Batterer’s intervention classes get abusers to examine their own behavior
[Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment in a multipart series about domestic violence. The following story may contain graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.]
While the perpetrators of domestic violence are personally responsible for their decisions and the damage their aggression causes, sometimes they may seek and find excuses in the overarching climate of the historical, legal and religious environment, according to Tammy Rohane-Henderson, executive director for Solutions Education Center in Tullahoma.
Among other programs, the center offers a batterer’s intervention class, which is taught by Rohane-Henderson.
“I’ve worked with violent offenders for about 20 years, either in jail or post-incarceration,” Rohane-Henderson. “The batterer’s intervention program at the center serves men who have committed partner violence.”
Rohane-Henderson focuses on educating the participants about the damaging effects of their aggression with the goal of changing their behavior. She also encourages them to understand the overarching atmosphere in society, which sometimes may be used as an excuse for their violence against women.
Normalizing violence against women
“Domestic violence is normalized and promoted on many different levels in our society,” Rohane-Henderson said, adding that’s a sensitive issue for many people.
Negative beliefs about women are perpetuated through various avenues.
“It comes from the church, it comes from the government, it comes from the Supreme Court,” she said. “When I say church, I mean overarching religion, and those negative messages about women, and the box they put men in, in terms of this is who you have to be to be man enough.
“Those messages are where we see, fundamentally, the stemming of interpersonal violence in relationships.”
Those are the messages communicating that women are less important than men and that violence against women is normal.
“Through many different avenues, women get messages this is normal behavior for men,” Rohane-Henderson said.
For example, if a woman is being abused by her husband and plans to seek help, she may be conflicted by the fact that the church tells her she needs obey her spouse.
“For instance, I am Catholic, so divorce is against my religion,” she said. “If a Catholic woman finds herself in abusive situation, then she has a motivation to stay because that is what the church would want her to do.”
This messaging is also received by men. Men may see it as the church embracing forceful behavior, which may be used as an excuse for abusing women.
Many laws were created to deny women certain rights and opportunities and some have inadvertently had that effect. Most of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional, but it’s important to understand laws have repressed the rights of women, Rohane-Henderson said.
For example, in 1777, laws were passed to prohibit women from voting.
In 1873, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Illinois has the right to exclude a woman from practicing law. Three justices signed onto an opinion that says, “[t]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator,” according to www.digitalhistory.uh.edu.
“Can you think of one single law that regulates what a man does with his body,” Rohane-Henderson asked, referring to abortion laws. “What does it suggest about women that there are laws stating what a woman can do with her body?”
It suggests women can’t make those decisions, she said.
“Who is making those decisions and who is making those laws?” she asked, noting the answer is mostly men.
“So we have this messaging from the overarching macro system that writes the rules that women can’t make decisions,” she said. “Whether or not we believe that affects small-town Bobby and Sue and how they interact in their marriage, we have to acknowledge the fact that until we deal with sexism and racism and (heterosexism) on a societal level, we will always be faced with violence against those who are deemed weaker.”
Celebrities also often perpetuate negative messages about women.
For instance, it is acceptable for famous athletes to get away with more than what regular people would, said Rohane-Henderson.
“If we commit a crime, we might have to go and tell our boss that we committed a crime and we got arrested and, for some of those things, we don’t expect to walk away with a job,” she said.
Many local individuals with domestic violence convictions can’t even get a job at a factory, she said, adding that’s not the case for professional football players with similar convictions.
“Look at the NFL, as an example,” she said. “If a man has committed violence against a woman, and if one team passes on him, he can go over to another team that will hire him in moments,” she said. “The NFL is making the rules. Do we tolerate violence? Yes, we do.”
The goal of the class she teaches is to help abusers change their behavior.
“One aspect of what we do is to sensitize men to those messages, to sensitize men toward the ways they may be encouraged to see women as less-than,” she said.
She aims to help them understand.
“We work toward building empathy,” Rohane-Henderson said.
Men need to learn to express anger in a way that doesn’t hurt others. She encourages parents to teach their sons that expressing feelings is healthy.
“Men are not encouraged, societally, to express feelings,” she said.
Suppressing anger, sadness and tears can be very damaging and can lead to violence. Unfortunately, boys are often told they shouldn’t cry, with the damaging effects being twofold.
First, Rohane-Henderson said, suppressing emotions may lead to the boy experiencing depression. The second damaging effect comes in the form of a message, which tells them they shouldn’t act like girls. If they should avoid acting like girls, then girls are not as good as boys.
“Think of all of the messages the boy gets that say being female is being less-than,” she said. “That leaves us with men who are conditioned to experience only anger and rage as an emotion and conditioned to believe that any other emotion makes them weak.
“They learn it’s a bad thing to be female. Being female means being weak, being somebody who can be objectified or taken advantage of.”
Allow boys to express feelings, said Rohane-Henderson.
While boys will still “definitely receive messages through their friends, co-workers, schoolmates, that those are not acceptable emotions to have,” it’s important for parents to encourage their children not to suppress emotions.
Men can stop violence
While organizations battling domestic violence and supporting victims are essential, it’s important to help men change their behavior and stop aggression.
“Only men can stop violence against women because violence against women is a men’s issue,” Rohane-Henderson said. “Other men need to stand forward and acknowledge women’s experiences – they are the only ones with the power [to truly stop it]. The voice of other men in the conversation is critical.”
To learn more about Solutions Education Center, go to www.keepwhatyouvalue.com.
Elena Cawley can be reached by email at email@example.com.