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Domestic Violence

January 28, 1999

Domestic abuse classBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Brian Shives came to the Catholic Charities' domestic violence program for men because a judge ordered him to after he pushed his wife through a door.

He stayed because it worked.

"It's not a miracle cure," says the 30-year-old Chambersburg, Pa., man. "It can make you aware - take a good look at yourself."

[cont. from lifestyle]

The program is called Alternatives to Domestic Violence, a 24-week plan for men who abuse women, in Chambersburg. Similar programs exist in Washington County and in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

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They are not support groups.

They are about education, treatment and prevention, says Beth Jones Chaney, a group facilitator in the Chambersburg program.

"We don't propose to cure anybody," Chaney says.

The men have to do that themselves.

The programs are based on a model developed in Duluth, Minn., more than 20 years ago.

They ask key questions: What is domestic violence? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?

Practicalities are considered. There are discussions about how to deal with jealousy, with children and with discipline and anger, says Anne Henschel, project director for Common Purpose of the Panhandle, a family violence prevention program in Martinsburg, W.Va.

For example, group members are not told they can never have an argument. They are told how to argue in ways that don't end up in physical violence.

"The model puts a lot of energy into forcing them to accept responsibility for their own actions," Henschel says.

Until he saw it written down, Shives says, he didn't realize how bad his actions were. He'd react in a way that totally "screwed up" what he was trying to accomplish and leave him feeling helpless.

"I think about what I do now. I remove myself from the situation," he says.

Alvino Long Sr. also comes voluntarily to the group - although he sheepishly acknowledges that his parole officer strongly recommended it.

Long, nicknamed "Tiny" because he weighed three pounds at birth, had been in and out of trouble for a long time. He hit his wife and had six "PFAs" - protection from abuse - orders against him.

Why did he want to change? "I got sick and tired of being sick and tired of the way I was," the 28-year-old Long says.

The Pennsylvania group began as an 18-week program called "Men's Domestic Violence Group" in April of 1998. Six months later, it was extended to 24 weeks, and its name was changed - in part at the men's suggestion - to reflect a broader and more positive approach, according to Carolyn George, one of the program's two facilitators.

In the Panhandle, Common Purpose's Batterers' Intervention Program began a little more than two years ago.

Ninety-five percent of its members are ordered by a court to attend and nine out of 10 walk in saying, "I didn't do it," according to Henschel. After a month or two, many still resist taking responsibility.

There are people at all different stages during the 24-week period. Those who are ready to leave can offer a different perspective to the "newbies," Henschel says.

In Hagerstown, CASA Inc. has had a Men's Domestic Violence Group since 1987, according to Vicki Sadehvandi, executive director.

Last year, it became part of a long-term state-funded study designed to see if such programs are effective.

CASA tries to make contact with partners of the men in the group. Many women don't come in, saying that they are no longer with the abusers. But because these women often will become involved with another abuser, it's critical that they receive the information CASA offers, Sadehvandi believes.

Common Purpose of the Panhandle is planning to offer a program to women to teach them what the men are learning, Henschel says. For example, they need to know that when the man takes a "time out," he's using a tool to defuse the situation, not walking away.

The batterers' programs are only a part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence.

"We understand the need completely for a coordinated community response," says George. Police, the courts, parole and probation and the agencies that serve the victims have to work together.

Sadehvandi said she has seen some positive changes in this regard in CASA's 21 years. "The sensitivity that law enforcement is developing is wonderful," Sadehvandi says.

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