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3 December 2020
Salvos program assisting men to take responsibility and change behaviour
Words Simone Worthing
Since nations around the world, including Australia, retreated inside houses due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures, there has been an increase in the complexity of women’s experiences of family violence.
In response, the United Nations 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence – which began on 25 November (The United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) – took as its 2020 global theme: ‘Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!’ (Orange symbolises a brighter future, free of violence.) The 16 days conclude on 10 December – Human Rights Day.
In Australia, state and national governments are increasing their funding to help reduce Family and Domestic Violence (FDV), and agencies across different sectors are developing and expanding a range of crisis and support services and programs.
The Men’s Behaviour Change Program (MBCP), run by The Salvation Army Family Violence Team in Gippsland, Victoria, is one of those. This program is underpinned by its emphasis on safety and freedom for women and children and those impacted by intimate family violence.
The MBCP is the only program of its kind delivered by the Salvos that focuses on supporting men who choose to use violence in intimate-partner relationships. The support assists men to take ownership of, and responsibility for, their behaviour, and learn a different way of relating to their partner(s).
The MBCP operates from a feminist perspective, which sees violence against women and children occurring in a society based on gender inequality, where male dominance and patriarchy is normalised, and men feel entitled to use violence to get what they want.
“As a feminist, I believe in social justice and human rights; that women have the fundamental right to be safe and to make choices about their lives in a society free of danger and fear,” says Meredith, MBCP team leader.
“One woman dies each week from intimate-partner violence, and this is not okay. If it was any other crime, the response would be different. But gender inequality serves a purpose and benefits a lot of people and we need to change this.”
Meredith believes that the program and its teachings have the capacity to enable men who choose to use violence to take responsibility for, and change, their behaviour.
“Most of the men want to be the best version of themselves – they just don’t have the tools, knowledge and understanding of how to do things differently,” she says.
“We work with some incredibly complex men who have serious violence histories and can be extremely dangerous, but we manage the risks. This space is challenging to work in and can be quite sad, but we also find it incredibly rewarding and hopeful.”
Some of the men who attend the program are mandated by the courts or a corrections order. Some are referred from Child Protection, the police or family violence agencies. Others are self-referring.
HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS
The MBCP team is a small but dynamic one with highly trained and specialised staff. Senior facilitators Martin and Michelle run the men’s groups and work together with each participant. Jen, the Family Safety contact worker, manages the safety of, and supports, the men’s intimate partners or ex-partners, children and other close family members impacted by their violence. The team constantly communicates and works closely together in this challenging and intense environment.
When the men are first referred to the program, they are assessed for group readiness. “Some decide it’s not for them, or they’re not ready yet, so we give them something else to work on first, or we work together with them on a particular issue,” explains Meredith. “We also work with those who are ready until a new group starts that they can be a part of.”
The program runs for 22 weeks, with four different groups annually. In non-corona-virus conditions, a maximum of 14 men meet for weekly group sessions with Martin and Michelle for 20 of those weeks. For the additional two weeks, the men have individual meetings together with both facilitators.
Having one male and one female facilitator is a deliberate choice, with many of the men not having seen before how an equal relationship works.
“It’s important that the group sees a man and a woman modelling a healthy relationship, respectful communication and other behaviours with each other,” explains Martin. “It also creates opportunity for a woman’s voice in the room.”
Michelle explains that, as the only woman in the room, many of the men often don’t have a lot of respect for her during the groups.
“For example, if I speak about something to try to give them some insight, at least one man will try to make out that it’s not right,” she says. “Others will pinpoint something about me and what I’m wearing. That’s them finding it difficult to have a woman in a place of authority.
“I try to put it back on them, to ask why they see it as okay to ask me about what I’m wearing, when they don’t say those things to Martin. They may try to collude with Martin, but we work well together in the group and this behaviour doesn’t divide us.”
The first four weeks of the program focus on how violence impacts women, children, and the men themselves as well.
“We then focus on building skills around anger management, communication, healthy relationships and what a good dad looks like, but we’re still building on the foundation we’ve laid around the concepts of owning behaviour and understanding the impacts of violence,” Martin explains.
For many men, who come from all walks of life, the groups provide a safe space where they can learn from each others’ experiences and perspectives and support each other.
“A lot of them don’t have friendships or the skills to develop them, so it’s a real privilege to support them through this and see relationships form,” shares Michelle. “It’s also a privilege to see the men improve in so many ways – their behaviour, mental health and other possible struggles such as with alcohol or other drugs, or homelessness.
“And it’s just great when they start bringing issues to the group, asking for help when they don’t know what to do and reflecting on their behaviour and its impacts.”
After the men are assessed for the MBCP, Jen lets their partners and other close family members know that a family violence worker will reach out to them regarding safety planning for his duration in the program, as well as support and referrals.
“Much of the support we offer is through phone calls – weekly or fortnightly depending on the needs,” Jen says. “We spend a lot of time talking and working with intimate partners and family members – the vast majority of whom are women – wherever they are at.”
Many of the women Jen works with do not focus on themselves – it’s all about their children, partners, or elderly relatives. “This can often take some ‘unpacking’”, she explains. “It’s about ascertaining the women’s needs so we can refer them to other services.”
‘Success’ for the program is challenging to define and quantify.
“It’s not just based on what we see in the men’s groups, but also the shared and lived experience of partners and others directly impacted by the violence,” explains Meredith. “It’s the level of engagement men show in trying to change their behaviour towards intimate family members and how they talk about and engage with their partners and women in general.
“It’s also around how men manage difficulties when they come up, how they utilise support, and how they apply what they have learned.”
The MBCP team emphasise that FDV is a social crisis that every sector and government service needs to respond to and work on together.
“We are all part of the puzzle, and none of our responses stand alone,” Meredith emphasises.
“We are working hard to make the MBCP the best program it can be, and we would then like to see it expand and rolled out to other Salvation Army services around the country.
“The most important thing, though, is our message to women – ‘You are not alone. Help is available and support can be provided in whatever way you need.’”