What is a men’s domestic violence change program? As the incidence of domestic violence continues to rise, efforts are rightly being poured into helping victims of violence to safety and away from their abuser. From a long term perspective, it’s likely that the abuser will go onto other relationships and commit the same acts of violence. How can we change the cycle of abuse from happening over and over?

Help is available for men who want to stop using violence and abuse in their intimate relationships. A specialized program called a men’s domestic violence change program has been established. These programs are group programs especially designed for men who are abusive to address their violent and abusive behaviours.  They aim to:

  • Examine and challenge men’s beliefs and attitudes that support violence.
  • Examine the effects their violence and abuse has on their partners and their children.
  • Examine the impact their violence has had on their own life.
  • Teach and practice non-controlling and non-violent alternatives.

Regional counsellors are calling for services that target perpetrators of domestic and family violence to achieve long-term change. Alison Stevens is the manager of a women’s crisis centre at Laverton, in the northern goldfields of Western Australia.

“I think if you ask any of the women that come in here, they want the best for their men,” she said. “If you’re going to offer a response, it really should be to the family, not just the women.”

Richard McCarthy runs a men’s behavioural domestic violence change program at Helem Yumba Central Queensland Indigenous Healing Centre. Mr McCarthy pointed out that for the past 30 years, the focus had centred on victims, and working with male perpetrators had been overlooked.

domestic violence change, domestic violence, family violence, how to stop domestic violenceMr McCarthy recounted a story from a colleague about a male perpetrator.

“He worked with a bloke who had 10 different partners, and abused all of them,” he said. “So there’s one man, damaging 10 women and their families.”

Back in the WA Goldfields, Chris Semmens, a counsellor working with Centacare, echoed the call to focus on men in addressing domestic and family violence. Mr Semmens said removing women and children from their home added to the trauma, and he suggested flipping the current model.

“In my opinion anyway, what I think needs to happen is the male needs to be taken out of the house into a male crisis centre,” he said.

And for many of the men he worked with, they felt disempowered and lacked the insight and self-belief to be the men they wanted to be. He said throughout his work building awareness about abuse, he was seeing the younger generation of men developing a much broader understanding of the issue.

Why anger management programs are not the same as men’s domestic violence change programs

It is now widely accepted that domestic violence is not about anger but instead it is the abuser’s desire to control his partner through any means that will work.  Anger management programs do not address the fundamental causes of domestic violence nor do they focus on the safety of the victim or hold the perpetrator accountable for his violence. They are not appropriate to address domestic violence.

Why couples counselling is not safe with domestic violence

Couples counselling or mediation may sometimes be seen as a way of addressing domestic violence.  However there are some significant problems with this type of approach.  Couples counselling poses risks to the woman’s safety as she will often be required to discuss the violence whilst the perpetrator is present. Many women have reported being later subjected to physical violence as punishment for speaking out about the abuse during counselling. For any type of counselling to be successful parties present need to be open and honest about what is happening. In domestic violence many women won’t feel safe to disclose the abuse and their real feelings because of fear of repercussions.

domestic violence change, domestic violence, family violence, how to stop domestic violenceFinally this approach assumes domestic violence is a relationship problem that is shared between the parties.  Domestic violence is where one person uses abuse and violence to exert power and control over the other. Having the victim present in the counselling session is not useful.
Abusive men may be motivated to attend a domestic violence change program for many different reasons:
  • They may be directed by the Court to attend following a breach of a Domestic Violence Protection Order.
  • Pressure from family, friends, employers or others to attend out of concerns about his violent behaviour.
  • Some men choose to attend as an attempt to save their relationship believing that if they attend a program their partner will not leave them or she will return with the hope that things will improve.
  • Some men seek to stop their violent and abusive behaviour.
It is not safe to assume that because a perpetrator of domestic violence is attending a change program that the abuse will immediately stop.
Some indications an abuser is changing his behaviour and taking full responsibility for his actions are:
  • Being non-violent, not using violence, abuse, intimidating or controlling behaviours.
  • Taking responsibility and not blaming anyone for choosing to use violence or abuse, not making excuses for behaviour such saying he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or blaming other factors such as loss of employment or other financial pressures.
  • Acknowledging past use of violence and admitting being wrong.
  • Communicating openly and honestly about his behaviour.
  • Supporting his partner’s goals and aspirations.
  • Respecting her right to her own feelings, friends, activities and opinions.
  • Valuing her opinions.
  • Not pressuring her to make decisions quickly or to try to take him back.

When it comes to a long term program to preventing domestic violence, helping perpetrators to understand that it’s not acceptable is one way of ensuring that inter-generational violence doesn’t continue into the future.

If you would like to speak to one of our friendly, experienced family lawyers about domestic violence or escaping a violent partner, please contact us for a free, 10-minute phone consultation.