By David Mandel, Executive Director
Traditionally, domestic abuse accountability and intervention efforts with men who choose violence have been focused on arrest, courts and men’s behavior change programs. While these endeavors are critical to community efforts around accountability and safety for survivors, we know that most men who choose violence may never touch these systems.
Moreover, anti-racist activism has highlighted the need to broaden our responses to include, but also to extend beyond criminal justice responses. We can no longer ignore how poor, marginalized and ethnic minority men and their families are disproportionately represented within law enforcement, criminal justice and child protection systems across the world. These responses have failed to help many women, particularly women of color, who are worried that a call to law enforcement will lead to an overreaction in police response or the unnecessary incarceration of their partner.
To move beyond the overreliance on a criminal justice response to persons who choose violence and respond to the needs of diverse communities and families, we need a wider set of resources and interventions for men who choose violence. These interventions need to prioritize adult and child safety while providing new pathways forward for men who want to change their behaviors.
To coincide with Father’s Day in the UK and USA, the Safe & Together Institute is pleased to launch our ‘Choose to Change: Your Behavior, Your Choice’ Campaign Materials. This is a time of significant disruption in service delivery, and reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of mainstream responses to domestic violence. Lockdown, loss of employment and social distancing are creating new and unique pressures on families. More men than ever are calling hotlines, reaching out for help with their violence toward loved ones.
At this moment, we are offering these free resources aimed at men who choose violence, professionals who work with them and their family and friends. We hope these resources will help make real differences in the safety and quality of life for women and children and offer men new, practical options for choosing to change their behavior.
At the heart of this Campaign is the ‘Choose to Change’ Network Toolkit – a kit that describes a four-step process to help men develop strong, safe support networks to help them interrupt their violence and increase safety for other family members. Now more than ever we need a wide range of tools to help men who choose violence to be responsible for their behaviors and change them. By offering men the tools to change, we can encourage their efforts to be a better partner and father.
The toolkit includes:
The Safe & Together Model has, at its core, stresses the importance of intervening with men who choose violence, particularly as parents. By offering men the tools to change, we can encourage their efforts to be a better partner and father. We want to encourage more and more men to seek out help around their behavior, their substance use and their mental health.
The messaging in these resources acknowledges that men are not often encouraged to seek help or support. Boys and men are told to be strong, not afraid, to be in control of the situation. We want men to know that it is ok to feel afraid, worried or depressed and to reach out for help from formal and informal networks. What is not ok is controlling or abusing loved ones.
In the current situation of the pandemic, we want to use the opportunity offered by the global conversation about anxiety and worry about health and safety. We believe now is the time to reach out to men who are choosing violence (and those at risk for choosing violence) with a very clear message:
The rationale behind the messaging is that many men who choose violence use their abusive behaviors so they can manage their own feelings of fear and worry. These behaviors are supported by cultural ideas that can conflate masculinity, fatherhood and dominance over others, especially women and children.
Our message recognizes the reality of anxiety while setting clear boundaries on behaviors. Just like normal times, the current situation does not justify violence and abuse.
By implementing new engagement strategies for men who are choosing violence, we are hoping to improve outcomes for adult and child survivors. We hope these resources, when added to existing intervention strategies, will help make real differences in the safety and quality of life of women and children and offer men new, practical options for choosing to change their behavior.
What else can I do to improve my interventions with men who choose violence:
We also want to support professionals, who usually have little to no training in working with men as parents. Tools like ‘Choose to Change’ will work best when they are supported by additional training which helps professionals and systems shift to seeing domestic abuse perpetration as a parenting choice.
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