The authors of a study told lawmakers Monday that family violence is “no different than other contagious diseases.”
The 165-page report by the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, titled “Addressing Family Violence in Connecticut: Strategies, Tactics and Policies,” was commissioned by the legislature’s Public Health Committee in 2014. It was released in June with numerous recommendations based on findings that most efforts to reduce family violence haven’t produced measurable benefits.
“Family violence tends to be passed on as a negative contagion within the family from one generation to the next and it is pervasive,” the study said. “The side effects include numerous behavioral health problems including drug use, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and illegal behavior, among others.”
There were almost 20,000 arrests for family violence in the state in 2012, according to the report. In 62 percent of the cases, the victim was female. In 35 percent of the cases, victims were injured.
Nineteen percent of the time, a child was present during the incident.
The report cited research from the World Health Organization that said children exposed to violence against their mother by an intimate partner are more likely to become victims or perpetrators later in life.
Many of the study’s recommendations revolve around consistency and oversight in staffing, family assessment, and intervention. That means using licensed, highly-trained, and well-supervised health professionals to recognize any addictions or mental health issues offenders may have and to provide them with treatment that is tailored to their unique situation.
Study manager Caroline Easton, a professor of forensic psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the client-centered approach differs from the Duluth treatment model that’s been prevalent across the country for more than 30 years.
The Duluth method rests on the idea of inequality between the sexes and aims to educate groups of men not to use violence to exercise power and control over women. But Easton said it does not address other factors, like addiction and mental illness, which may contribute to family violence. She also said the group treatment setting may allow high-risk offenders to negatively influence those who are considered low risk.
Easton cited the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a leader in the new approach to family violence assessment and intervention because of its early acknowledgement that veterans have complex needs.
“They have addiction and trauma and pain and head injuries and co-occurring medical complications,” she said. “They are complex and they need thorough, comprehensive assessments and approaches that are grounded in science that have been shown to target certain behaviors (and are) effective in reducing them.”
The VA published its own review of intervention approaches in 2013, which Easton said informed the recommendations put forth in her study.
The study said the Office of Policy and Management and the governor’s office should coordinate various state agencies to evaluate policies and determine the most effective treatment approaches to reduce family violence and its cost to the state.
The report also recommended a pilot project to improve the screening of those charged with family violence, identify characteristics associated with recidivism, and a framework to better match offenders with appropriate treatment.
Public Health Committee co-chairwoman and state Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, closed the briefing with a promise to review the recommendations. “I’ll get into the weeds, as we say, and read a little bit more. I’m very interested in certain aspects of the report that may lead to legislation. We’ll see,” she said.
The study is part of the legislature’s continuing focus on violence between intimate partners. In 2015, lawmakers created a task force charged with addressing the exposure of children to family violence. The goal is to develop a statewide response for use by the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, health care professionals, attorneys for minors, law enforcement, the Judicial Branch, and formal guardians.