Demanding accountability in domestic violence courts: Defendants' perceptions of mandated batterer's intervention programs
Pike, Johnna L.
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The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore defendants' experiences in the Specialized Domestic Violence Court process in Erie County, New York. Domestic violence courts are problem solving courts which emerged to address the unique needs of abuse survivors and to promote greater accountability among perpetrators. The domestic violence court model while having been credited with empowering survivors has raised concerns about denying defendants meaningful engagement in the criminal justice process. This study thus sought to understand how defendants' experiences may have impacted attitudes about accountability and willingness to comply with court directives. The following research questions framed this study: (1) How have defendants' interactions as part of the court process influenced perceptions about their treatment?; (2) How have defendants constructed their understanding of accountability for the violence and position in the criminal justice system?; (3) What factors did defendants regard as impeding and/or facilitating their ability to comply with the mandates of the court? Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with twenty criminal defendants who were situated in a domestic violence court and who had been court mandated to attend a batterer's intervention program. The themes that emerged from the interviews included: (1) defendants perceived that they had been treated unfairly as part of the court process, (2) defendants resisted the abuser stigma by eliciting techniques of neutralization, and (3) defendants perceived both their inability to have voice during the court process and the "one size fits all" approach of the domestic violence courts as barriers to their compliance. The findings suggest that domestic violence courts are confronted with potential risks in ignoring defendants' perceptions of fairness. Defendants demonstrated neutralization strategies to justify a lack of accountability for their abusive behavior and to resist the moral bind of the law. Further, the findings illustrate the difficulties that domestic violence courts face in tackling neutralizations among domestic violence defendants. Finally, the findings suggest a need to rethink the approach toward accountability achievement in these cases.