The Duluth model was created in Duluth Minnesota as a result of a group of activists gathering after a particularly gruesome murder of a woman by her husband. They put their heads together and came up with a group of ideas about how to keep that sort of incident from ever happening again. They developed a model that saw the world of violence in a socio-political context where, as the initial tragedy had shown, men wielded power over women in a violent fashion. Since that time the Duluth Model has become the theoretical framework of choice in the domestic violence industry. In some situations I am sure it is a very good fit, however, in many I am sure it is not. As we shall see the Duluth Model has no connection to any reputable theory of behavioral change and exhibits a major failing in its inability to differentiate any potential clients who might be better served by a different type of treatment. It is a truly "One size fits all" approach to the complex world of domestic violence. It's primary focus (resulting from it’s original precipitating incident) is on the power and control of men over women. Recent research
[/b] however has proven that domestic violence is not a male-only endeavor. Women have been shown to initiate violence in relationships at a rate higher than that of males and research also indicates that women incur about 62% of the domestic violence injuries while men incur 38%. These studies have confirmed that domestic violence is surely not a simple male on female problem. They have shown that 25% of domestic violence is initiated without provocation by women, 25% by men, and 50% simply a brawl between the two parties. With numbers like these it is patently clear that a model that is based solely on a man’s violence towards women sees only half the problem and leaves its proponents with a spurious picture of the real world of domestic violence. The Duluth model is profoundly outdated, inappropriate and inadequate to help victims of domestic violence.
Let’s have a quick look at the assumptions that underlie the rhetoric of the Duluth Model.
The Duluth model makes some serious assumptions about men. The first assumption is that all men are trained by our culture to dominate women. Here's a quote from Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model
by Pence and Paymar: "Men in particular are taught these tactics in both their families of origin and through their experiences in a culture that teaches men to dominate
" This quote is not directed at some men, it is directed at all men. It reveals the Duluth’s profound bias against men. It literally assumes that all men are taught both in their families and in their culture to be dominant towards women. While this is undoubtedly true in the original murder that brought forth the Duluth model and in some instances of domestic violence today it is surely not true of all men. It also leaves no explanation or understanding for instances when women are the perpetrators. I think that most men would tell you that they were not taught to dominate women in their families of origin. They would likely tell you that they were taught just the opposite: not to batter women but to respect, care for, and protect them. My estimation is that most men were taught one of the worst things you can do is to hit a girl. Most men have probably never hit a girl or a woman though most men have probably been hit more than once by a woman. I would bet that this is the experience of millions of men in this culture but the Duluth Model frames all men as dominators and abusers in waiting.
This model believes that men have set things up from the beginning to be in their favor. That men across the board have stacked the deck to put themselves on top and women on the bottom. Here is a quote: "The historic oppression and continued subjugation of women in most cultures occurs because men have defined almost every facet of their societies, thereby perpetuating a sexist belief system and institutionalizing male privilege
." This model believes that men have intentionally created a system that favors themselves and is intentionally hurtful to women. They go on to assume that domestic violence is a logical extension of this by having men use violence to enforce this advantage. This may be true for a handful of men but it is certainly not true of all men. The implication is that all men are consciously seeking advantage over the women in their lives. I question the veracity of this and also would like to point out that a presumption such as this can only be antagonistic towards the very group that they seek to help.
The next assumption is that battering of women by men is commonplace. This book claims that 50% of men batter their wives at some time in their marriage. In a nutshell that means that if you are a male either you or your next door neighbor are wife beaters. Is it you or your next door neighbor? They go on to say that one out of four men use some type of physical violence against their spouse during the course of a given year. These are obvious exaggerations and distortions of the truth. Domestic violence is bad enough without having to exaggerate the statistics. A common ploy to inflate statistics is to water down the definition of abuse to such extremes that the statistic simply doesn’t mean a thing. There is a factoid that is popular on the internet and in domestic violence literature that states that every 15 seconds a woman is battered. What you are not told is that using these same overblown definitions of abuse that a man would be battered every 14 seconds! The Duluth model exposes its inherent sexism and once again gives us only one side of things. Statistics like this are not useful in helping people understand the truth of domestic violence. There is no reason to exaggerate something so horrid, but that is what the Duluth model proponents do.
It is disturbing to me that the Duluth model discourages therapy and makes the assumption that a man's violence is not related to drugs, psychopathology, previous abuse, impulse control, communications, alcoholism, or other difficulties. The Duluth Model book states: "These factors are contributors or modifiers of a mans' behavior but they do not cause (emphasis mine) his violence
." The cause according to them is the socio-political elements inherent in a man's socially constructed "dominance." This is what they see as the enemy and what needs to be eliminated. They see psychopathology, drugs, previous childhood abuse, and other problems as distractions and urge their group leaders to not allow the participants in their programs to focus on any of these "distractions". While they know that the majority of these men have been abused as children they urge the group leaders "To keep the group focused on the issues of violence, abuse, control, and change." This might be likened to a patient coming to the emergency room with profuse bleeding, a broken leg, and a bloody lip and receiving treatment for only the profuse bleeding and having all other symptoms ignored as "distractions." Present day psychotherapy is in agreement over very few things, but one is that when you treat a person with difficulties you must treat the whole person, not just one part. Duluth intentionally treats only one part.
The Duluth model seems to take a very archaic approach to healing: force the client to order his reality in the way you want and hope that change may occur. The energy is put into keeping the client “on topic”, that is, the topic of their own dominating behaviors. Then there seems to be a magical jump from this into the “hoped for” behavior change. It’s as if the model is saying “If we can keep this man focused on his dominant behaviors sooner or later he will change.” There doesn’t seem to be any explanation for this hoped for transformation nor any way to measure the outcome of the expected change. The Duluth model seems to be more a way of thinking into which the clients must become indoctrinated rather than a theoretical healing framework. The clients are forced to puppet back in the groups the words that harmonize with the group leaders ideas. If they can do this it seems to be taken as a confirmation that change is taking place. This of course is a dangerous assumption.
We have noted that the Duluth model fails to see the man as a whole, it assumes that the status quo of masculine behavior is to intentionally keep his woman down, and assumes that he is trained by his family and his culture to be dominant and violent. These are all indicators of a profound anti-male bias in this model The underlying and unspoken message is clear: Men bad, women good. Men perpetrators, women victims. How can we expect a system to help people through a crisis if it carries such judgement and bias? The vilification of one gender and the passive glorification of the other is blatantly sexist. I know of no other psychological model that pre-judges its potential clients prior to treatment. That’s preposterous. Perhaps this is a result of the Duluth model being originally linked to a heinous crime and therefore is naturally linked more to punishment than to healing. It reads more like an indictment than a path toward healing. Sexist theories have no place in government funded programs.
It seems clear to me that this model is inadequate and needs to be replaced. It maintains a profound and consistent bias against men, lacks a connection with any accepted form of behavioral change, leaves no explanation or treatment for female violence, and lacks any capacity to adjust treatment based on individual difference. It seems to be more a biased and sexist way of thinking that is masquerading as a change agent. The time has come to find more functional and balanced alternatives.