The Uncommon Man

November 07, 2005

Report From Roots to Wings

I returned this weekend from the first national conference on batterers intervention work in over ten years. I thought I would give a report on the conference that would focus on issues important to this site - namely the issue of can batterers change?, or more globally, can men change?

There were no specific workshops or large plenaries on this concept, but it was certainly much discussed in the question and answer portions of presentations and in between workshops, at lunches and dinners, or at the hotel bar in the evening.

The sense that I got was that there was an "old guard" of batterer intervention or battered women program providers that felt that work with batterers is strictly a function of the criminal justice system. These men committed a crime and they are providing a bit of a holding space while their victims are given a chance to leave the relationship. I am representing an extreme description here, but for some programs this is what the tone of their program seemed to be. The representatives of this perspective are the New York Model's Phyllis Frank and long-time battered women's advocate Barbara Hart.

The "old guard" was given more overt space at this conference. But, the more "respect-based" programs were given some space and were more vocal as the conference went on. Respect-based batterer intervention programs believe that their clients have the capacity to change - and, in general, that men can change. The concern with these programs is that they may be so supportive that they collude with client's violence. My estimation of the programs I saw is that they all take the safety of the partners and ex-partners very seriously. And, they all provide an atmosphere where change is a possiblity. The programs that represent this perspective are Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta and my own Moving Forward program in Western MA.

I was happy to find that there seemed to be a healthy "disagreement" going on between these two perspectives. My hope is that in future conferences this disagreement will be more overt. I also hope that the more criminal justice-based programs will be willing to change their perspectives - because I truly believe that if we are to reduce if not end domestic violence, we need to believe in and encourage men who use violence to change.

Posted by Russell at November 7, 2005 11:04 AM


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