In the early 1980s an important event transpired in the history of domestic violence prevention. A group of domestic violence activists met in Duluth, Minnesota after a particularly gruesome murder of a wife by a husband.
The group started to put together what would eventually become the “Duluth Model”, which has since become a staple ideological protocol for most domestic violence agencies in the US.
In some states, its use is mandated. In many ways it has become the handbook for those working with domestic violence victims and situations. It is important to understand the initial questions asked by the Duluth gathering at the inception of the Duluth Model theory.
Here are questions asked by those at the initial gathering:
“Why is she the target of his violence”
“Why does he think he is entitled to have power?”
“How does the community support his violence?”
As you can see from the questions, the Duluth Model at its very beginnings was only about male violence towards women.
It was never about mutual violence or a woman’s violence towards a man. It was only about men beating women. It had no remarks or suggestions for abused men or about female perpetrators. The flagship theory of the industry only focused on women as victims and men as perpetrators.
Australian author Tom Graves has evaluated the Duluth Model and lists its major problems. Here are the first three:
1. It believes that violence is masculine and that men are responsible for violence
2. It refuses to remark or address the fact that men can be the recipients of violence
3. It holds only men responsible as change agents.14
These three errors play a huge part in the failure of the Duluth Model to address the needs of male victims and the needs of female perpetrators.
Let’s hypothesize a possible example of the damage that can occur from stereotyping victims of domestic violence: Imagine both wife and husband have been drinking. The wife, in a burst of anger, throws a wine bottle at her husband who was hit on the arm as he blocked the bottle. The wife next comes after him with a wine glass and tries to throw wine in his face. He blocked that also and in the process, the wine glass breaks and cuts his wife. The police arrive. They find a bleeding and crying wife and a husband who claimed that he had been attacked.
Their Duluth Model training has taught them that the vast majority of victims of domestic violence are female and so, what do they do? Arrest the man and put him in jail! No matter how much the man might try to explain his actions, the police would likely refuse to listen. In fact, once the wife realizes her husband was going to jail, she would probably start to tell the truth, that she was the attacker. The police would of course hear none of it and off to jail the man would go.
This man would be placed into a mandatory Duluth Model domestic violence educational group. He would not be allowed to speak the truth of what had happened.
When he would try to explain that it was his wife who had attacked him, he would be told to be quiet and focus on his violence. The truth of his being abused would be seen by the group leaders as an “excuse” that keeps him from taking responsibility for his violence.
He would be forced never to mention his wife’s violence. He would have two choices. One would be to tell the truth and not graduate from the educational sessions, which would leave him legally vulnerable. The other would be to lie and say he was the abuser. We could guess that this man would choose to lie simply in order to graduate from the training.
This sort of example shows how the system can take on the role of what is being called a third party abuser. The spouse no longer has a need to batter. The police and community agencies are now taking over that role by treating the falsely-accused man in a manner that lacks respect for him as a human being who has been abused or as a citizen with the right to be presumed innocent or to have his side of a given unwitnessed incident fairly considered. This is what can happen when pre-judgments arising from stereotypes are used instead of impartial mindsets coupled with factual analysis.
Since its inception, the Duluth Model has been reworked and made more gender neutral, but it continues to fail miserably in its capacity to address the needs of men who are victimized and of women who are violent.
If you visit the Duluth Model web site, you can see that their primary focus on female victims continues to this day. The Duluth site claims that women account for as many as 97% of the victims of domestic violence.
We know from both police reports and from peer-reviewed research that this is far from the truth. It does however show that the Duluth Model continues to be focused on female victims and has failed in taking current thinking and research into account, thus placing male victims at risk and allowing female perpetrators to go unchecked or psychiatrically untreated for their abusiveness.
Tom Golden, LCSW is an author and psychotherapist who has been writing on issues concerning men, boys, and gynocentrism for many years. Tom has written three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Understanding the Unique World of Boys. He has a blog at Menaregood.com and also has a youtube channel menaregood.