Men’s Behavior Change Programs (Abuser Intervention Programs)
Here is a radio interview about Men’s Behavior Change Programs. You can find the original transcript and also listen to the interview (click on ‘view full episode’ to listen). The interview was broadcast by the Law Report, ABC Radio National (Australia) in July 2006.
Bear in mind that the viewpoint in the interview is entirely secular, so there is no discussion of Christianity, sin, repentance, regeneration, false Christianity, etc. And bear in mind that while Jeff and I believe behavior change programs such as this might be beneficial, only God can bring about regeneration – only God can quicken the spirit that is dead in sin and make it alive in Jesus Christ.
Here is the interview
Damien Carrick (interviewer): There’s been a lot of focus recently on domestic violence and abuse in Indigenous communities. But violence in the home happens of course in every neighbourhood. Perpetrators are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, employed or on the dole, and they are members of every single ethnic group.
In Australia it’s believed that about one in four or one in five women experience violence in the home.
To try and get a handle on what we can do about domestic violence, I visited the offices of the No to Violence Organisation in Melbourne, and I sat down with Danny Blay, a Domestic Violence worker, who runs Behaviour Change Programs for violent men in Victoria.
With him was Pete (not his real name). Pete used taunts, manipulations and abusive behaviour to control his wife for ten years, and when his wife left him, he had time to reflect on his behaviour.
Pete: I didn’t use physical violence, but I certainly used intimidation and coercion, certainly emotional sort of control over my partner, probably making most of the decisions in the household as well.
Damien Carrick: Was there a lot of shouting and that kind of intimidation?
Pete: Yes, for sure, and smashing of walls, breaking things, that sort of thing.
Damien Carrick: What went through your mind as you were doing this to your partner?
Pete: Probably a really over-inflated sense of that I had to be right.
Damien Carrick: So what kind of impact did the abuse have on your partner? I mean did you see it as harming her?
Pete: With retrospect, yes, but over time it destroyed the relationship so in the end when we separated my partner no longer had any feelings of affection for me, and she saw that if she didn’t get out now, she was never going to get out. So I guess with each incidence of violence, you could see that it was taking some toll, but I guess I was deluding myself really that I just couldn’t see that that was happening.
Damien Carrick: So what changed for you? How were you able to break that pattern?
Pete: Look for me, it was that when my partner left, my whole life as I’d perceived it had completely changed, and I didn’t want that to ever happen again, and I didn’t want somebody that I cared about to be hurt by me in that way ever again. So probably at the beginning of attending a Behavioural Change group, my motivation was to try and get the relationship back. Reasonably quickly that became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen, and then my motivation came that I didn’t want to be like this any more. I didn’t want to be a violent abusive person.
Damien Carrick: So Pete, now you’ve dealt with your own issues, and now you’re helping other people deal with their issues, you actually man a telephone hotline for men who are committing domestic violence, who are calling up and want help to change it. Tell me, what kinds of people call up?
Pete: All sorts of people. I know that I certainly probably had a perception that it was the Western Suburbs or the Northern Suburbs, Broadmeadows or Sunshine, where the domestic violence was from; it’s not all like that, it’s a problem that’s through all levels of our society, so you’ll get professionals ringing up, you’ll get tradespeople ring up, and everybody in between and from all sorts of postcodes.
Damien Carrick: So the people who call up, are they people though who had turned the corner in the sense that they are owning, or taking responsibility for their actions by saying Well I’ve clearly got a problem, I’m hurting the people I love, are they taking responsibility?
Pete: No, not at all. Look often it will be there’s been some sort of large argument at home whether it involves physical violence or just yelling and screaming. Quite often the police will be involved and there’ll be an intervention order that’s been put in place, and they’ll be seeking advice about that, really. So they want to know ‘What do I do now? What happens now?’ Some callers are like you described, they’ve got to the point where they’re seeking assistance to change, and they’re wanting information about Behavioural Change groups, but generally the male callers, it’s some sort of explosive incident has happened, and they’re out of the house. And there’s an intervention order in place quite commonly, and they want some help. So no, they’re not accepted, and they’re not at the point where they’re accepting responsibility that it’s their fault. They’re seeking legal assistance because they want to know what they can do to get back into the house almost basically. And they’re saying there’s a sort of litany of things that it’s things that their partner has done, there’s 1,001 excuses for why they’ve got to where they’ve got to, but none of it is actually their responsibility, it’s all external things to them.
Damien Carrick: So you’re involved in this telephone hotline, and I guess ultimately a referral service. Your journey is not complete yet because you’re actually trying to become a counsellor, so you’ll deal face to face with the men who are prepared to take on programs to address their behaviour.
Pete: Yes, I’m due to start in about a fortnight’s time, a behavioural change facilitator course, that’s right.
Damien Carrick: Well Pete, thank you very much for that. Danny Blay, you’re a domestic violence worker, tell me – Peter was talking about behaviour management programs; what are these? How do they actually work? Do they work?
Danny Blay: They’re essentially group programs specifically for men who’ve used violence towards women and family members. There are 35 of them currently in Victoria, they’re all facilitated by qualified practitioners. They’re mostly community-based, there are a couple of new programs that are essentially mandated programs, that are attached to the new Family Violence Court pilot programs. But their basic premise is the safety of women and children. It’s all about men taking full responsibility for their use of violence, and embarking on a process of change where they stop using violence towards the people they love the most.
Damien Carrick: So what, sitting a group of them around in a circle and basically talking it through?
Danny Blay: Talking it through, yes, anywhere between kind of 8 and 15 men might come to a group one night a week, usually 2 hours per week. And there’ll be set curriculums for each week. They’ll learn about the types of violence, the cycle of violence that Pete talked about before, they’ll talk extensively about the impact of the violence on other people, and they’re very much challenged to disclose the violence they’ve used in the past, and also in the past few days as well. To own that violence and to also talk about instances where they haven’t used violence and what changed that. And some immediate strategies that men learn to stop their use of violence by either recognising in themselves their own signs about how they can be alerted to what might be going on within themselves, and how they can keep their families safe.
Damien Carrick: How they can keep their families safe, how they can keep their families together? I mean are you talking about people who are within existing relationships who are saying ‘I’ve got to try to do this to keep my relationship’?
Danny Blay: The basic premises of the programs are not to keep families together, it’s about women and children safe, and men changing their violent behaviour. So there are men who are currently in relationships, there are men who’ve recently left relationships, there are men who haven’t been in relationships for a long time. The messages that are given to the men and also their partners when the men are involved in the programs, is that this is the Behaviour Change programs aren’t a magic cure to save your relationship, that men might go through 20, 30, 40 weeks in a program, at the end of that the relationships still might fail. But ultimately the big picture as Pete was talking about before, is how can you be the best human being you can possibly be, how can you be the best father you can be, without using violence and coercive behaviours.
Damien Carrick: Does this stuff work?
Danny Blay: It does work. The difficulty is proving it, and what we know from experience around the world is that serious longitudinal studies are required to determine whether men actually change. A lot of the evidence we have at the moment is anecdotal, and it certainly comes from the partners of the men in the groups. So one of the standards of practice for all of the groups is partner contact where women are contacted at regular bases to find out how they are, whether they need support and referral, and to verify what men are saying in the group as well. That’s not to share the information between the men and the women, but to simply verify how things are going at home, and if the man is changing. And so Behaviour Change group facilitators will learn how and to what degree the violence is changing, if it’s turning into a different type of violence, or whether the communication is increasing. And essentially how safe the women and children are feeling.
Damien Carrick: If the women disclose that the violence is continuing, do you recommend intervention orders, do you recommend breaking up, do you recommend getting out? I suppose your clients are the men, but the people at risk are the women and the children.
Danny Blay: Yes, look the partner contact workers, if they’re concerned about the safety of the partners and their children, they’ll certainly talk about what can you do to make yourself safe. Often for a lot of these women it’s the first time they’ve talked to anyone about their experience. Often they don’t see their experience as violence, but the partner contact workers and facilitators will talk to them individually about their experience and talk to them about things like safety plans, what are you going to do next time that this might happen, and talk about the reality that they might have to leave, if the violence is escalating, or isn’t abating. And from the experience of our workers, the best arbiters of the safety of the families are the women. They’ll know whether they think they’re going to be in a safe situation or not, and our workers will intervene to make sure they’re safe, that the primary concern is their safety, not the relationship.
Damien Carrick: At what point do you or the counsellors say, OK hang on, we’re dealing with this person, and there are criminal law issues, and we can’t really help this person who is committing criminal offences, we’ve got to call the cops, do something, bring in the criminal justice system here and now.
Danny Blay: There are a number of different ways that different programs approach that issue. There are some programs that basically have signed agreements with their participants that if something like that comes up, they will be reported to police immediately. There are other programs that take into account the wishes of their partners, and want to try and understand what the partners will think of the impact of police being called, how’s that going to impact on her own safety. Generally speaking, men will be required to report their own breaches of the law, or breaching of intervention orders if it might be, and certainly women are very much encouraged to call the police in a moment of crisis when violence is imminent, to protect themselves, and to hold the men accountable to absolutely use every means possible to do that, and that includes calling police and pressing charges.
Men concerned about their use of violence or aggression can ring the Men’s Referral Service on 03/9428 2899 or if you’re in Victoria (Australia) on 1800 066 973.
And the No to Violence website is at here.
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Additionally, here are some other resources:
What not to do when having conversations with men who abuse and control their partners
Supporting women and children (includes questions you can ask a woman to help her open up)