Fighting Back: Offenders face accountability, learn about safe relationships

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, sits for a portrait in Concord last month. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course in Dover. The majority of domestic violence offenders who participate in the 36-week program are referred by a state court. Elizabeth Frantz / For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, lists the different types of abuse on a whiteboard in Concord on Jan. 25, 2019. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no legitimate excuse for domestic violence. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, stands for a portrait in Concord on Jan. 25, 2019. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no legitimate excuse for domestic violence. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, lists the different types of abuse on a whiteboard in Concord on Jan. 25, 2019. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no legitimate excuse for domestic violence. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, sits for a portrait in Concord on Jan. 25, 2019. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no legitimate excuse for domestic violence. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, founder of Ending the Violence, lists 16 different types of abuse common in domestic violence cases on a whiteboard in Concord in late January. Hampton leads batterers intervention classes through his Dover-based program each week. Elizabeth Frantz / For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, stands for a portrait in Concord on Jan. 25, 2019. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no legitimate excuse for domestic violence. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Scott Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence, solves a Rubik's Revenge in Concord on Jan. 25, 2019. Hampton facilitates a batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no legitimate excuse for domestic violence. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

Monitor staff
Published: 2/4/2019 6:20:27 PM

A paper sign with the words “Ending the Violence” hung in the glass window of a dark wooden door that opened to a one-room office. Inside, a man sat at a long folding table trying to solve one of four colorful Rubix cubes of various sizes and complexity. Another man lounged back on a plush checkered couch with his right leg swung over the side as he read a magazine and waited for two other classmates to arrive.

On tap for that night’s batterers intervention class: decoding the hidden message in a hotel advertisement followed by a matching game that required the four men to put themselves in a woman’s shoes.

“I’d just rather be single. If I piss myself off, it’s my own fault,” one man said during the matching activity. After considering his past relationship, he looked at one of the lines on the matching game and elaborated: “We argue about the same thing over and over again. If we just had that conversation last week, why are we having it again?”

The man wrinkled his forehead and pressed his fingers into his temple. He leaned over a coffee table where he was trying to identify possible explanations for why women might criticize, yell, lie, walk away, or falsely accuse their partners – in addition to several other things men said anger them.

In response to the man’s comment, class facilitator Scott Hampton uncapped a black marker and began writing on a dry erase board: “I don’t want to argue with you about the same thing over and over again.” Then, he grabbed an eraser and began eliminating words one at a time until all he had left was “I don’t want you.”

“That’s what she hears,” Hampton told the men attending that night’s class. “The rest is noise.”

The eyes of two guys widened in interest to hear more. Others nodded their head in a sign of understanding.

The activity had challenged them from the outset and they were full of questions.

Hampton, the founder of Ending the Violence in Dover, encouraged the four men – all court-referred to the program – to focus less on blaming the victim and justifying the abuse and more on showing empathy for the victims’ perspective. The approach is one of several educational objectives built into the 36-week batterers intervention course that aims to hold perpetrators accountable, teach them equality in relationships and that there is no excuse for domestic violence – ever.

While variations of batterers programs are available to offenders in New Hampshire, there is no one agency or person monitoring them to ensure their compliance with state standards, which were modeled after more than a dozen other states across the country. Hampton served as chairman of the batterers intervention subcommittee that published the standards under the arm of the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence in the early 2000s.

A decade later, experts still don’t know how to effectively measure a program’s success.

“Some people say the answer is easy: Measure recidivism rates. But, there is a problem with that. Are these people not getting rearrested because they become healthy, respectable partners or did they learn through the class how not to get arrested? We don’t know the answer,” Hampton said in a follow-up interview. “I would think we’d want to measure improvement in quality of life of the victim and the family, but that’s a really hard thing to measure.”

The 126-page booklet outlining batterers intervention standards in the state and resources for victims and offenders also contains cautionary notes to providers about how perpetrators can use what they’ve learned to further manipulate their partners and adjust their abusive behavior to go undetected by the criminal justice system.

Hampton said he sends a letter of completion to the court when appropriate, but is careful not to provide judges with individual assessments. He can never say with certainty whether a man who completes his program is going to re-offend or not, and he doesn’t want the victim to depend on an evaluation that could prove untrue and put them in further danger down the road.

“I have a disclaimer at the end that says that just because someone did everything they were told to do doesn’t mean they’re going to be successful,” Hampton said. “For example, I can give someone a hammer and he can go build a house or smash a window with it. When given the same tool, I don’t know what the men in my program are going to do with it when they leave the room.”

Numbers aside, Hampton has seen firsthand the positive effect his 36-week course has had on some of the men who take part, whether because of a court order or because they are socially mandated to do so by a partner or employer. About 80 percent of the thousands of offenders Hampton has worked with were referred by a judge.

“I remember this one guy who came in week after week and he just sat there with his arms crossed in the corner,” Hampton said. “He told me, ‘The court can require me to be here but you can’t make me learn anything.’ ”

More than halfway through the program, the man started to loosen his arms. One day, he uncrossed them and finally engaged. He told Hampton he tried not to learn anything but could no longer tune out the lessons. He wanted to continue to attend classes after the required 36 weeks to make up for missed time.

Attorneys and judges admit the state still struggles with how best to hold offenders accountable for their crimes with the goal of changing their behavior so the abuse does not escalate. That escalation translates to serious or lethal injuries for the victim and felony convictions for the offender that mandate prison time.

Experts say batterers intervention services provide the best chance at education and rehabilitation. However, judges will order anger management as an alternative, in part, because the programs require a shorter commitment and because they fear the term batterer, especially if the offender was convicted of nothing more than simple assault.

“The reality is people who are abusive don’t have a problem managing their anger. In fact, many are experts at it. They use it as a tool of intimidation,” Hampton said. “Someone who truly has an anger management problem is just as freaked out by it – or more freaked out by it – as the person is they’re assaulting. They don’t wait to get prosecuted; they call me up and say, ‘People I care about are in danger. What can I do?’ ”

Family Court Judge Susan Carbon said there is growing concern nationally about how to best get offenders to buy into batterers intervention programs so they want to learn and change.

“By calling someone a batterer, you’re labeling them with a really ugly term. Ordering them to anger management softens the term,” she said. “If we need to call it something different, I’m certainly all for it because we need to get them in.”

She agreed with Hampton that anger management is not an appropriate substitute.

With no federal or community-based funding to support the program, participants must pay out of pocket. Hampton uses a sliding fee scale to determine payment, and he doesn’t accept insurance or third-party reimbursement because doing so would require a medical diagnosis.

“There is no real medical diagnosis that fits what’s going on with these folks,” said Hampton, who has a Ph.D. in psychology. “For example, if I give them an alcohol diagnosis for domestic violence, I’m saying alcohol is a significant causative factor in abuse when I don’t believe that to be true.”

Hampton explained that alcohol and other mind-altering substances are magnifiers but do not cause abusive behavior.

“If someone has a problem with drugs and is a perpetrator of domestic violence, then they have two problems that need to be addressed independently of one another,” he said.

Ending the Violence also offers a class to women who are identified as the predominant aggressor in a relationship. However, Hampton said calling it a batterers intervention class goes too far; instead of engaging in instrumental violence as men do, the women more often engage in defensive or resistive violence to try to get out of the control of another person. The majority of women are victims themselves.

Hampton reminded the four participants of a recent batterers intervention class that men are commonly more violent and can cause more damage with their hands alone.

One man said his ex-girlfriend slapped him all the time during an argument but he never thought about calling the police. He never felt threatened; he simply became more alert.

“Think about that for a second,” Hampton said. “You had the luxury of not getting assistance from the system because you knew you were safe.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)


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