What's Wrong with the Duluth Model for DV Treatment?
The Duluth Model is a DV treatment program that dominates every level of DV services from the police officer who responds to a 911 call, to the laws that govern how that officer is supposed to act, to the judge who hears the case if charged, and the treatment services provided to both parties.
The Duluth Model for DV treatment provides glaring examples of the DV community’s anti-male pro-female gender biases. In pivotal ways, the influence the model has waged is a major cause of those ongoing biases.
From my perspective, the Duluth Model is not only flawed, and unhelpful—it is destructive.
I have come to that conclusion through decades of advocacy for men abused by their wives and girlfriends, and for the expansion of understanding that Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) can happen in any gender configuration.
In this post, I'll give you the background. You can draw your own conclusions.
What's in This Post
|What is The Duluth Model for DV Treatment?|
|Origins of the Duluth Model DV Treatment|
|The Duluth Model Believes Partner Abuse is ONLY Male-to-Female|
|The Duluth Model Excuses Away Female-to-Male Partner Violence|
|The Duluth Model DV Power and Control Wheel|
|Approved Adaptations of the Power and Control Wheel|
|How is the Duluth Model Destructive?|
|Pence's Own Criticism of the Duluth Model|
|Duluth Believers Countering of Criticism|
|Countering Duluth Believers' Counter Argument|
|Partner Abuse Books|
|References for Further Study|
What is The Duluth Model for DV Treatment?
In 1981, the city of Duluth, Minesota began using a method for addressing domestic violence designed by Ellen Pence and a small group of other battered women's advocates. The method took on the name of its place of origin and is known as the Duluth Model.
The program includes a treatment curriculum and Coordinated Community Response (CCR) of law enforcement, criminal and civil courts, and human service providers to deal with DV victims and perpetrators.
For 40 years, the vast majority of DV intervention policies and programs in the US, Canada, UK, and beyond are based entirely or fundamentally on the Duluth Model.
The Duluth Model has a core belief that it is attached to with fundamentalist zeal:
- Men abuse their wives and girlfriends because they have a sense of entitlement provided to them by patriarchal culture.
In their 1993 book, Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model, Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar state it this way (page 5):
"Violence in the family is directly linked to status in the family and to socialization. Men are culturally prepared for their role of master of the home even though they must often physically enforce the 'right' to exercise this role. They are socialized to be dominant and women to be subordinate."
Because the Duluth Model has been adopted by social service agencies that deal with DV, the patriarchal causation absolute core belief of the Duluth Model has colored the DV core beliefs of law enforcement, the courts, legislative bodies, and treatment programs.
(There have been other forces at play in narrowing the focus of DV advocacy to battered women and reinforcing the patriarchal view of DV. I talk about some of those in another post.)
Origins of the Duluth Model DV Treatment
While Ellen Pence and the rest of the “small group of activists in the battered women’s movement” (Pence & Paymar, 1993, p. xiii) who created the Duluth Model only had experience with women who were victims of DV from male partners, the program they developed from that experience was generalized to represent any and all partner violence.
The members of this small group were limited in the population that they were exposed to and also in their educational/professional backgrounds.
At the time Pence designed the program, she had a B.A. in Arts. (Sixteen years later she would get a PhD in Sociology.)
University of British Columbia psychology professor Donald Dutton has found many negatives to the Duluth treatment approach and has pointed out that "The Duluth Model was developed by people who didn't understand anything about therapy."
The Duluth Model Believes Partner Abuse is ONLY Male-to-Female
You need look no further than the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP) "Home of the Duluth Model" homepage to see that the approach is still 100% geared to men as the only perpetrators of DV.
What follows is a screenshot, taken Aug 2022, of the entire topline menu items on their homepage.
Note "Men's Nonviolence Classes." They are very clear that there is only one gender that needs nonviolence classes.
On their What is The Duluth Model? webpage, they declare that it:
"Prioritizes the voices and experiences of women who experience battering in the creation of those policies and procedures."
"Believes that battering is a pattern of actions used to intentionally control or dominate an intimate partner and actively works to change societal conditions that support men’s use of tactics of power and control over women."
The Duluth Model Excuses Away Female-to-Male Partner Violence
On the Duluth Model website, they acknowledge that women are sometimes physically violent with their male partners, but excuse it away, blame it on the man, and dismiss it as “trivial”:
“When women use violence in an intimate relationship, the context of that violence tends to differ from men. . . Many women who do use violence against their male partners are being battered. Their violence is primarily used to respond to and resist the controlling violence being used against them. On the societal level, women’s violence against men has a trivial effect on men compared to the devastating effect of men’s violence against women.”
In reality, men are abused by their female partners as often as it happens the other way around, and men are severely physically abused as often. This is according to many general population studies including large US National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Surveys.
For more on the stats, check out my post: How Many Men are Abused by Women?
The Duluth Model DV Power and Control Wheel
The famous and broadly used Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel is unabashedly gender biased.
ALL representations of partner abuse contained on the wheel present “she"/"her” as victim and "he"/"him" as perpetrators.
It was developed in 1984 and is still in broad use today.
The Duluth Model website describes what they based the wheel on. (As you may have guessed by now, only women were asked for input—and those women were under the influence of Pence and her group who had pre-determined that patriarchy causes DV):
"Over several months, we convened focus groups of women who had been battered.... After listening to these stories and asking questions, we documented the most common abusive behaviors or tactics that were used against these women. The tactics chosen for the wheel were those that were most universally experienced by battered women."
Note that conclusions gleaned over a very limited time ("several months") and only considering input from "women who had been battered" who were under Pence and her cohorts influence has defined the view of DV for four decades.
This graphic shows the Duluth Power and Control Wheel with highlighting added to point out its glaring one-sided view of DV.
Just in case you have any doubts about how representative the Duluth Model Power and Control Wheel, along with its blatant male=perpetrator, female=victim ideology, is in current DV advocacy, the wheel is displayed with pride on the US National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) website. This is the hotline's explanation above the power and control wheel:
"Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used to gain or maintain power and control. At The Hotline, our frame of reference for describing abuse is the Power and Control Wheel developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN."
The NDVH adds a disclaimer that "In the diagram below, the Power and Control Wheel assumes she/her pronouns for the victim and he/him pronouns for the perpetrator, but the abusive behavior that it details can happen to people of any gender or sexuality."
But if they really believed that DV is gender-inclusive, then they wouldn't be using this gender-skewed diagram which they say is their "frame of reference for describing abuse." This is the US national hotline, certainly they have the resources to replace the pronouns and examples to gender-neutral language if they really want to make an inclusive presentation. They do not.
Imagine that you are an abused man and this power wheel is what you find when you are trying to figure out what is happening in your relationship. Seeing this representation of your gender as perpetrators of abuse adds to your confusion. Also imagine that you have been told over and over by your abuser that you are the problem. Being treated as an abuser because of your gender heaps on another layer of abuse from the people you are turning to for guidance and support.
Approved Adaptations of the Power and Control Wheel
TheDuluthModel.org website includes some “approved adaptations” wheels made by third parties.
As of Sept 2023, these include many languages, a wheel for “Tactics Used By Gay Men Who Attended An LGBTI Men's Behaviour Change Program,” "Abuse of Children," “Abuse of Animals,” . . . BUT nothing even remotely acknowledging partner abuse by women (straight or lesbian).
How is the Duluth Model Destructive?
The Duluth Model often doesn't help either the abused or the abusers because the model isn't looking in a constructive direction for how to help. Its blinding attachment to patriarchy as the cause of DV doesn't get at the root of the problem in most cases.
While self-studies performed by Duluth programs say that they are effective, other researchers such as professors Corvo, Dutton and Chen (2009) describe independent research findings that demonstrate that the model isn't working:
"Duluth-type interventions are known to have little-to-no effect on domestic violence perpetration."
I, and some others such as Corvo, Dutton, and Chen, don't see the Duluth Model as a neutral entity that just doesn't help. We see The Duluth Model as destructive.
The male-bashing philosophies the Duluth Model perpetuates and reinforces in its program facilitators and curriculum alienate the men trapped in their court-ordered batterer programs. Denise Hines, Kathleen Malley-Morrison, and Leila Dutton talk about this negative impact in their book Family Violence in the United States: Defining, Understanding, and Combating Abuse (page 168):
"Dutton and Corvo (2006) argue that by taking an adversarial and judgmental stance against batters—and by disbelieving or dismissing batters' often valid claims of alcoholism, mental illness, and mutuality of abuse—Duluth treatment providers preclude any opportunity to form a therapeutic bond with the batterers, which is the strongest predictor of successful treatment outcome."
The Duluth Model has wielded so much power that its philosophy has monopolized the DV narrative, commanded that DV laws and government funding only focus on women as victims and men as perpetrators, and has prejudiced police response to DV calls and judicial determinations in family court.
The Duluth Model footprint has so dominated DV treatment that it has squashed many abused male and LGBTQ partners who are left with no resources or are accused of being abusers by the professionals that they turn to for help.
The one-way view of DV creates multiple barriers for abused men in relationships with women and also abused people in LGBTQ relationships:
Creates a barrier to them recognizing abuse when it is happening to them.
Creates a barrier to them talking about it to others who could potentially be their support group.
Creates a barrier to their family and friends recognized that they are being abused.
Creates a barrier to them seeking help from professionals.
Creates a barrier to helping professionals acknowledging, recognizing, and helping abused partners who don't fit the male-to-female model.
Abused men often experience secondary abuse from the DV system. Multiple studies have found that abused men who reach out to police and other support services are often met with a variety of negative responses from disbelief, to ridicule, to arrest (Walker et al., 2019; Machado et al., 2020; Moore, 2021).
Pence's Own Criticism of the Duluth Model
By 1999, Eleen Pence, the main architect of the Duluth Model, had to acknowledge that their predetermined uni-focus on patriarchy as the cause of partner abuse was not supported by experience. In the book Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from Duluth and Beyond (page 29), Pence admitted that:
"By determining that the need or desire for power was the motivating force behind battering, we created a conceptual framework that, in fact, did not fit the lived experience of many of the men and women we were working with."
Pence noted the resistance that she and other DV advocates behind the Duluth program had to taking in evidence that contradicted their patriarchal theory of DV:
"The DAIP staff . . . remained undaunted by the difference in our theory and the actual experiences of those we were working with."
"Speaking for myself, I found that many of the men I interviewed did not seem to articulate a desire for power over their partner. Although I relentlessly took every opportunity to point out to men in the groups that they were so motivated and merely in denial, the fact that few men ever articulated such a desire went unnoticed by me and many of my coworkers."
While Pence admits that "Eventually, we realized that we were finding what we had already predetermined to find," she twists things around so that Duluth practitioners and proponents can hold on to their original premise.
Pence does cartwheels and handstands so that she can explain away individual men's motivations. If patriarchy can't be found in the male batterers that are being treated and isn't identified by the battered women, then it must be that there is an invisible force field of patriarchal influence from the culture at large. In Pence's own words (page 29-30):
"The DAIP still conceptualizes the violence as a logical outcome of relationships of dominance and inequality--relationships shaped not simply by the personal choices or desires of some men to dominate their wives but by how we, as a society, construct social and economic relationships between men and women within marriage (or intimate domestic relationships) and families."
Duluth Believers Countering of Criticism
A paper by Duluth proponents Paymar and Barnes, entitled Countering Confusion About the Duluth Model, can be found on the DAIP/Duluth website. (Accessed Sept 2022.)
In their paper, Paymar and Barnes backup the belief that DV is caused by patriarchy by arguing that what we see in today's couples is the same as what existed when "Europeans came to this continent":
"When Europeans came to this continent, they brought religion, laws, and economic systems that institutionalized the status of women as the property of men through marriage. From the church to the state, there was not only acceptance of male supremacy, but also an expectation that husbands would maintain the family order by controlling their wives. Various indiscretions committed by wives were offenses to be punished by husbands. This system of male dominance (like any social structure where one group oppresses another) was perpetuated by: a) a belief in the primacy of men over women; b) institutional rules requiring the submission of women to men; c) the objectification of women which made violence acceptable; and d) the right of men to use violence to punish with impunity (Dobash and Dobash 1983).
The status quo of male domination remained fully intact until the early twentieth century when state legislatures began to make wife beating unlawful. However, the practice of men using violence to control women didn’t diminish."
Countering Duluth Believers' Counter Argument
There is no doubt that women were treated as less than men 200 years ago.
Women in the US didn't even have the right to vote until 1920. (Canadian women beat them by just 2 years, having secured the right to vote in 1918.) We are still working on issues of gender equality including getting equal gender numbers in positions of power and influence such as board rooms and legislative seats.
These historical gender imbalances, however, don't translate into patriarchy as the only, or even main cause of DV today.
I don't know where they are seeing evidence that today's men and women think that male-to-female violence is culturally sanctioned in the US, Canada, UK, Australia . . .
Quite the contrary, media representations in commercials, TV programs, and romantic comedies condone, support, and even encourage female-to-male violence.
I have talked to many women who feel entitled to hit their male partners if they do something that hurts their feelings. I don't hear men saying that it's their right to hit their partners. Even men who are under physical attack from wives and girlfriends will resist hitting back. (Click here for more on this and other ways women can overcome any size disadvantage when physically assaulting their husbands and boyfriends.)
We've done a great job teaching boys not to hit girls, but for the most part, we aren't even trying to teach girls not to hit boys.
Partner Abuse Books
I have written several books about partner abuse. Two are quick summaries that are easy to read and digest. One is a full-sized comprehensive (but still easy to read and put into practical use) presentation of abuse of men by women.
For Further Study
The Duluth Model: A data-impervious paradigm and a failed strategy, Dutton and Corvo, 2007, Aggression and Violent Behavior Journal.
Treatments that Work for Intimate Partner Violence: Beyond the Duluth Model: The Translation of Evidence-Based Practices to Correctional Settings, Babcock, et. al, 2018, Chapter In book: New Frontiers in Offender Treatment (pp.269-285).
Intimate Partner Violence and the Duluth Model: An Examination of the Model and Recommendations for Future Research and Practice, Bohall, Bautista and Musson, 2016, Journal of Family Violence.
Do Duluth Model Interventions With Perpetrators of Domestic Violence Violate Mental Health Professional Ethics? Corvo, Dutton and Chen, 2009, Ethics & Behavior Journal.
Perpetrator programmes for partner violence: Are they based on ideology or evidence?, Dixon, Archer and Graham-Kevan, 2012, Legal and Criminological Psychology Journal.
Male victims of female-perpetrated intimate partner violence, help-seeking, and reporting behaviors: A qualitative study. Walker et. al., 2019, Psychology of Men & Masculinities.
Male Victims of Female-Perpetrated Partner Violence: A Qualitative Analysis of Men's Experiences, the Impact of Violence, and Perceptions of Their Worth. Machado, A., Hines, D., & Douglas, E. M. (2020), Psychology of Men & Masculinity.
- Ann Silvers