SALT LAKE CITY — Across the board, across the globe, crimes of violence are on the decline.
Still, "We're being bombarded with messages that violence is on the rise," says Marilyn Van Dieten, a registered clinical psychologist and researcher with extensive experience in developing programs for criminal offenders, based in Toronto, Ontario.
Moreover, the news media and Internet is rife with information that women are increasingly violent. The incidence of violence among women has been largely stable since the 1960s, said Van Dieten, speaking Monday at the 14th annual National Conference on Adults and Juvenile Female Offenders under way in Salt Lake City.
"However, there has been an increase in the number of females convicted of violent crimes," Van Dieten said, explaining that changes in justice policy that hold both partners culpable in domestic violence cases has contributed to some statistical changes. Some research suggests a 400 percent increase in both partners in a domestic violence incident being charged criminally.
Van Dieten, who provided an overview of research on female offenders, said few women who are perpetrators of domestic violence — or co-perperpetrators — commit violent offenses of a general nature.
Yet, many women are placed in intensive domestic violence treatment programs designed for men, which is a mistake, Van Dieten said.
Many times, women who commit violence — most often interpersonal violence — have been victims of trauma and/or abuse. Statistically, women are more often victims of intimate partner violence.
The research, which is limited, suggests women would fare better in short-term programs — perhaps as few as five sessions — to learn strategies to reduce stress and to hone coping skills.
Women should have different therapeutic programs, too, because domestic violence has a such a profound impact on children. "Children aren't mentioned in men's programs. Have you ever noticed that?" Van Dieten said.
While some changes in criminal justice policy were driven by a philosophy that women batterers should be held accountable for their actions, it does not follow that equal treatment should result in women being referred to programs designed for men or "tweaked" for women. Statistically, women are more often victims of intimate partner violence.
"These women are pretty low risk," of reoffending and less so, of committing crimes of violence in the community, Van Dieten said. "We're sending women to intensive treatment programs that are really unnecessary and unproductive."