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Intimate Partner Violence: Asking the Right Questions and Centering Black Communities with Dr. Maxine Davis

Intimate Partner Violence: Asking the Right Questions and Centering Black Communities with Dr. Maxine Davis

Season 3, Episode 6

Content warning for discussion of intimate partner violence and emotional abuse. Today, Jonathan and Sy talk to Rutgers University social work Professor Dr. Maxine Davis. They discuss intimate partner violence and abuse: the role religion and churches can play in IPV/A situations, how abolition and centering Black and brown survivors can lead us to peaceful living, how white feminism dominates the IPV/Aconversation, and a lot more. Dr. Davis’ compassion, honesty, and love for both survivors and perpetrators of IPV/A can teach us a lot, not just about this issue, but what it means to view all people through the lens of the gospel.

Dr. Davis’ website: www.drmaxinedavis.com

Her account on the app formerly known as Twitter: http://twitter.com/drmaxinedavis

Her YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY80NRF7nIFyeAnwLr93DzQ

Shake the Dust is a podcast of KTF Press. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, and the app formerly known as Twitter. Subscribe to get our newsletter and bonus episodes at KTFPress.com. Transcripts of every episode are available at KTFPress.com/s/transcripts.


Jonathan Walton – follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Sy Hoekstra – still not sure where he’s going after leaving the app formerly known as Twitter.

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify.

Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam – follow her and see her other work on Instagram.

Production and editing by Sy Hoekstra.

Transcript by Joyce Ambale and Sy Hoekstra.

Questions about anything you heard on the show? Write to shakethedust@ktfpress.com and we may answer your question on a future episode.


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]

Sy Hoekstra: I have a question for you. Do you want to attend the Evolving Faith Conference from anywhere in the world for free? Evolving Faith is an online faith community with all kinds of events and book clubs and things that they do, gatherings all year round. And as they say, it, “exists to cultivate love and hope in the wilderness, pointing fellow wanderers and misfits to God as we embody resurrection for the sake of the world.” They have a conference they've been doing for the past few years. It's in Minneapolis, but you can attend online. You can hear speakers like former Shake the Dust guests, Dr. Amy Kenny and Danté Stewart, or writers from our anthology like Brandy Miller or Dr. Randy Woodley—their first name's rhyme; I just realized that. The conference is live on October 13th and 14th, but you can watch it anytime you want if you get the digital pass between then and January 1st, 2024. And that ticket also gets you access to some other online events that are just for ticket holders.

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All right, let's get into today's episode, and that episode officially starts now.

Maxine Davis: I'm both a survivor of intimate partner violence, and I have acted abusively in intimate relationships. I think that my ability to say that out loud sometimes is still uncomfortable for myself, but allows people to think, “Well… well dang! …

Jonathan Walton: Right right.

Maxine Davis: … If she's capable, what have I done?” And it's not, again, it's not to shame or villainize people in any way. It is about being honest with yourself.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the kingdom of God. I'm Sy Hoekstra.

Jonathan Walton: And I'm Jonathan Walton.

Sy Hoekstra: We are so excited for you all to be here today. We're having a pretty serious conversation, content warnings will be in the show notes, and we're going to be talking about intimate partner violence and abuse. We're excited for it because it’s a very important conversation. And we're talking about it as we try to talk about everything, keeping marginalized perspectives at the top of mind. We're also going to be talking about how church communities are involved, for good and for bad in intimate partner violence and abuse situations. Very quickly, before we get to that, if you like what we do here on Shake the Dust or all of our work at KTF Press, the best way to support us is to go to KTFPress.com and consider becoming a subscriber. Get the whole archive of our bonus episodes of this show, get our newsletter, where Jonathan and I send you media highlights to help you in your discipleship and political education. Get the whole archive of that as well and support everything that we do at KTF Press. And you can always go to ktfpress.com/freemonth if you want to start off that subscription with a free month. All right Jonathan. Can you please tell everyone the incredible guests that we have today?

Jonathan Walton: Absolutely. Today, we have Dr. Maxine Davis, who is a second generation activist who's passionate about discovering how to end violence perpetration in romantic and intimate relationships. She studies people who act abusively and interventions that are designed to help them change. Dr. Davis earned a MSW and MBA at Dominican University and completed her PhD in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Most of her research uses a community-engaged approach centering the voices of historically excluded racial groups as equal partners. She has presented her research to several prestigious national conferences throughout the United States, and to local non-governmental organizations internationally. Her independent and collaborative work on the experiences of racially minoritized populations has been published in several noteworthy academic journals. The driving force behind her passion is fueled by a spirit of hope that with proper support and resources, people who have acted abusively can become committed to peaceful living. She's qualified and I'm grateful she's here [laughter]. Dr. Davis, thank you so much for being on the show today. We appreciate you.

Maxine Davis: Thank you. It's a pleasure. Exciting opportunity to get to talk about something that people really don't like talking about that often. It's always a interesting introduction at soirees and cocktail parties. “What do you do?” “I study violence.”


Jonathan Walton: Right, right. And not the big violence, this violence, right?

Maxine Davis: Right, interpersonal violence, and actually, how much more interpersonal can you get, than for the most part, the person that you're sharing a bed with a lot of times. It's a topic that people are often uncomfortable talking about, because they either have experienced it or have acted abusively in ways that they aren't willing to recognize to themselves first. So that's what I find makes people the most uncomfortable, is that this hits very close to home, whether they witnessed it during childhood and are on a journey to try to prevent it in their own romantic relationships in adulthood, or whether they're currently facing a situation that is embarrassing a lot of times to talk about.

Jonathan Walton: And so, can we start super basic. What is intimate partner violence and abuse or IPV/A, we'll call it during our conversation a lot of the times. And why use that term instead of domestic violence? And are there any misconceptions about IPVA that we should just throw out the window right now?

Maxine Davis: Those are great questions. So when I talk about the topic in community and scholarly spaces, I often interchange the terms “intimate partner violence and abuse” with “domestic violence,” just so that people are all on the same page in knowing what I'm talking about. Historically, language has been something that has been used as a tool of power, and it's something that is also… can be very empowering to take back control of. So domestic violence and the colloquial language that has surrounded it evolved from what was originally called in the scholarly literature, wife beating. Well we realize and know that not all intimate relationships involve a spousal relationship. And the gendered aspect and the heteronormative aspect that this can't happen to men, and that this only happens to women who are wives.

This evolution of language has been something that I've really been passionate about reclaiming. And so a lot of times what you'll hear is domestic violence, because that's what the public is used to calling it. And one of the reasons why domestic violence as a term is problematic is that it takes the ownership away from the community in terms of why this social problem exists. And it contextualizes it only to the intimate space of the home, or that which is domestic and closed and centered. And that's not really the case, this is a community and public health issue. So it really needs to be talked about in a more intentional way, and in a way that is specific to what type of violence and abuse we're discussing. So when I say domestic violence, when I say intimate partner violence, I'm not talking about abuse towards children that would involve the child welfare system or something like that.

I'm talking about that which happens between folks who are romantically and intimately engaged. Recently, in the last four or five years, added purposefully violence and abuse, because oftentimes, people consider the definition of violence to only be physical. Whereas we know from… and this gets into the other part of your question, what is intimate partner violence and abuse. It's a pattern of behavior that is degrading and demeaning and centered around maltreatment of an intimate partner. That can take form in many different types of ways. It's not just physical violence, it's not just hitting, slapping, pushing. Psychological violence, and as we'll talk about later, a particular unique type of abuse that I study is religious related IPV can be detrimental to people's physical and mental health.

And that's not something that is often discussed is the repercussions of psychological abuse, economic abuse, spiritual abuse, and manipulation in a way that takes control of a person's mind and behaviors. Violence in my definition, is forcing your will upon someone else. This is a decolonial space which I'm excited to be a part of, and have this this platform. So sometimes violence is not always bad. Violence can be a tool of resistance to engage in liberation, but in the context of intimate relationships it is, this is a place where you should feel the utmost freedom. And so forcing your will upon your intimate partner is what I define as violence or abuse.

Sy Hoekstra: You mentioned the religious aspect of your work. So within the area of IPV research, you have a couple of specific areas of focus. Can you tell us what those areas are and why you chose them?

Maxine Davis: Absolutely. So I intentionally focus on figuring out and discovering and evaluating programs that work mostly for Black and Latino men, as part of work that prioritizes particularly Black and Latino families. This passion that I have emerged from witnessing and experiencing the lived survival experiences of most often Black women. And this was Black women that I saw in faith communities, in Black churches. That inspired the passion that I have to figure out the question of not just, “Why does she stay?” but the question I had growing up was, “Why does he do that and what does it take to change?” Because when people do separate or divorce or disengage from one another, and in their intimate relationships, they oftentimes get a different partner. And it's not that the cycle of abuse ends, but it just transfers from one person to the next, because we're relational human beings. I think one of the things that I've been kindly criticized for is my compassion and empathy that I have for people who act abusively. I think that vilifying people dehumanizes them. And if we do that, there's really no road to accountability and change.

Jonathan Walton: You should say that again for people who missed it [laughter]. You know, they were like side swiped by that. Go ahead. Sorry.


Sy Hoekstra: That question I was going to say, is deceptively simple, but it's so powerful. “Why does he do that?” That question. I used to be a defense attorney in the child welfare system, actually so—what you've already mentioned—So I had a client, when you're a defense attorney in the child welfare system, you have clients who are both perpetrators and survivors of intimate partner violence. And it was just amazing to me how many people were unwilling to ask, “Why does he do that?” Because you think that would be the obvious question, why does he do that, so that we can then figure out how to stop it. But so often the instinct is just punish. Just hurt the person who hurt somebody else, and doesn't matter how much we're ruining their lives or the lives of their families or their communities. And so I really, really appreciate that question.

Maxine Davis: Yes, and it's been one that has driven a quest for figuring out what it will require for change, but also one that, again, allows for that holistic and humanistic perspective.

Sy Hoekstra: Yes.

Maxine Davis: And allows for investigation into what we know from the research is that most people who've acted abusively are survivors of trauma themselves. So part of the answer to this question of “why does he do that,” it's multifaceted. And I say he, but this could be any gender and across genders. One of the things that again I'm… I'm criticized for a lot of stuff, because I just say how it is. And I'm really, yeah, I'm feminist, but I'm also humanist. And I love Black men, unapologetically.

Jonathan Walton: Amen.

Maxine Davis: So I do recognize the abuse that's perpetrated by female identified folks in relationships. And if you don't do that, you also miss an entire group of women in same gender loving relationships as well, because this feminist idea that only men are violent doesn't allow us to address intimate partner violence across relational contexts. And if we just have this very narrow idea of what domestic violence is, we really are missing the most marginalized perspectives and experiences. So I think that it's important to name and recognize that women act abusively too. The reason why I think you get this gendered language comes down to injury. And when we look at the data, I hate to dichotomize gender, but that's how the data has been historically collected, by men and women. If you look at the national data, women are just as abusive as men. However, when you look at the injury and homicide rate, women are disproportionately injured physically, and disproportionately killed in terms of the severity of physical violence. That's why you get a lot of this gendered language because of the physical impact and homicide. Black women particularly. Again, another reason of why I focus on Black communities is because, and again, I'm a Black woman. We are disproportionately victimized and there are many reasons for that. But when you look at the experiences, one in three women are surviving domestic violence or intimate partner violence. But when you look in Black communities, that rate goes up to 45 percent of Black women who've experienced this. And that's on the low end, because it's underreported.

When you look at the homicide rates within the context of intimate partner violence, Black folks represent 14 percent of the population, but 30 percent plus of women who are killed in intimate relationships are Black. So this is a disproportionate rate that requires attention and specific culturally relevant intervention. And there are many reasons, I think folks can check out the work of Hilary Potter, who's a sociologist, who has studied Black women and intimate partner violence long before I have. Her book is entitled Battle Cries. Black women are always fighting, and fighting for survival, not fighting for the fun of the game. But this also is not exempt from the home. So as much as we are engaged in battles on the street, we're often engaged in those in the home as well.

It's a very complex situation, because what White feminists have endorsed criminalization of domestic violence or criminalization of intimate partner abuse and engagement of police as a solution, Black women from since the 70s have said, “Nope, that's not going to work for us. That one right there, that isn't that… can you please not do that?” [laughs]. But yet, and still we have disproportionate arrest rates and disproportionate conviction rates for many reasons.

Jonathan Walton: As you're talking, I'm thinking about the pushback that you get. And I'm wondering if you could talk more about where you think that resistance comes from. So you said that resistance to compassion, I use that word compassion because in the space that I was in for a long time fighting labor and sex trafficking, the pushback from you would be like, “Well, what do you mean you're going to actively reach out to a pimp or a trafficker?” Or someone who's exploiting someone else? What do you what do you mean, we're going to talk about that? And maybe group ourselves into that group, because we could, like you were saying, enforce, impose our will on someone else through our purchasing, through our exploitation, through the systems that were a part of.

So I wonder for you where you think the resistance to that compassion comes from? And then I also wonder where you experience resistance to you, or if you experience resistance when you say, “I'm going to focus on Black and brown communities?”

Maxine Davis: Because I often say that I'm unapologetic about who I partner with and what communities I study and engage with, I haven't gotten pushback about why I center Black and brown voices. But I think that is partially because I'm so intentional about being unapologetic about it, so it kind of sets the stage of, “Don't ask me. Don't try it” [laughter].

Jonathan Walton: This is not up for debate.

Maxine Davis: Yeah, this is not up for debate and this is not up for any type of discussion in terms of why this is important. And I think I have the privilege of saying that because so many of my predecessors have done a lot of work to highlight the importance of health disparities. And that's a historically fairly recent investment that people have been willing to make in terms of shifting their perspective on why that's important. However, the point of why compassion is something that people have a difficulty embracing, I think it's because people like to otherize, and as I mentioned, people like to punish as a tangible and easy way to distance themselves. And I think psychologically when folks are able to distance themselves from a unfavorable behavior, it allows them to think of themselves as not being able to be a perpetrator of violence.

I think this is the biggest challenge that we have in our society, is refusing to see ourselves in unfavorable lights. And so I did a TEDx-style talk for the biggest social work and research conference recently, in which I share, I'm both a survivor of intimate partner violence, and I have acted abusively in intimate relationships. I think that my ability to say that out loud sometimes is still uncomfortable for myself, but allows people to think, “Well… well dang!

Jonathan Walton: Right right.

Maxine Davis: If she's capable, what have I done?” And it's not, again, it's not to shame or villainize people in any way. It is about being honest with yourself. And one of the questions that I asked in that talk is, what is the worst thing that you've done to an intimate partner, and share that with somebody.

If you can't share that with somebody, then I think it does a disservice to creating a peaceful environment in whatever intimate relationships that you have. This phenomenon of intimate partner violence and abuse, people really like bento box style social problems [laughter]. When I say that people like very neat, this is a victim, this is a perpetrator. This is a survivor, this is an abuser. This is a batterer. And you'll notice I avoid those terms and I use language like, “people who have acted abusively” or “people who have caused harm in an intimate relationship.” Because these very neat, discreet boxes don't really exist in relationships. And I'd say that from a data perspective, when you look at the types of violence and abuse that happens, people like to think of a very specific type of domestic violence that's called coercive control.

That's one that is also referred to as intimate terrorism. You think of what you see in the movies as one person being dominating and controlling over another to the point of fear, and one partner is in control and has power over everything. And yes, these do exist and these are the most dangerous types of constructions of intimate partner abuse, but there's other types. The most common form is one in which people fail to have healthy, interactive ways of dealing with conflict and they resort to, for the most part, what they saw as children or what they see in society as being socially acceptable of how to deal with conflict and relationship and you get this mutual engagement of abusive behavior. So take the physical violence out of it, and imagine people calling each other names back and forth in a heated quote unquote “argument”. That is domestic violence. That is intimate partner violence and abuse.

However, we have tricked ourselves socially into thinking that that is just a toxic relationship. And that's the language people are using now. And I think there's a very different… when we look at the data in that view, over 90 percent of relationships have involved intimate partner violence and abuse in some way. And that staggering report is something that we really have to be honest with about how often this is happening. And yeah, there are different niche types of abuses that people in marginalized communities experience, for example, people with disabilities have an extremely higher rate of being victimized in a way that really furthers the health detriments because people are… folks use the most vulnerable parts of their intimate partner unfortunately against them.

And this is also part of why I got into studying religious abuse because of what I witnessed in terms of Black women, particularly Black women's experience of going to churches and their reliance upon faith as a form of strength—that being attacked because that is something so special and important.

Sy Hoekstra: So I want to get deeper into that for sure. I also just want to say you're doing my heart a lot of good right now [laughter]. All this stuff about not being judgmental and bento box kind of thinking. Which is another way of saying just sort of the way the criminal justice system thinks.

Maxine Davis: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra:  There's defendant and there's victim, that's it. There's nobody else. The victims are never perpetrators themselves, and the perpetrators are never victims, and it’s just clean cut. I just, I don't know. I cannot express how much I appreciate the depth of compassion and honesty you're willing to go to. The ability for you to say, and thank you for sharing this here, “I have both received and given intimate partner violence.” I think that is a radical and also radically important thing for all of us to be able to think about openly and honestly. And I just, man, I appreciate it so much.

But on the track of religion in particular, can you just explain to us a little bit about how you theorize thinking about Black women in church and how that relationship is a crucial factor in intimate partner violence situations, and why do you think about it that


Maxine Davis: Absolutely. This didn't come out of some brilliant idea that I just came up with. This comes out of the lived experiences of Black women for many years. It comes from growing up in a house with a mother, Maxine Johnson is phenomenal. And I'm a junior, yes [laughs]. A junior at a time when my mom named me after her at a time when people like, “You can't do that.” And she's like, “Yes, I can.” [laughter]. Before it was like the in thing. But my mom openly discusses her experience of survivorship, and she's one of my primary and first community partners. She's also a huge community activist. So my mom is a woman who's been on CNN discussing her community activism in ways that epitomize what it's like to be a strong Black woman.

And at the same time, she for many years was surviving intimate terrorism, specifically. That particular type of abuse. And she went to churches for help and was met with varied responses, and I saw this across my childhood. But she went to churches, as many Black women do. Actually, as many people do in Black and Latino communities. And one of the problems she faced was what we now see is an all too often response of not recognizing what was being presented as domestic violence or abuse and encouragement for her to engage in spiritual intervention like prayer, or to be a better quote unquote “model wife”. And I get my mouth for my mama [laughs]. So she was not quiet about it. She went to a different church, went to a different pastor, went to different ministers. Like, “This is happening, somebody come get this boy.”

And boy, in the sense of my stepdad is a boy at heart just like I’m a girl at heart with, he has unresolved trauma that he never dealt with. So I don't say that in a demeaning way, I say that in a loving way. But this is something that too often happens, is that faith leaders are not equipped to respond in an appropriate way that recognizes what they encounter as domestic violence to the point of involving social service intervention and qualified support services. It's often dismissed or, again, only referred to be dealt with spiritual intervention. And I'm a Christian, and prayer works, period. So I say spiritual intervention purposefully, instead of saying, “Oh, just pray about it,” which is what a lot of times the literature discusses. But that's a side note [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

Maxine Davis: That's a side note. Yeah, my mom prayed for my stepdad, but he also needed particularly men of faith to intervene. And that is not what he was met with in terms of sources of support. So as an abolitionist, I think that the engagement of police, especially when you're talking about non-criminalized forms of abuse, which are, again, as I mentioned, just as detrimental and survivors describe this often, what you'll often hear is, the physical scars heal, the mental scars and emotional scars are longer lasting. So it's not necessarily that police needed to be called or engaged. And police were called and engaged when it got physical and my mom endured injury. But there could have been other community-led interventions through faith communities that could have addressed the issue in an accountable and compassionate way.

But this again, this failure, I think, and now we know at least from the research that I've done, qualitative research that I've done. Part of the reason why my mom was met with this response is because the pastor's that she was going to were probably acting abusively in their own relationships. So how are you going to check somebody on something that you're doing yourself?

Jonathan Walton: Right. Lord have mercy. So this may not be intuitive for everybody. What is the link between racism and intimate partner violence? How can you draw those clear straight lines for people who might be lost as we're having this conversation?

Maxine Davis: Thank you for that. We actually recently published a study in a clinical journal that used national data to make exactly this link. And the link between experiencing racism, if you think about experiencing racism as trauma, that has a detrimental effect on your mental health. And people who have poor mental health like depression, anxiety, PTSD, have a higher likelihood of perpetrating intimate partner violence. And we looked at this in a sample particularly of Black folks. And what we found is that as racism, experiences of racism went up, poor mental health went up and racism had a direct impact on higher instances of intimate partner violence perpetration. If you think about the impact of any other form of trauma, you look at folks who have served veteran populations, they have a higher rate of acting abusively and perpetrating violence because of the trauma they have endured, and the impact that has on their ability to appraise situations and engage in deescalating manifestations of how to resolve conflict.

Part of that is related to emotion regulation. So you see a higher incidence of people jumping from basically zero to ten, and that inability to regulate their own emotion is a direct result of unresolved trauma. So some of the work that I do is also with a group in the Boston VA, and where they have rolled out this program called Strength at Home, that's a trauma-informed intervention for people affected abusively, and is one of the few that I stand behind as having evidentiary support to work. But it was developed for veteran populations and now being tested in civilian populations. I'm part of the team that's working on it to make sure that it meets the unique needs of Black and brown folks in terms of recognizing racism as trauma.

When I looked at it, it was developed by a group of dope White folks, good intentioned White folks, Casey Taft is amazing. But I was like, “Casey, I read your book, and it ain't talking about racism as trauma. We got to get this together.” And as an Early Career Scholar, saying that to somebody who's established, a lot of people … You know, Casey Taft is a person [laughter]. I mean, I think that that having some of that just realness to be able to talk to people and not be intimidated by oh, this is the status quo, or this is not even status quo, this is what has been done for many years. I can't question it or something like that. No, that's what rigorous scientists do is… and that's the activist lens that I bring, is question what has always been done and question the status quo and question authority.

I mean, it sometimes gets me in a little bit of trouble, but that's, the beauty of academia is that I get to study what I'm passionate about. It would be unscientific of me to notice something having a gap and not ask or inquire about how this can be better and point out why it's problematic to miss identifying racism as trauma and to talk about what it means to live that in a reoccurring basis, because the clinical tools that are used to describe and define PTSD are based on trauma as a one-time discrete experience that is no longer happening or that you've survived. And racism for Black folks, and particularly, the national data describes that we experience the most racism in a US context on an ongoing basis, has detrimental impacts, and is reoccurring. So it's not just a thing that one survives one time and then has to process, but it's occurring on a daily basis across many different contexts.

Sy Hoekstra: I feel like there's a sort of parallel there where you're kind of breaking down boundaries again, of like, this is not so neat and tidy and we need to talk about just broader, more complicated things.

Maxine Davis: And so the interventions again, that White feminists in the first wave feminist movement of the 70s introduced as—okay, what do we do? This problem is happening, domestic violence, what do we do? Engage the criminal carceral system—is one that was built as a response to the needs of White women. Similarly, the partner abuse intervention programs that were designed and developed as the treatment groups that people, mostly men were put into after being convicted of domestic violence, were designed for the experiences of White men. They were never designed for the experiences of Black and brown men. And so the way that I arrived at, okay, we have to do these groups differently and we have to think about different interventions, different partner abuse intervention programs is because I used to be a group facilitator in those groups that men were court mandated to attend.

And from jump, from day one, I was like, “This is it? This the best we got? This isn’t going to work.” [laughs] Because when, again, most of these groups that I served in Chicago were mostly of Black men. When they did begin to talk about their experiences of surviving violence, their community violence or childhood experiences, or ongoing relational violence, they were discouraged from talking about that experience of survivorship. It was considered a way that they used to deflect, but in all actuality, it was part of a therapeutic, what they thought was a therapeutic experience. But in all actuality, those groups are not and were never designed to be therapeutic environments, which is a problem and why I endorse Casey's program Strength at Home, because it is more of a, it's a psycho-educational program, but it's also built up on principles of having a therapeutic alliance and seeing this type of work as therapeutic, which is necessary for change.

Sy Hoekstra: You're talking about batterers intervention programs, right? That's what they're usually called.

Maxine Davis: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: Yes. Okay. So just in case anyone's heard of them, or has heard of someone having to go to them. Again, when I was a public defender, those programs were kind of the bane of my existence, and all of my clients that were men and perpetrators were Black and brown, as well. And so it was like, this is just, it's accomplishing nothing, but they keep getting required to do it.

Maxine Davis: And we published a metaanalysis, which is a compilation of all of the studies that have ever been done about batterers intervention programs and data comparison to no treatment. And we, again, found additional evidence that these programs don't work. And when I say what works, I mean, when you look at rearrest rate as a definition of success, yeah, they're rearrested at a lower rate if they go through these programs. But when you enter victim and survivor report in the question of, did the abuse stop? No. The answer to the question is, no, the abuse didn't stop. So what do people do? People do non-criminalized forms of abuse.

Sy Hoekstra: And I want to highlight, you just said you compared batterers intervention programs to no treatment whatsoever. So like, you're talking about something that is ineffective, even when compared with doing literally nothing.

Maxine Davis: Yeah. And we've known this for 30 years, actually. But again, this is something that people are resistant to challenging because like, “Okay, well, what else are we going to do?” Design an alternative, design a completely different way of engaging when someone cries out for help for intimate partner violence and abuse, and avoid this conveyor belt-style one-size-fits-all model, which is what we currently have in progress. So it doesn't matter if somebody is two times less likely to get rearrested. If the abuse continues, the health impacts for survivors is untouched.

Sy Hoekstra: So let's get practical about those non-carceral alternatives to prison, because I think a lot of times when people hear you say that you're an abolitionist, or hear other people talking about reducing the power of the police. Situations like this interpersonal terrorism that you've been talking about, or just other kinds of explicit physical violence, are the sort of things that are real hang-ups for people is, how are we going to actually deal with this without prison? A lot of people don't have a framework or an imagination for that. So can you talk to us about programs that work and why and how they work?

Maxine Davis: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm in the process of evaluating a program and have done different types of evaluative work with a group that serves mostly undocumented Latino men in Chicago, of all different types of Hispanic backgrounds, but mostly Mexican. And it's called The Men's Group. It's based out of, originally is based out of a Catholic parish. And the program came into existence because women were going to the priests describing instances of violence, and were saying, I don't… and then this is a common report, is that, “I don't want to not be with my husband or partner. I just want the abuse to stop.” And so if we actually listen to what survivors want instead of imposing punishment and criminalization as an immediate response, that gives us a window into intervention that could be useful and helpful and gives us creative solutions for what could work to stop violence and abuse.

So that's one area that I tend to lean to in terms of, okay, what are we going to do about this, is to ask survivors who are experiencing or who have experienced what would be ideal in terms of how to intervene here. There's three things I want to hit on, so that's one. The second is purposeful investment instead of into police response, into social service that gives survivors for example, housing and access to financial support that would allow for the safety that they are seeking. And the independent decision making an empowering decision-making capabilities to guide their lives. I also am a proponent of the arts, so I think that the use of music as intervention is really powerful. And one of the things that I'm working on now is, and that a study that we did that is in getting ready to be submitted for publication is a playlist of hip hop songs that condemn domestic violence and endorse healthy relationships.

When we talk about hip hop, we often talk about… well, folks often talk about its use of denigration of women and an endorsement of violence. But actually hip hop is and has for a long time been a conscious source of violence resistance, and this is not different in terms of its discussion of the problematic use of violence in relationships. So these sorts of resources that could be developed, if they were invested into could be a way of providing alternative solutions and engagement in conversations that occur earlier than later. I focused specifically on violence in adulthood and… children is not my ministry. I know where my gifts and talents are [laughter] and working with children is not my ministry. But I do endorse and support these early intervention programs that talk about healthy relationships on the front end.

But God has just given me a passion to develop and evaluate interventions for abuse that happen in adulthood. And when we look at the data, we know that the most severe and the most, I think most critical age range to intervene in is 18 to 29. That's where you see really high rates of fatality, high rates of injury. And so I'm constantly asking myself, “Okay, for 18 to 29 year olds, what speaks to us?” I'm 37, but I can still say us [laughs]. And for me that would be music, and that will be my faith community. So investing in additional training of faith leaders to be interventionist, and to know when couples treatment is appropriate, and when it's not for domestic violence. And to also have intentional songs curated or circulated around these topics, is I think, worthy and noteworthy point of intervention.

We also got to make sure that we're actually measuring what's happening. And so I recently developed a scale that measures religious abuse in the context of intimate partner violence, asking questions like, how often and to what degree has your partner used scripture to justify abuse towards you? Or, how often or to what degree has your partner said that you had to forgive them on the basis of religious ideas? And these type of questions are something that if we can't measure a problem, then we can't even evaluate if it's being changed or not. So I think measurement is a key area to invest in as well.

Jonathan Walton: You talked about the bento boxing that the legal system likes to do, and faith communities like to do the exact same thing. What’s the conference? What's the book study? We can do this in six weeks, no training, no discipleship. Deliverance happened, we're good. And so, what can faith communities do better when it comes to creating peace in intimate relationships? Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” And so the peacemaking, what are some ways that you have seen or suggestions you have that we can be peacemakers in intimate relationships? And I say that as a faith leader who's had to do that, and as a husband who wants to keep peace in my house. You know what I mean? So getting called in to intervene and being someone who does not want to continue perpetuating violence against, imposing my will on my partner?

Maxine Davis: Yeah, it's a good question. Honestly, I don't know. I'm figuring it out for myself. I'm figuring it out. I think formal training has its place. So yeah, knowing the dynamics and the cycle that tends to happen within domestic violence of there being an abusive incident, then there being like this honeymoon phase, where their person is flowered with… showered rather with flowers, “Oh I’m so sorry, this will never happen again.” But then this tension building, and then boom, something else happens, and it's this perpetuating cycle. I think on a basic level, knowing that violence is not just physical is a first step. And talking about all the manifestations of how that occurs, is a first step in understanding the complexity of abuse, and of maltreatment of an intimate partner.

But I hesitate to have a one size fits all sort of recommendation list. I think this differs from community to community. One thing that I've seen that is helpful is this ability for faith leaders to be vulnerable, and talk about their own experiences. And this is something that I'm figuring out myself, how much do I disclose? And when I was married… I'm recently divorced, I was married for 15 years. But what led to that is realizing, “Wait a minute, this is not what I want my children to see.” And that's the experience a lot of people have. But I'm figuring out how much do I disclose, and how much do I keep for myself and the sacred space of what was my relationship? It's a mixed bag. I don't know, and I'm figuring it out.

Jonathan Walton: I recognize within the question, even me caveating the creation of bento boxes, it's hard not to create one in your answer.

Maxine Davis: Yeah [laughter].

Jonathan Walton: But your invitation to the messiness of it, is exceptionally helpful.

Maxine Davis: Yeah, it is. It is very messy. And I think advocates for a long time discouraged couples counseling, when there was any type of intimate partner violence and abuse. But again, we did a study on that and found that actually, couples treatment when there's domestic violence involved, as long as it's not this terrorism type. And I realized I only provided two examples, but violent resistance is another type, and that's when somebody's fighting back. You see that more in Black women than in White women. But those are three different types of domestic violence that you'll see, intimate terrorism, what we call common couples violence, which is “fighting”. And then violent resistance, which is somebody, this is what you see of like a woman stabbing her husband and you’re like, “What the hell happened?” I'm sorry, the language. But like, “What the heck happened with that?”

And it's like, “Well, she's been controlled and abused for 10 years, she fought back.” But then she gets arrested and convicted. So these are just three different types that occur. But I think knowing though at least those three different types and knowing that if it's a fighting or common couples violence, that actually couples treatment by someone who is trained and has some domestic violence training could be beneficial. And this is something that the domestic violence folks who are going to listen to this episode are going to be like, “Oh no, she didn't recommend ...” Yes I did [laughter]. Because the data says that we should [laughs]. I mean, this is written into policy. Sy knows this is written into policy that in many states, couples counseling is prohibited as a treatment plan when there's domestic violence perpetration. And yes, it should be avoided when someone is engaging in intimate terrorism. But it could be very helpful, and the studies show that it could be very helpful to reduce intimate partner violence. And that's one of the options that exists, especially in the context of people who have the request of, “I don't want to leave my partner, I just want the abuse to stop.” Okay, so yeah, individual counseling I do engage, that's helpful. But this couples treatment could be an option that I think probably faith leaders are engaging in anyway. But just not with the formal domestic violence training that they need in order to have a fuller perspective of what could be going on.

Jonathan Walton: Right. We are engaging every day without the training, without the resources, without the support, and often perpetuating the nonsense we've been given and then distributing that.

Maxine Davis: Yes. When we interviewed Black clergy leaders, that's what they asked for, actually. And there's been this misconception that Black church communities don't want to engage and partner with social services and that's a fallacy.

Sy Hoekstra: This conversation has been so great. I so appreciate the expertise and the vulnerability that you brought to it. Just the amount you've been willing to share is a gift to us and all of our listeners. Where can the listeners hear more from you? Where can they find you or your work?

Maxine Davis: Sure. I upload free copies of all of the studies that we publish on my website at www.drmaxinedavis.com. It's under reconstruction. I lost everything a couple of months ago, so be patient there. But the PDFs of all the studies are available there. Listeners can also follow me on Twitter, where I've had a very lively and engaging conversation. I also have a YouTube channel, Dr. Maxine Davis, where you can see some of the talks that I discussed. Short 10-minute ones, or longer 30-minute discussion of the related topics, and there'll be more to come on those platforms.

Jonathan Walton: Very excited about clicking on all of those.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Everyone go check it out. We will have links in the show notes. Dr. Davis, thank you so much for being here today.

Maxine Davis: Thank you.

Jonathan Walton: Thank you, ma'am.

Sy Hoekstra: Everyone before we go, thanks for listening. Just a quick reminder ktfpress.com Consider becoming a subscriber, it's the best way to support what we do, and gets you access to our bonus episodes and our newsletters and supports everything that we do. We so appreciate you listening today. Our theme song as always is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam and we will see you all in two weeks.

[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]

Jonathan Walton: [exhales] I mean, there was a lot there.

Sy Hoekstra: I think, Jonathan, I think since she just answered a lot of your next question, it might be interesting to just ask if there’s anything more on that subject, but

Jonathan Walton: It is, and so I’m gonna ask it, and then ask a tangent

Sy Hoekstra: Okay.

Jonathan Walton: And I’ll see where that rabbit hole go.

Maxine Davis: And I’m the daughter of a minister, so I can talk [laughter].

Jonathan Walton: You can feel free.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.

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Shake the Dust
Seeking Jesus, confronting injustice–Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we resist the idols of America.