Getting comfortable talking about it also means giving a voice to those who have been the abuser in their relationships, encouraging them to question their responses and to discuss what went on.
“What I’ve talked about here, I would normally never talk about’… ‘I try and think before I speak. I respect myself and others as well and I am less judgmental. I am trying constantly to be a good role model for my children”
are just some of the comments from men who have taken part in the Caring Dads Project: a group work programme for fathers who have been abusive which is run by Dave Evans, Leeds Domestic Violence (DV) Team and he tells us more about this groundbreaking and important group.
In Leeds we use an assessment framework, designed to help a man understand and tackle his abusive behaviours.
It involves –
- Identifying and questioning the beliefs he holds, the ‘shoulds’ he applies to thinking, about how he and his partner behave and how he reacts when he doesn’t get his own way.
- Exploring the situations where he loses his temper and learning different ways of thinking, managing his feelings. Much of how we react, when under pressure is due to the ways we’ve learnt to cope in our early years. For many men I’ve worked with, they’ve learnt to manage their distress in ways that vary from burying their emotions to acting out emotionally and demanding support from others.
- Learning relationship skills about listening, compromising. Many men have grown up in families where differences of opinion are managed by shouting and often violence, so that’s what they’ve learnt.
This framework helps us break down, understand, what needs to be tackled. Helping a man accept that he needs to change and help him work consistently on those changes is the more difficult task. The relationship we form with him is crucial. If a man feels judged, put down, he is likely to withdraw. Deep down most men will carry real shame from their experiences. This can lead to feelings of helplessness. One man we worked with told me ‘you know you’re doing wrong but you deny it .. deep down you don’t think you can change..’ As workers we all need to consider how we can listen to the man in front of us and how we can give him the best chance of feeling comfortable enough to genuinely reflect on his behaviour. This can be hard for workers when the man has inflicted real pain on others but it’s the only way if we want him to feel better about himself and we want those around him to feel safer.
Given the right support, I believe most men who behave abusively, can change. In our work at the DV team we encourage staff from all organisations to explore ways to motivate the men to change, instil hope.
As part of this work we’ve introduced Caring Dads, a 17 session group work programme for fathers who have been abusive within their relationships. The men’s partners/ex-partners are supported by ‘Women’s Health Matters’ staff as it’s crucial to offer support to both parties. For the men’s group we’ve set up a system whereby workers from different organisations work together and share their skills. It’s been rewarding being a part of this project, working with others and witnessing some genuine progress. We work hard on creating trust within the group so the man can genuinely empathise with his (ex) partner and children, consider how he was parented, how he manages his feelings. He is encouraged then to determine, and practise safe, respectful behaviours and in the process work on rebuilding the trust with others. My most rewarding moments have been walking buoyantly away from a good group session thinking ‘that’s why I come to work’ while my work helps me also become a better partner and father.
Here is some comment from the men’s partners – “A lot has improved at home. He is able to control his anger, talks instead of shouting. He is gentle with the kids and they don’t avoid him anymore. He has started to appreciate me and the kids.” ….“I am so pleased with the way our relationship is improving. He is more responsible, shares household chores and helps me to manage kids. He has absolutely stopped shouting in front of the kids”.
We all have expectations within relationships; abusive men impose their expectations as rules which they enforce through intimidation and fear. We all behave differently publicly from how we present within our relationships, behind our four walls.
While men can be victims within same sex and heterosexual relationships the majority of victims are women – women who feel controlled, who live in fear of ‘him’ losing his temper. We’re still a society where men still tend to expect to get their own way, take the lead and can feel upset if they don’t get it.
It’s up to all of us to ease men who, deep down are concerned about their behaviours, to a place where they can ‘get comfortable talking about it’
Dave feels that his past experiences have influenced his current work. “I grew up in South Wales, my teens and twenties dominated by sport and women. It was a world of striving hard to win, taking what you wanted while managing your own insecurities. Looking back on how I behaved in my early relationships I did things I deeply regret and have hurt women emotionally and physically. I worked hard on myself and had the support of family and friends while I did this. Perhaps that is why I feel passionately about this area of work and have sought to understand it.
I joined the Probation Service in the early 80’s and held a number of roles until I joined the DV Team here. Domestic Violence, training and development have been my main interests over the years. I’ve worked with many men individually and in a group context on domestic violence. I think trust, respect need to be part of any meaningful professional or personal relationship and I consider the quality of the relationship’ to be at the heart of any potential change. This is something I hold dear.”
The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs. It really is everybody’s business, doing nothing is not an option.
If you want to talk about it personally or on behalf of someone else go to the www.getcomfortableleeds.org.uk website and ask your question