In Part 1 of this series, we talked to Tubman, Minnesota’s largest domestic violence service agency, which offers an 18-week holistic therapy program for male and female batterers that helps them unlearn violent behaviors. Then, we looked at the men’s education program at Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, in Tucson, Ariz., which focuses on the idea of male privilege and aims to help men change their core belief system.
For our final piece, we talked to The Family Place, a family violence prevention and advocacy organization in Dallas, Texas established in 1978. They began offering one of the first batterer intervention and prevention programs in the country, starting in the mid-‘80s. Their 24-week program was organized using The Duluth Model, an approach that’s been in place for more than three decades, and which focuses on the widely-accepted idea that the accountability for the abuse must be placed on the abuser, and the blame taken off the victim.
“Participants have to own what they did,” says Paige Flink, CEO of The Family Place, a position she’s held for 17 years and counting. “We ask them, ‘Why are you here?’ To say, ‘Because I was found guilty,’ isn’t enough. It’s because ‘I abused my partner.’”
Nearly 99 percent of the participants who go through the program are court-ordered to do so; it’s often part of their community restitution, she explains. The Family Place sees up to 1,000 participants a year, which is good or bad, depending on how you look at it. The majority is male, some 85 percent, Flink estimates. But females batter, too, and they treat them as well. A separate group meets to educate gay abusers, “just because of the different dynamics,” Flink explains. “But it’s all the same information.”
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And in the past year, The Family Place has established a program for high-risk offenders, those who have been convicted of felonies or who have a high lethality probability, aka, they’re deemed most likely to murder their partner. They take the classes after their jail sentence has ended, most with ankle bracelets monitoring their whereabouts. They get 30 weeks of education, and Flink calls it “very intensive.” Her hope, however, is to shorten that window of time between an offense and the offender taking accountability. Too much time between the two, say several years from arrest to education as it sometimes works out to be, and Flink says, “you lose that ability to impact change.”
Classes involve subjects like techniques and tools for better communication, how violence affects your children, awareness-building and what respect looks like. “We talk about their beliefs, their self-talk, the right that they think they have to be dominant. We discuss emotional abuse, name-calling, cheating and why constantly trying to control another’s behavior is wrong. There are 24 different topics,” says Flink.
She also acknowledges the importance of talking about non-physical violence and dispelling the “it’s not battering without bruises” belief that batterers and survivors alike often maintain. “It’s part of what we have done as a culture to make it OK. The put-downs, the belittling, the eating away at someone’s psyche …. a survivor will say, ‘Well, he didn’t hit me, so I’m not being abused.’ But then he won’t give her money to buy groceries for the kids. And she doesn’t see that as abuse.”
Does It Work?
Ask a dozen advocates if batterer reform is possible and you’ll get a dozen different answers, and Flink knows this, saying their program is only one piece of the reform process. It’s certainly not a one-stop-shop. “About 70 percent of our participants grew up either being battered or seeing battering. If abuse is ingrained in someone, it’s less likely they’ll be able to change. But, not every man who saw his mom being battered grew up to be a batterer, so we know batterers choose to use this past violence to gain power.”
One of the ways The Family Place gauges effectiveness of their program is to look at the recidivism rate. In 2014, 94 percent of batterers were not arrested in the year following their completion of the program. Flink says they consider this success. “The fact that the violence has not risen to the level of needing intervention means our batterer’s program has had a positive impact on the life of the family.”
But she still knows that, undoubtedly, there is still some abuse occurring that goes unreported to law enforcement. “Behavior change can take time. I know that there is a benefit to a batterer receiving this information and even small improvements can help a victim have a better outcome.
“If you don’t help him [an abuser] change, his partner may leave but he’ll find a new victim. Our goal is to provide enough information to help the batterer see his life can be better without the use of power and control.
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