Avoiding Shame Does Not Mean Avoiding Blame

A new article talks about the complex distinctions between shame and guilt for criminal offenders, and that guilt is more closely associated with reduced recidivism than shame. The coverage about the article does not indicate that the researchers distinguished among crimes, or focused on intimate partner crimes. That is a shame (I can’t read the entire article because it’s behind an APA paywall). Neil Websdale, a leader of the IPV Fatality Review efforts in the U.S., writes in his book Familicidal Hearts: The Emotional Styles of 211 Killers that many of the homicidal men he encounters in his reviews felt shame due to their perceived inability to meet the social norms of masculinity. This observation does not excuse the killers, but may contribute to our understanding both of why some partner abusers commit homicides, as opposed to others. Websdale make an important contribution to discussions about danger assessment that point the finger at retrograde and confining gender norms as contributing factors to partner violence. I’d love psychologists to further dissect the shame/guilt difference regarding partner violence recidivism.  We want them to feel bad about their behavior, but perhaps bad in a different way that would change how we conduct public awareness, design programs for offenders, and manage this issue for re-entry. Since partner violence is so prevalent among incarcerated individuals, we need to know.

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About amybarasch

Seasoned professional in the area of partner violence, criminal justice, and public policy. Public Service Professor at the Center for Human Services Research, SUNY Albany. Former Director of the NYS OPDV; NYC FJC; and creator of a variety of collaborative community-engaged programs.
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