The blog of the Urban Institute
November 30, 2020

The New Administration Declared Addressing Intimate Partner Violence Will Be a Priority. What Are the Next Steps for the Field?

November 30, 2020

President-elect Biden and vice president–elect Harris have already announced that combating violence and supporting survivors of intimate partner violence will be a priority for their administration. Practitioners and researchers agree it is not a question of whether we should help survivors, especially as COVID-19 has illuminated just how vulnerable the survivors are in times of crisis and isolation, but how.

Recent evidence suggests that to create lasting change, investments in prevention and support are among the most impactful for survivors. Here are steps the new federal government, local governments, the private sector, and philanthropy could take.

1. Elevate strengths-based approaches that help survivors grow

Many experts have emphasized the need to shift from an approach that highlights deficits to one that promotes survivors’ capacity building.  A recent systematic review of evidence shows that investing in social and mental health supports are among the most promising interventions:

  • Psychotherapy and a focus on survivors’ trauma yield positive results for survivors in the community and in correctional settings.
  • Recent evidence suggests case management and psychotherapy offered remotely shows no difference in outcomes for survivors as the same in-person services—a timely and important finding with implications for service delivery during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, the private sector, philanthropy, and local governments can play an important role in strengthening the economic well-being of survivors through the following:

2. Recognize diversity among survivors, and tailor programming accordingly

Survivors are not a monolith. They are diverse and, thus, have diverse needs. To deliver the best care, the field needs a better understanding of the needs of survivors of color (for example, the differing needs (PDF) of Caribbean and immigrant African survivors), survivors who identify as LGBTQ, and Native American women and Native American men.

With previous support from the federal government, important insights about underserved survivors came from two national resource centers: the Center for Victim Research and the National Resource Center for Reaching Victims. However, a renewed focus at the federal and local levels could help meet the needs of underserved survivors.

3. Address issues at the root cause; help people who cause harm

Preventing or eradicating intimate partner violence is impossible without focusing on people who cause harm and investing in their well-being and helping them heal (PDF). Early interventions with young people are key in primary prevention efforts (PDF), but intervening with adults is also important.

Earlier evidence on batterer intervention programs (BIPs) that focus on adults was mixed, with many studies showing no effect in reduction of recidivism and revictimization. Since then, the field has debated (PDF) how to fix BIPs or whether they should even exist. Though the evidence is mixed and implementation is complicated, providing services to people who cause harm is a large component of addressing intimate partner violence. To effect change, the field needs to address some critical limitations in BIPs knowledge and practice.

  • First, researchers have studied characteristics and typologies of people who cause harm. However, challenges still remain with tailoring programming to this diverse profile of people. Innovations with the greatest potential to fill these gaps recognize people who cause harm more holistically or focus on specific populations. For example, a new program called Respect and Responsibility (PDF) in New York City targets people who cause harm before they engage with the criminal justice system and attempts to recognize and address their trauma (PDF). And a program in Utah called Mind-Body Bridging teaches men how to control their use of violence by using mindfulness practice. But such interventions are not widespread, and evaluations of these new programs are still limited.
  • Second, BIPs’ success cannot rely on providers or facilitators alone. Improving interagency coordination will be critical. Entities that refer people to BIPs, such as courts or children, youth, and families’ agencies, play a critical part in participation and, ultimately, success.
  • Third, BIPs need new definitions of and ways to measure success. Recidivism—the measure of success for most studies (PDF)—is limited and likely underreported because police aren’t notified about more than half of intimate partner violence incidents (PDF). Alternative indicators could include understanding survivors’ and participants’ own perceptions of safety and success, measuring skills and training among facilitators, and identifying efficiency and efficacy of referring agencies.

The new administration’s focus on intimate partner violence is promising. It provides an opportunity for the field to build on the progress it has made over the past 50 years by filling critical gaps. This work will require a collective effort from federal, local, private, and philanthropic stakeholders.


This post was revised to reflect that entities that refer people to BIPs, not to the criminal justice system as a whole, play a critical part in program participation and success (corrected 3/26/2021).

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