IN DEPTH

Counsellor believes Men's Behavioural Change Programs can help to keep women safe

Change: As part of the Men's Behaviour Change Programs men must attend two hour weekly group sessions for 22 weeks.
Change: As part of the Men's Behaviour Change Programs men must attend two hour weekly group sessions for 22 weeks.

A man throws his partner down the stairs as his children watch on.

In this moment of violence he has blocked his kids' presence from the memory, but in a counselling session he is asked, "where were your children? What do you think it it was like for them to see their mother like that? What would have happened if they had seen you break her neck and die?"

No to Violence counsellor Ross relives the moment this happened in a Men's Behaviour Change Program where a room of 14 men fell silent.

"All of this group suddenly realised that the force of their violence can actually have those kinds of results," he said.

"A woman dies every week in this country because of such violence, and they had the realisation 'my actions could actually do that, and how could I ever face my kids again?'

"These thoughts can be real motivators to say, 'I need to take responsibility and stop doing this'."

The Men's Behaviour Change Program runs as two-hour group counselling sessions every week for 22 weeks.

In Victoria, the court can mandate participation in the program as part of family violence sentencing. Currently in Tasmania, law reform is looking at mandating participation in such programs as part of a family violence order.

While funding for the programs is minimal, Ross said his work was a crucial part of keeping women safe.

... inherent in the issue of family violence, is male privilege.

Despite slow progress - sometimes men will need to repeat the program two or three times to finally instigate change - Ross said he really believed men who use violence can change.

"One in four women will experience family violence. It is part of my motivation, in my work, to see that change for women, for the women in my life, including my granddaughters, and society in general," he said.

"It is long overdue in this country."

Men's Behaviour Change Programs in Australia usually follow the DULUTH domestic-violence intervention model, which began in the United States in the 1980s in response to an ever-prevalent community problem.

The program was developed after talking to many women who had lived in domestic violence relationships and survived physical and emotional violence, intimidation and terror.

It documented the most common abusive behaviours or "tactics" that men use against women to achieve dominance, and gain power and control in the relationship.

That included using intimidation, such as smashing things and breaking a woman's property, threatening her, emotionally abusing her by putting her down, calling her names or making her think she was crazy, and using economic abuse, like preventing her from working or taking her money.

Evidence has shown men will also use children to gain control, they may treat women like servants in the household, and then minimise or deny responsibility of the abuse by making light of it, or saying it didn't happen.

These tactics have also been used in addition to physical or sexual violence and, once these things occur, become an ever-present threat for the partners involved.

Ross explains, inherent in the issue of family violence, is male privilege.

"A lot of men think that it is their right to act towards women in the way that they do, and that is because of the way we are socialised," Ross said.

"If you think about how Western society is organised, inequality exists everywhere between men and women, in pay structures, within rape laws.

"We still have these entrenched attitudes that speak to male privilege, where men are strong and 'big boys don't cry', where it's okay for a male to sow his oats, but if a woman does so she is a slut, where women are still seen as something for men to use and abuse."

Ross said these attitudes allow men to believe they have power, and prompt men to then act in ways to maintain this sense of power.

He said family violence program aims to challenge this way of thinking to get men to recognise that these thoughts are wrong.

"Some men do see the programs as a punishment, but really it is an opportunity for them to address their behaviour, to make changes so they no longer use violence as an option," he said.

"If they think the program is a load of crap then they will go out the same way they came in, but if they address their behaviour to make positive changes, then that is what is going to happen."

He said the programs create a space for men to start seeing their behaviour as wrong, to stop denying the truth of their actions.

"A lot of men say. 'I didn't hit her', or they say, 'it wasn't strangulation it was restraining her by holding her down by the neck'. The program looks at what is preventing these men from acknowledging what they are doing, [and] what is stopping them from owning the fact that the woman can't breath and is turning blue.

"When you start talking about the psychological, sexual, economic and coercive control, you start to unpack the issues, and the light switch goes on, and the men go, 'yep that is me'."

Sometimes, Ross says, the men must look at some of the other issues in their lives, such as personal trauma, drug and alcohol use or housing instability, that may impact their ability to change.

"A lot of men do come in with their own trauma which they tend to use to say, 'if only you understood my background'," he said.

"What men need to realise is that our brain chooses our behaviours and our responses. The program is very much around people empowering themselves to take responsibility for their behaviour, and be aware of the consequences.

"Men often say, 'I didn't realise that I could get so angry'. They feel driven by their anger which becomes rage, and the rage becomes homicidal or suicidal.

"What they also don't realise is that they can do something about that, and when they do realise that they can actually do something about that, that it takes courage to do so ... it can be another one of those light bulb moments."

Help:

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Family Violence Counselling and Support Service on 1800 608 122