Can Abusers Be Rehabilitated?

While it’s true that men and women often abuse partners in equal numbers, male abusers cause much more harm. In fact, about half of all women murdered in the U.S. are killed by a male romantic partner.

Abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are often multiple factors contributing to the abuse, whether that be substance abuse, past trauma, mental health issues, societal pressures, or a combination of these factors. There is a long, worldwide history of male control over women, and centuries of societal norms aren’t overcome easily. Each situation is different, and each abuser becomes manipulative and/or violent for his own reasons.

Still, no matter the reason behind the abuse, let’s be very clear: abuse is never okay. And it’s never, ever excused.

Does Rehabilitation Work?

Abusers abuse for many reasons. In many cases, the court system requires abusers to attend courses designed to “rehabilitate” them and help them understand and overcome those underlying issues. Some abusers choose to seek out counseling to address their substance abuse, mental health issues, anger, or other contributing factors. Others promise to attend rehabilitation to save a relationship.

For centuries, we turned a blind eye to abuse, offered excuses for the abusers, and even blamed the victims. Talk of victim protection started with the women’s rights movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s. During this time, psychologists and social scientists began addressing the batterers themselves, creating programs designed to rehabilitate abusers.

The programs are as varied as the men who attend these groups. Some provide intensive talk therapy. Others focus on the underlying issues of toxic masculinity and misogyny. Some groups use mindfulness to help abusers recognize their emotional triggers and find healthy ways to cope. And some programs use a cognitive-behavioral approach to help men change their thinking and their actions.

Studies show that these rehabilitative programs can be successful in reducing violence. But progress doesn’t happen overnight. Abusers must be ready and willing to admit their wrongdoing and then committed to making significant changes. That work takes time – months or years at a minimum. And that’s only if the perpetrator deeply understands the errors of his ways and puts in the work to make it right.

Abuse Survivors Shouldn’t Wait

Too often, abusers sit through the classes required by law, paying little attention to the content. Even if they make strides during the course, some will become abusive and violent again soon after leaving. Many survivors hold out hope that their partner will come around, that he will change his ways and stop the abuse. While that is a possibility for some, it’s certainly not the case for all. Victims and survivors shouldn’t hold out hope that the abuser will drastically change his violent patterns.

It might be tough to hear, but if you’re in an abusive relationship, there’s no guarantee your partner will ever change. Real transformation must come from within the abuser himself. There’s nothing you can do to change him. Your best course of action is to get yourself to safety and find a healthy support system.

Need help getting out of an abusive relationship? Get somewhere safe, and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or our nonprofit partner, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. Whether or not your abuser can be rehabilitated, you deserve safety and happiness.




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