Probation office works to help abusers break the cycle of violence
[Editor’s note: This is the seventh installment in a multipart series about domestic violence. The following story may contain graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.]
While many efforts to end domestic violence focus on helping victims free themselves from dangerous relationship and rebuild their lives, to make a lasting difference, the perpetrators of domestic violence need to be addressed as well. Knowing why perpetrators use aggression and helping them to change their behavior is essential.
Deputy Director of Coffee County Probation Linda Baker works daily with individuals on probation for domestic violence charges. She aims to provide her clients with resources and education to help them see the negative impacts their aggression has on their lives and the lives of the victims and works to help them realize they can change their behavior.
“I supervise a caseload of domestic violence clients that are on probation,” Baker said.
Though she handles a variety of cases, most of Baker’s clients have charges related to domestic violence or assault charges. Currently she handles a caseload of nearly 150 such cases.
“We have more than 142 on the list for domestic violence,” Baker said on Monday.
“I supervise [my clients] for a period of time set forth by the court,” Baker said. “It is my job and my task to make sure they complete any special requirements successfully in the time the courts have given them.”
Challenges for the abusers
Through her experience as a probation officer, Baker has seen some commonalities when it comes to the perpetrators. It’s important to note that abusers may come from any social class or ethnicity. However, many lack adequate education, according to Baker.
“The biggest thing is education,” Baker said.
Also, many of the perpetrators grew up in homes where domestic violence was viewed as “normal,” and many of them witnessed abuse, or were victims of violence themselves, as children.
“Sometimes, things have been passed down from generation to generation and, sometimes, it’s just a lack of [a model of] what a healthy relationship looks like,” Baker said. “Some people are just not aware of what a healthy relationship is, what those dynamics are and what the components are.”
Domestic violence is a multi-generational problem.
“Often, abusers don’t know any different,” Baker said.
However, this is not an excuse, said Baker. This is just a fact those battling the issue need to understand, so they can tackle the problem effectively.
“You are trying to change a pattern of behavior and the [perpetrators’] thought process,” she said.
Many of the abusers never acquired good communication skills because they never had positive role models, she added. They never learned to “use words instead of hands and to be careful with their words, too, because that is a form of abuse, as well.”
“The whole issue goes back to appropriate communication and what a healthy relationship looks like,” Baker said.
To help her clients develop communication skills and manage their anger issues, Baker signs them up for certain classes. She oversees the process and ensures they complete all necessary courses.
“The courts may require them to do a domestic violence assessment, and based on that assessment, they may be required to complete a batterer’s intervention program,” Baker said.
Some of the individuals on probation may have to complete an anger management class. Those with more serious charges have to complete a batterer’s intervention program.
“There are some folks that need just a basic anger management class,” Baker said. “We give [the clients] a list of people that are certified batterer’s instructors and they can pick and choose where they want to take the class.”
Solutions Education Center in Tullahoma is one of the organizations offering those classes.
The batterer’s intervention program focuses on men who abuse their partners.
Battering is defined as “a constellation of physical violence, sexual and psychological abuses,” according to Solutions Educations Center’s website.
Batterer’s intervention programs use methods to help participants develop positive family relationships by utilizing education and psychological therapy to deal with the underlying causes of the battering.
The programs also strive to protect the victim and the affected children.
The local batterer’s intervention program is a 26-week program, with the evaluation completed by an outside source, said Baker.
Tammy Rohane-Henderson, executive director of Solutions Education Center, teaches the courses.
“Tammy has a very extensive training,” Baker said.
Rohane-Henderson and Baker work together to ensure the program is completed successfully.
“Once a month, I get a note that lets me know if [my clients] are participating in the class,” Baker said.
Rohane-Henderson offers day, night and weekend classes.
“She is very accommodating,” Baker said. “She really tries to work with those folks and offer as many possibilities of classes to give them the ability to succeed – if this class is successful, the chance is there is less harm to women.”
‘It takes a team’
While Baker works mostly with perpetrators, she has an understanding of the cycle of abuse and the challenges victims face.
She encourages community members to learn about the struggles of the victims and the hurdles stopping them from leaving.
“People need to be aware there is abuse out there,” she said.
She urges the community not to judge victims.
“You don’t know why they didn’t leave, unless you walked a mile in their shoes,” Baker said. “We don’t need to pass judgment on why these women didn’t leave. It’s very hard. Some of these women don’t have the finances to leave, and some of them have emotional struggles they need to overcome. Some of them might not have another place they can go to live.”
That’s where Haven of Hope, an agency supporting victims of abuse, comes into play.
“Haven of Hope can help those women find emergency housing, food, clothing and shelter,” Baker said. “We work really well together. The more people you have to support the cause, the more successfully we can get past this. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team to get somebody past this behavior.
Elena Cawley can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.