Stopping the abuse before it starts
Stopping the violence will take a different direction this spring, as a pilot project is launched to offer counselling to men who could be hurting others.
Rhea Redivo, the Change 4 Good project co-ordinator, said that the pilot evolved from quarterly work conducted by the Violence in Relationships Committee, comprised of more than 30 agencies in the South Okanagan and Similkameen regions that deal with the aftermath of abuse. Members include police officers, Crown lawyers, probation officers, counsellors, victim assistance workers and more.
“They meet on a quarterly basis and just discuss the state of their services and they are looking to create a more unified response to violence in relationships. They all have a common goal,” Redivo explained.
“They over time recognized a real gap in services for people wanting to address their own abusive behaviour, particularly before they reach the stage of facing charges and the criminal court system.”
She said people who are charged and convicted of a Criminal Code offence like assault against their wives, common-law partners or girlfriends are often mandated by the courts to undergo treatment. But if no charges are laid for whatever reason, assistance cannot be provided. “If they never reach that threshold, then they can’t access that service,” she said. “There isn’t a voluntary service other than going to private counselling or doing an (employee assistance program), and those can be costly, not available or not accessible.”
Redivo said the committee also recognized that existing services were tailored to women who have fled violent relationships; which addresses the women and families in immediate crisis, but does not account for women who could face future crises.
“Even if she leaves, he can continue to be abusive towards her even when they’re separated, and the other aspect is he may go on to another relationship and be just as abusive or worse to the next woman,” she said. “It doesn’t stop the cycle of violence when you address just the victim.”
The committee wanted to provide services to men who struggle with violent or controlling behaviour or tendencies, and came across a model offered by the Calgary Emergency Women’s Shelter. It has offered men’s counselling services for more than 20 years, creating a respectful and non-judgmental environment in which they can review their actions and behaviour. Their female partners must join outreach programs as well, and more than 75 per cent of those women reported dramatic changes in their partner’s abusive behaviour.
SOVAS applied for grant funding and received $30,000 from two separate sources: the provincial government and the RCMP family violence intervention fund. It was earmarked for a pilot project called Change 4 Good to offer men in four communities — Penticton, Oliver-Osoyoos, Keremeos and Princeton — the chance to take part in therapeutic groups that meet each week in the evening until June. The counselling would be free, confidential and in small groups of 10. If there is interest, the groups could continue biweekly through the summer.
“The approach is very non-judgmental and supportive, which I think is a bit of a concern. People might assume they’ll be severely judged for their behaviour, but that’s not the object here. It’s more a therapeutic group,” Redivo said.
Men must register in advance for the groups and attend two intake sessions with Redivo to ensure they are prepared for the work ahead: they must be willing to take an introspective look into their life, behaviour and what other choices they can make. “It’s not going to be a group about blaming partners. The focus will be 100 per cent on the participants and they have to be willing to do that,” she said.
Change 4 Good aims to work with a range of service providers that might refer men to consider the pilot counselling program, including police officers, schools, family doctors, Ministry of Children and Family Development staff, counsellors or anyone else working with families that recognize abuse is going on.
“There’s maybe a portion who might self-identify,” she said, adding that men may see their relationship is not close or trusting with their partner are invited and want more. “They’re not getting what they want out of the relationship either, and sometimes you get into a pattern of behaviour that you don’t know how to stop anymore.”
Redivo said she wanted to invite the community to discuss the issue of not only violence but precursors like emotional and psychological abuse through an evening film screening this month. On March 28 at Okanagan College from 7 to 9 p.m., Change 4 Good will screen It’s Not Like I Hit Her — a film produced by the Victoria Family Violence Intervention Project that gives examples of what those forms of abuse can look like. A panel discussion will follow.
“If you’re trying to sort out for yourself whether something you’ve been seeing, experiencing or doing might be classified as emotional abuse or psychological abuse, if you’re curious about that, then this is a great venue. It’s neutral, you can just go and listen, but it will give you a better sense of what it is and what it looks like,” she said.
“It can be extremely subtle and hard to name, and I think one of the characteristics is it leaves you feeling really confused. ‘Am I going crazy?’ That’s the way it leaves people feeling.”
Intake will be ongoing throughout April and May, and interested participants are asked to contact Redivo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-488-5939. The project must wrap up by October, when the VIR committee will review the efficacy of the groups.
“Our goal is to have this continue,” she said. “In the midst of doing this, we’re going to be doing evaluations and assessments, and we’re going to be looking for further funding to continue doing this.”