The ultimate goal of batterer intervention programs is to protect victims.

But there are flaws in the process that make victims’ advocates skeptical.

Among providers of batterer intervention classes, staff are required to contact victims when their abuser enters or exits a program or if they believe a victim is in danger. But in reports to the state Attorney General’s office reviewed by Oklahoma Watch, some programs said they had difficulty reaching victims to let them know. One factor was that the contact information provided to facilitators was incorrect.

Another concern is the state requirement that batterer programs be conducted in group sessions, as opposed to individual ones. Facilitators say group settings allow batterers to hold each other accountable.

But the model it is not without risks.

As part of the program, offenders may share stories about what they did to their victims, and that can turn into bragging or sharing tips on abuse, victims’ advocates say. Facilitators are trained on how to shut down those conversations quickly.

Forrest Britton, a batterer intervention facilitator at Catalyst in Oklahoma City, talks to a class of 14 men about commitments and relationships during a session on Oct. 22. Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch Credit: Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

Advocates say the group approach can perpetuate violence in some cases and give unrepentant abusers more skills at hiding evidence.

Kisha Johnson, an advocate at the Women’s Resource Center in Norman, called the sessions “a breeding ground for abuse.”

One victim told Johnson that her abuser said he learned a lot from intervention sessions on how to inflict injury. His classmates, for example, taught him new forms of violence that left fewer visible marks, Johnson said.

After seven years of advocating for women in emergency shelters, Johnson said she has never received a positive report about intervention programs from a victim.

“I think jail is appropriate if you physically harm someone, but then you put them in a class?” she said. “I personally don’t see the justice in that. It feels like revictimization to the residents I’m working with.”

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