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J Marital Fam Ther. 1997 Oct;23(4):399-419.

Intimate justice: confronting issues of accountability, respect, and freedom in treatment for abuse and violence.

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  • 1Department of Family Studies, University of Kentucky, Lexington 40506-0054, USA.


Intimate justice theory is a set of nine interrelated concepts that describe the ethical dimensions of equality, fairness, and care in ongoing partnerships. Understanding ethical dimensions involves examining internalized beliefs and behavior in terms of their motivation and impact on the partner, particularly as they empower, disempower, or abuse power. The concepts of intimate justice theory are applied to confront disempowerment and abuses of power, to challenge internalized beliefs about how one should treat one's partner, to explore how internalized beliefs were developed through experiences in the family of origin, and to develop an awareness of the linkages between intimate partner abuse and social injustice. This article demonstrates how therapists can utilize three of the concepts --accountability, respect, and freedom--to structure the opening phase of treatment for abuse and violence. The primary focus of the opening phase is on establishing accountability for change in the abusive man and protecting the safety of the injured partner. This involves challenging the abuser's sense of entitlement and working to rethink what respect is and restoring freedom to his partner. The discussion incorporates the findings of an exploratory, qualitative study that investigated the experiences of 30 abusive men and their partners who were clients in a university-based counseling clinic. The article elaborates six interventions that can be utilized in clinical settings to structure treatment with abusive men.

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