [these beliefs] are confronted, all the programme will do is turn out better educated abusers."

He said the programme was "theoretically flawed, misconstrues the issues, and will give some comfort to controlling men who wish to protect their privileged position within the family".

Corrections programmes manager Ben Clark said Dr Robertson's criticisms were "prejudging something that hasn't even begun".

"The whole point of the process we're going through is to first establish a pilot programme to determine which parts work best to help reduce family violence," he said.

He said the department was still committed to starting the pilot this month.The tender document said the new programme would replace all existing programmes for Corrections clients immediately for agencies that entered the pilot and for all other agencies from July next year.

- NZ Herald

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