We can all be forgiven on occasions for offering up a view on how to stop men’s violence towards women and children that later, we reflect as naïve.
I know I have in recent days.
The idea that one man will tap another on the shoulder and say “Hey mate, you shouldn’t be doing that”, and that the violent prospect gratefully accepts the direction, is most likely very naïve on my part.
If viewing abusive behaviors on a continuum, the concept that men who are well entrenched in controlling behaviors, will take meaningful direction from men who have opposing world views, has some structural challenge!
Most men who view their exploitative, controlling or frightening behaviors as entitled, righteous or disciplinary, are often a long way from accepting personal guidance from those with opposing views. Even if an attempt is made to provide a meaningful intervention, invested perpetrators are often well skilled in mounting convincing and compelling arguments as to why they need to behave this way.
The most dangerous men surround themselves with values and beliefs that support their controlling stance, and seek only to find confirmation of these; and their needs being met, whether it’s an investment in their personal powerlessness, their psychological labels or their belligerent denial of any view contradictory to theirs. They seek confirmation that the way they are behaving is right, they are entitled to it, and they seek support through those with which they associate.
When exposed to other men and women with equality supporting worldviews, by joining sporting, recreational clubs, work and other places they want to be part of, men will moderate these views to fit that cultural view. It’s that capacity to moderate these views that speaks to the strategic and purposeful nature of behavior some would claim is beyond their direct control.
David Adams talks to abusive behaviors not being “sick” or “irrational”, but that their underlying logic is purposeful and intentional. The challenge for all of us on the frontline, working with men who choose to use violence, is to lower the static or noise around the causes and instead center the conversation back into that of personal choice.
Of course, authority and conviction to this central theme of choice doesn’t come from academic or distant connections to the plights of victims of abuse. To my way of thinking, it is in the nitty, gritty engagement and layered complexities that filter through every referral or contact that comes through to the Mensline.
It’s a cellular and singular understanding that regardless of how convincing, compelling and complex the argument is, men who use violence, are in fact not victims of circumstances or chance, but engaged in systematic and methodical positioning for advantage and exploitation.
Not a position that is likely to be surrendered by a “tap” on the shoulder.
Some men do change of course and that’s what keeps us all hopeful and engaged in the process of believing that we have the right to expect personal responsibility.
I would suggest that “some do change” view, is also part of the static and needs some clarity.
Along the lines of our generally hopeful stance of “man hits woman, woman calls police, man goes to jail”. The idea that “man attends program, man sees his defects; man embraces equality”, is fraught with similar challenges.
The 2015 Steps Towards Change report, Project Mirabel, on the utility of perpetrator programs, clearly points to “awareness of self and others” as a most resistant of the behavioral change dimensions measured before and after program attendance. The justification and blame for their abusive behaviors remains stubbornly high, even after twelve months of program attendance.
This final report of Project Mirabal also showed that on the measures that were created by survivors and meant something to these women and their children, their felt sense of change (i.e. acts considerately towards me; worried about him being alone with the kids, children still nervous and clingy), did not alter much in pre and post measures: twelve months was just not long enough.
I support what David Mandel and others are saying, that we need to set a high bar, to re-adjust our, the service providers and community, expectation that just turning up is good enough. This sits squarely in the laps of those who fund, regulate and evaluate the programs and how they are delivered. The evidence coming from longitudinal studies like Project Mirabel, supports what feels intuitively correct; observable behavior can change reasonably quickly but belief and values change require deep and sustained engagement. And yes, just turning up is the first requirement, but that expectation from then on should be in a northerly direction! The women in that final report seem to be saying that feeling safe is different from believing they are safe.
I suggest that working to alter values and beliefs to foster safety and equality should be one of the highest status and highest paid jobs in the country. With the right balance of expectation and expertise, we can interrupt the generational potential for more suffering, make a meaningful impact on the adverse life experiences of so many and establish personal safety for all of us as the highest social and moral imperative.
That is my wish.
Mark is the Mensline Manager for DVConnect.
*This article is published with permission from Mark’s Finding Voice Series.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence in any capacity you should reach out for support.
In an emergency dial 000