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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 14, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesWORKSHOP LOOKS AT CHANGING LIVES TO END ABUSE

WORKSHOP LOOKS AT CHANGING LIVES TO END ABUSE

There came a time Friday toward the end of a two-day domestic violence conference on St. John when most of the participants had left, and those who stayed turned to the task of unmasking the monsters.
For years, batterers were viewed as criminal perpetrators, conference facilitator Oliver Williams said. Abusers were seen as pariahs to exclude and to punish.
But, Williams said, many experts working to end domestic violence by addressing its causes have come to realize that people who seek power and control through violence in the home will keep repeating the same behavior unless they are viewed and treated differently.
Williams is a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. For the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council conference on St. John, he shared facilitator duties with Fernando Mederos, director of the Alianza Latina Nacional Para la Erradicación de Violencia Doméstica (the National Hispanic Alliance for the Eradication of Domestic Violence).
Their Friday afternoon workshop on "Working with Batterers" attracted about 25 human services, law enforcement and victim advocate participants. A number of them had responsibility for conducting court-ordered anger management programs for men convicted of domestic violence crimes.
The first objective of the workshop was to examine the sentiments often expressed by abusers ordered to attend group sessions.
At first, the counselors said, these men are typically hostile and in denial of their actions. They blame their partners, the police, the courts and the counselors at the battered women's shelter for making them go to therapy they don't need.
Often they deny the actions that led to their being ordered to attend. "They say what they did wasn't so bad," conference participant Carol Henneman said.
As the weeks of group sessions go by, some batterers begin to talk about how they were raised, what it means to be a man, and what makes them feel powerless. That is, if they can express their feelings, Carnell Troutman, a counselor, said. "A lot of times, when you ask men how they feel, they wind up telling you how they think," he said.
What makes a man feel powerless often depends on his background, Williams said. For some, it's as basic as a language barrier. For others, it's social and economic disadvantage. Locally, some express confusion because behavior that they say is acceptable in their homeland has gotten them into trouble in the Virgin Islands.
Mederos said one thing he asks clients is that, "If there are other men they know who handle these same situations in a non-violent, peaceful way, do they get respect?" To an affirmative response, he then asks, "How do they do it?"
The facilitators suggested that counselors who recognize the needs of clients in anger-management programs can motivate them to change their behavior by offering resources to meet those needs.
For example, Williams said, if a client has a restraining order against him but has nowhere to live except with the battered partner, one thing he really needs is housing. If a man is unemployed, he said, helping him make a job connection can help relieve his feelings of helplessness or inadequacy.
Clema Lewis, co-director of the St. Croix Women's Coalition, was among the workshop participants who expressed the view that helping abusers should not mean letting them off the hook for the wrong they've done.
Mederos argued that empowering men is a way to meet not only material needs but also emotional ones. "Don't collude, but don't get lost to the reality," he said.

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