Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Emerge Model - An Overview

When I started working at a domestic violence agency on Long Island (The Retreat), one of the first pieces of community feedback I heard from my executive director was from another batterer intervention program in the area who had heard that I had revamped my program to begin using the Emerge Model. He warned my ED that he had never heard of the "Emerge Model" and attempted to attack my work at the agency and undermine our program.

This is not an uncommon response, sadly. While Emerge is the first agency in the world to start batterer intervention, the history of the work and the variety of models available for use is not a commonly understood part of domestic violence intervention. Most agencies in the United States use what is known as a "Duluth-like" model. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (commonly known as the Duluth Model) is most commonly known due to the proliferation of the "Power and Control Wheels." For many individuals and agencies, it is the only model that is known.

It is unfortunate that there is not more discussed and known about the many models that are a part of this history (such as Men Stopping Violence, Oakland Men's Project, ManAlive, AMEND, RAVEN) and since I worked at Emerge for nearly eight years, I was exposed to and interacted with people doing this work all over the world - many of whom were using different ways of intervening with domestic violence offenders.

In 2002, David Adams and Susan Cayouette (Co-Directors of Emerge) wrote an article outlining the approaches Emerge takes as a part of its model of intervention. As I began working there in 2002, I was able to see the evolution in action, and grew to appreciate how Emerge has constantly pushed their work forward.

I have always experienced Emerge as an "organic" model of intervention. The techniques used by facilitators adapt based on individuals in the classes, the group dynamics as they shift, and make considerations on how co-facilitator teams work together. There is no stronger example for this than how Emerge approaches intakes for new participants.

Most agencies I have experienced have conducted intakes by using individual interviews of new class members. These interviews ask about background, use collateral information (such as police reports or child protective service plans) as a part of understanding the individual, do simple psychological testing (such as the MAST/DAST or an adapted Lethality/Risk Assessment). These appointments tend to last from 60-90 minutes, and for some agencies these also serve as the full assessment or "evaluation" for a referral source.

Practices like this may be helpful in mental health or substance abuse settings, where individual treatment plans are created, and insurance may be billed (requiring diagnosing of the client), but this is neither the purpose of BIP/DVIP, nor is it likely that such layered belief systems behind a choice to hurt self and family is going to be revealed in a first time meeting.

Instead, Emerge takes a group educational approach to intakes. Initial paperwork orientation collects basic info on each participant (which they tend to fill out on their own, with an orientation worker reading through the answers and asking follow up questions as needed), and has the Danger Assessment scale intermixed with questions about background and history. Initial Emerge paperwork also includes a "Violent and Controlling Behavior Checklist," a simple check-off the box and circle the items instrument that is a simple identification and reflection on personal choices and behavior (prospective Emerge facilitators must also fill this form out to demonstrate awareness of their own hurtful patterns).

The real work of the intake is the eight class "First Stage" wherein eight educational lessons are discussed in a group setting. The lessons are designed to be interactive, and engage participants to consider where they fit without pushing them to admit to specific behavior. Lessons include the following:

  1. What Counts as Violence
  2. Self-Talk
  3. What Counts as Abuse
  4. Quick-Fixes vs. Long-Term Solutions
  5. Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
  6. Disrespectful Communication
  7. Respectful Communication
  8. Effects of Domestic Violence on Women
Each lesson provides a background on the impact of harms, identification of a build-up of hurtful behavior, individualizing and understanding the context of harms, and discussing alternative behavior that might lead to repairs and amends. Throughout these eight sessions, individuals are also tasked with discussing their day-to-day interactions with their partner and children, conflict and challenges, identifying their thoughts behind behavior, and humanizing their family members by naming them (this is referred to as a "Short Check-In"). This works to integrate each individual into the classes and humanize them and their behavior.

At the end of Stage One, an individual is required to complete a "Long Check-In" where they must identify their most recent hurtful behavior, and their "worst" hurtful behavior, as well as the history of their relationships, in brief. This activity helps to build Emerge's "Assessment Report" wherein each individual receives a written report that details the quality and content of their participation, how they describe their hurtful behavior, concerns about the individual's patterns, and recommendations.

The advantage of this approach is that it can create more buy-in to the discussions and allow for reflection over time that may influence a report of harm. I think of it this way - when I meet someone for the first time, I am highly unlikely to tell them about my worst and most embarrassing secrets. Yet in BIP/DVIP, not only is this sometimes expected during a first interview, but is expected each week that someone directly name the reason they are in the classes. This is a shame-based approach that may lead to compliance, but may not lead to work toward changing thinking and behavior.

Emerge's "Second Stage" is more dynamic, and consists of the remaining 32 class sessions (Massachusetts' state requirement by the Department of Public Health mandates all BIP/DVIP to be 40-sessions long). During this time, individuals are tasked with joining in discussions, giving feedback to each other, continuing to disclose the challenges and patterns in their ongoing lives, and to eventually complete an individual activity. The "Relationship History" is the most commonly used exercise where an individual (typically completed somewhere between sessions 25-35) outlines 14 patterns in their relationships. This can be a way for the individual to discover things they had not previously considered, a method of having others in the class see where their patterns may be similar, and can be a great place of practicing respectful and healthy feedback.

Each participant also completes a "Goals" activity in one of their final sessions where their activity is reviewed and they are given an opportunity to outline 5-6 goals for improving their life and relationships while the group separately comes up with 5-6 ideas on goals that might be good for that individual. It is a shared experience that again can expose shared patterns but also is work toward accountability for the future.

Throughout the 40-sessions, Emerge also attempts to conduct "partner/victim contacts" where an advocate initially interviews an abuser's partner or ex-partner by asking for their experiences, then group facilitators check in directly with the partner/ex-partner halfway through the program, and at the end of the participant's time in the classes. All of these contacts involve providing referrals to resources as well as informing about the process of the class sessions and how they work.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Emerge is that it has a much different approach to the Duluth Model in discussing hurtful behavior. Emerge does not use "Power and Control Wheels" in favor of  considering the continuum of harm - how irritating and alienating behavior shift into controlling behavior, which can then shift into abuse or violence. Instead of categorizing harm by type, Emerge takes the approach that any behavior can be hurtful, and the harm is based on the context of the relationship, the history of the partnership, and individual factors that may be involved.

Another major difference focuses on Duluth's primary component: their Community Coordinated Response. This works well within the Duluth city and region, as their population is approximately 250,000 residents and systems can effectively be coordinated to work together and follow similar protocols. Emerge is in Cambridge, MA where the catchment area includes approximately 4.5 million people. With over a dozen probation offices, and about as many individual child protective service offices, it is impossible to create protocols that everyone follows consistently. Emerge follows more of what I think of as a "inside-out" approach, where their reports to referral sources show the values of respect and health, of accountability and responsibility. Facilitators talk to these referral sources on an ongoing basis, answering questions and expressing concerns to hold abusers accountable.

Emerge is a model which engages domestic violence offenders through discussion, like almost all models. There is mindfulness within the agency and model to apply Motivational Interviewing techniques (understanding how to roll with resistance, humanizing interventions, working to understand hurtful behavior patterns that are individualized to the abuser), and their "inside-out" approach provides the ability to interact with community on several levels without coordinating an entire region. Educational activities are designed to be grounded in the complications of relationship issues, while differentiating "normal" human behavior from abuse and violence. Individual activities address unique patterns of harm that may fit for each participant, but have overlap with others.

The agency has also been a national leader in LGBTQ+ interventions in domestic violence, and has both a lesbian and gay men's group. They have been consistent in creating community and cultural specific groups to address varying language and cultural barriers to ending domestic violence. The Emerge model has the advantage of being flexible in how it addresses individual patterns of behavior, as well as considering where unique cultural challenges might need to be addressed in more specific groups. Emerge has a process for developing such groups, and this process involves direct consultation with the communities in question, as well as assessing support and counseling for victims/survivors within the community well before providing services for abusers.

Challenges with the model include the need for facilitators to be conscious of time and agenda setting weeks in advance so that each participant has time to do all the activities in the Second Stage, the need for facilitators to be flexible in discussing topics beyond standard lesson plans, and the need to allow time for weekly check-ins without allowing them to dominate the entire class time. There tend to be more thoughtful and detailed report writing involved as a part of the model as well, which can lead to necessary work outside of classes themselves.

David and Susan recently wrote an end of year newsletter requesting your support, providing an outline of their work in 2016, and discussing some of their referral sources. Another excellent way to support them is to consider attending one of their trainings, purchasing materials, or contacting them for more information. Emerge can be reached at 617-547-9879 or at

Again, in the interest of full disclosure, since I worked at Emerge from 2002-2009, I have a certain buy-in to their model and their methods (I am fond of their administrative practices as well). However, I have also worked to learn more about other models of intervention and try to incorporate other approaches in my own work when I see their value. I hope you join me in making this work a constantly evolving process, both for the individuals in our groups, but also for ourselves as facilitators. In the future, I will try to offer my experience and insights into other models of intervention. Send me an email if you have any questions or would like to see other topics discussed here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Discussing Holidays in BIP/DVIP Group Sessions

The last quarter of every year is filled with cultural, familial, and individual stressors that impact and increase hurtful patterns of behavior. Everything from children returning to school, Halloween activities, Thanksgiving, Jewish High Holy Days, Christian celebrations of Christmas, and several Muslim holidays can build expectations behind how others follow traditions, create challenging conflicts between family members, and contain mixtures of nostalgia, memories of pain or trauma, and feelings of connection or disconnect.

Every year, batterer intervention / domestic violence intervention (BIP/DVIP) groups struggle with how to discuss holidays and maintain a focus on accountability/responsibility. There seem to be few options, and so many agencies and facilitators choose to ignore the topic altogether, or perform a basic check-in that is more about plans and less about looking at patterns of harm and/or personal trauma.

One option could be to watch a video. During the holidays, the only video I have seen that was helpful was "Deck the Halls" which is nearly impossible to get a copy of (there are only a few copies available at select libraries in the USA).

With that video, when I was at Emerge we would watch it in each group during the month of December. It was short (~20 minutes) and could facilitate discussions about the holidays in a way that was relatively authentic. The clothing and hairstyles were heavily outdated, but the father's decision to treat his family like second class citizens while seeking a promotion are timeless. When the son, in a rage against his father's behavior toward his mother trips and breaks his guitar Christmas present, he laments with a "Merry Christmas" that is both disheartening, and an opportunity to reflect on troubled holiday experiences both as children and adults.

However, are those the only options? Ignore holidays, superficially address them, or watch a video? At times, I think it feels that way, and with the minimal support BIP/DVIP facilitators receive, it's one small component of a greater problem.

If we are limiting our options in how we provide interventions, it makes it harder to provide services that engage men who are abusive in ways that guide respectful and healthy change. If facilitators are thinking in December what they are going to do to discuss holidays, it may be a bit late to plan something thought provoking. If facilitators don't talk among themselves (or get ongoing supervision), then how can the status quo of groups be challenged?

There is also potential to focus on the holidays because of beliefs that domestic and sexual violence increase during those times of the year. Over the years, I have heard many people working in the domestic and sexual violence field spout various statistics that can end up either being unfounded, composed of urban legends, or lacking any specific citations or information on the research being quoted (such as the Superbowl Myth). I've seen this so often I have tried to avoid quoting statistics in my BIP/DVIP groups unless I can reference the research they come from.

The challenges are that entitlement is year-round, disconnect builds over time, and while holidays can be a place of growing expectations and controlling behavior - any reason during any other time of the year can justify hurtful behavior toward a partner, a child, a family, or oneself. Vacations, work stress, health issues, school, conflict with friends or extended family, addiction issues, avoidance, self-centeredness - all these things and more are present regardless of holiday season.

I fully encourage discussions about holidays, to talk about traditions and stress during such times of the year. But on an ongoing basis not connected only to November and December. Connect to the present day lives of the participants in your group. Ask about challenging conversations, arguments, harms to self and others, conflicts outside of the family. Show care toward the members of the class by investing in their lives beyond a focus on their abuse, harm, and control. Develop caring, respectful, benefit-of-the-doubt approaches to conflict and connection with others.

Use such discussions of tradition not only to pinpoint failures, but to expand on successes - to think about times holidays bring families closer and why. To discuss materialism that can flood our culture and how that disconnects us from our relationships with each other. You don't need videos for that. You don't need an educational exercise for that. You need to have an ongoing value in guiding reflection, care, and respect.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Reflecting Forward at BISC-MI Conference Summary (Day Three)

(Most links within this article connect to the Facebook Domestic Violence Intervention and Education group, where I detailed most of the conference. I apologize in advance for the length of this article, the details and information are extensive so I tried to do them justice in brief, which for the content of a blog entry are not brief at all. I hope those who attended can use this to reflect on the presentations you witnessed, and maybe expand your learning beyond the conference itself. Those who did not attend - I hope you can see the content of a BISCMI conference and join us next time!)

Day three of the "Reflecting Forward" Batterer Intervention Services Coalition of Michigan conference began with Rene Rennick of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) discussing some of the history of batterer intervention work. A huge challenge involves the early start to the work which had several groups attempting to create programs of intervention for domestic violence offenders that lacked any connection with an analysis of power/control, entitlement, or feminist analysis. For programs providing counseling, support, and advocacy for victims and survivors of domestic violence, the stories they heard from their clients, and their interaction with these programs (who often took an anger management, mental health, or addiction model approach) led to beliefs that batterer intervention was not effective at all.

This history is important to note, as it has not left us today. There are still many states where guidelines and quality assurance is minimal for BIP/DVIP work, and many communities have advocates and victim/survivor counselors and programs who continue to believe work with abusers is ineffective, or can lead to enabling abusive behavior. While the Violence Against Women Act provided funding for domestic violence services (and a large chunk to law enforcement), funding for BIP/DVIP has not been included in most grants or monetary sources partially due to this history. Research has often followed BIP/DVIP who are not following national models adequately, which also hampers the ability to work past these perceptions.

I would add in that while some state guidelines require supervision time for BIP/DVIP facilitators, many do not - and this is a major problem in this work. Those states with requirements for programs often include as a part of those requirements some form of monitoring by personnel who visit sites and look for compliance to guidelines, offer feedback and required updates, and provide sanctions or closure to programs that do not meet these requirements. This is, however, an expensive process that requires paid staff. Many states have standards that are only followed on a voluntary basis, further muddying the waters of perceived effectiveness for BIP/DVIP.

Ed Gondolf is often described as the preeminent BIP/DVIP researcher, and his focus on this year's conference was to highlight some of the overarching problems with research on domestic violence intervention, and to also speak to interviews he conducted with prominent practitioners around the country. To start, he wanted to clarify much of the confusion about calls to create "Evidence Based Practices (EBP)" within BIP/DVIP. He informed the audience that EBP is founded on a biomedical service delivery system (initial use of EBP was for physicians in healthcare settings to create standards and quality of care approaches that had the highest degree of success). The challenge with this outlook is that health has a "sick" and a "healed" continuum where an illness is addressed through various methods, and there is a definitive "end point" to treatment and care. However, within social service delivery systems, it is not so cut and dry, nor is it any one thing that is "fixed" in an individual abuser. Our systems (such as courts, legislators, and even community members) when focusing on EBP are usually doing so at the expense of alternative research (such as outcomes not tied to recidivism, or more difficult to analyze qualitative analysis), and tend to ignore the practice based wisdom of facilitators, program leaders, and administrators who work within BIP/DVIP settings.

In this pursuit of looking at practitioner wisdom, Gonfolf compiled the answers from his interviews of facilitators and program leaders and discovered the complexities of philosophy and presentation of BIP/DVIP class educational material and session structures that have not been captured by research. Some of the varying approaches included supportive confrontation, broader sharing and disclosure, curriculum that focused on drawing out discussion, and focusing on respectful and healthy changes. Commonly identified changes that practitioners discussed included increases in validating, empathizing, and providing supportive confrontation that has been designed to engage abusers respectfully and guide changed behavior. There have also been more concrete and real connections with victim/survivor services, and more emphasis on facilitator self-awareness, reflection, and analysis.

When he asked practitioners for their recommendations for future/further research, they asked for more direct observations of groups, to be more aware of outcomes beyond simple rearrest, a need for more national meetings to share information and work together, more ongoing discussion among BIP/DVIP professionals, more resources and funding, and a need to develop younger staff through mentorship and training. There was also noted a need for funding and emphasis on prevention, building alliances, and practitioners being more willing to widely express their knowledge, engage with communities, discuss domestic violence more broadly, and to be more definitive about what BIP/DVIP is as a service.

The next panel presentation was from the "AQUILA Truth Squad," consisting of Bob Agnoli, Jeffrie Cape, Chris Huffine, Eric Mankowski, Scott Miller, Lisa Nitsch, Pam Wiseman, and myself. Each of us discussed various ways that practitioners can interact with resources from AQUILA that include articles on comparing anger management to BIP/DVIP, resources and responses to judges, research and articles on positive impact of BIP/DVIP, and several other items of interest. During my small section, I again focused on the opportunities we have to see the internet as a community that needs to be coordinated to end domestic violence - and in the future I will be putting together a more user-friendly discussion board that will hopefully improve our ability to do that (which will be announced here, as well as via the AQUILA listserv).

Eric Mankowski talked about his research on batterer intervention standards throughout the United States. He started by polling the audience on how we saw advantages within having standards or guidelines for programs, and responses included opportunities for grant writing; can assist courts in understanding process of change for abusers and buy in for using BIP/DVIP; standards can create a quality control that otherwise might not be present. Disadvantages voiced included if standards have very specific required programming, it could negate or ignore culturally specific interventions; challenges with memorandum of understanding documents that are paperwork without any real connections; training requirements for facilitators and programs can be expensive and difficult to implement; problems with limited or absent quality control and evaluations/observations of programs.

Mankowski discussed that recent content analysis of standards included commonalities of treatment philosophies, length of programs, kinds of assessments, contact with victims/survivors, confidentiality, facilitator training. The function of standards were to create best practices to ensure victim/survivor safety, create consistency, provide accountability for community coordinated responses. In theory, creating standards can eliminate programs which are dangerous or increase quality of those who do interventions that are problematic. Some research has suggested and cautioned that requiring a specific intervention might limit the ability for programs to adapt and add on information and practices that could assist in evolving their work. Other cautions look at limited research on BIP/DVIP and where that fits into setting standards. There is limited/no data on effectiveness of standards, which highlights some of the research issues on BIP/DVIP work noted by Gondolf. One purpose of standards can be creating directories of BIP/DVIP (there is a Facebook group I manage that has links to programs in most states, and BISC-MI has a list of state standards), and Mankowski has been working on a website that collects information on state standards around the nation and results of his study (I will post here with the link when it is ready).

To follow up, Chris Huffine described the blended model he has worked on for Allies in Change (AIC) over the past 20+ years. He describes AIC as a gendered analysis model, using examples from Paul Kivel's work to consider how men are socialized to choose violence in relationships and beyond. Huffine includes discussion beyond a power/control analysis by considering disconnects that abusers have to partner, family, self, and others as well as how abusers will distrust intimate relationships and build up an overall disregard for others. To guide change, AIC works on creating connections to self awareness, building regard for others, practicing humility, and using the concept of the "platinum rule" - treating your partner the way that THEY want to be treated, assuming your partner is an ally, and working to give benefit of the doubt. The group format is open ended, with discussions generated by group members and directed to points of abuse/control, accountability, assertiveness, beliefs, cognitive awareness, self-care, or self-compassion.

To end the conference, Melissa Jeltsen discussed her work on highlighting the overlaps between mass shooters and domestic violence as a part of her journalistic work at Huffington Post. She discovered that most mass murderers have had a history of domestic violence as a part of their patterns leading up to mass shootings, yet in the details and articles on these murders only 7% of stories listed resources for victims/survivors of domestic violence. She highlighted the need for more direct consideration of patterns of domestic violence rather than the red herring of mass shootings being random tragedies that are impossible to prevent, or are due to mental health issues.

Thank you for spending time reading the summaries of the presentations at BISC-MI 2016. I hope you are able to join at the next conference. Please feel free to visit the DVIE group on Facebook or visit the DVIntervention Twitter feed for links and more information. For links to conference materials, including presentations, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reflecting Forward at BISC-MI 2016 Conference (Day Two)

(Most links within this article connect to the Facebook Domestic Violence Intervention and Education group, where I detailed most of the conference. I apologize in advance for the length of this article, the details and information are extensive so I tried to do them justice in brief, which for the content of a blog entry are not brief at all. I hope those who attended can use this to reflect on the presentations you witnessed, and maybe expand your learning beyond the conference itself. Those who did not attend - I hope you can see the content of a BISCMI conference and join us next time!)

Day Two of the BISC-MI conference started with direct grounding in the work, and board member and homemade cookie maker extraordinaire, Jeffrie Cape stated, "we need to remember, the purpose of domestic violence intervention work is to create safety, respect, and health for victims/survivors of domestic violence." This needs to be stressed regularly, and can be an important measure of a program in how much they have a foundation in this idea of victim/survivor safety.

Lori (last name omitted for safety and privacy reasons - important to be aware of with victims/survivors) shared her experience of living with her abuser, and the various ways he worked to isolate her - and many of the reasons she did not identify his behavior as domestic violence. The time she went through pain and fear - and the reason why she justified her suffering as being unimportant, are messages we need to be intimately aware of. Not just for the partners and ex-partners of the abusers we work with, but for understanding the justifications of abusers themselves.

In my direct work with abusers, I am thankful for the ongoing interactions I have with victims and survivors through the Facebook DVIE group. Listening to stories, providing referrals, or often just having the ability to listen provides me with a depth of understanding that enhances the interventions I work on with perpetrators. I would like to challenge all of you reading who do BIP/DVIP work to consider your own exposure to these stories, and how you make them real in your practice.

A big part of "reflecting forward" is in reviewing systems that have been in place that overall we need to be more informed about. Scott Miller works extensive to train people on how to use the "Duluth Model," and in doing so is constantly needing to separate out the BIP/DVIP group process part of the model, and bring forward that overall their approach is about engaging with and changing community perceptions and messaging about domestic violence. This "Community Coordinated Response" is key to any interventions using the Duluth Model, yet very few groups and individuals using their model fully implement this critical component.

Praxis International, an agency that works closely with Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (DAIP, the "Duluth Model") has worked for some time to counter claims against its work, and to try and raise understanding about both their groups, their community work, and the plethora of "Duluth-like" BIP/DVIP groups who use Power and Control wheels, but do not accurately follow their model. Scott discussed in his presentation that BIP/DVIP should be designed to hold abusers accountable - not just in groups, but within community, by community members including law enforcement, but also connected systems that might be influential in guiding an abuser toward respect and health (examples may be businesses, schools, places of worship, etc).

Scott also brought forward that research on BIP/DVIP sometimes states that the Duluth Model does not work, and base that conclusion on studying BIP/DVIP groups who say they use Duluth, but may only do the group sessions for abusers, and these research studies almost never go directly to the source to research DAIP.

Oliver Williams spoke to looking to engaging communities as an essential part of effectively addressing domestic violence. Unfortunately, I stepped out of the conference to prepare a bit more for the AQUILA "Truth Squad" portion and missed his discussion. However, I have seen Oliver present on similar topics in the past, and can say that he spends time addressing the need to understand communities if you want to work with them. This is a lesson that we need to consider on broader levels in community coordinated responses, and how we can move away from imposing changes and instead work with and listen to communities to understand their challenges, as well as their successes and the work they may have been doing to work toward respectful and healthy relationships. If anyone who attended the conference who has notes from Oliver's presentation, and would be willing to share them, please do so in the comments of this post.

Lisa Nitsch furthered the conversation about working in community, particularly her experience of being a white woman working in a predominantly Black community. She started with a historical perspective of Baltimore and addressed ways the city has been oppressive to People of Color overall, and methods used to divide communities - and specifically how those tactics and historical political decisions have led to Baltimore being the most segregated city in the United States. Lisa made a point to highlight the work of Kimberle Crenshaw to address the intersectionality of oppressions faced by Black women, and where "white feminism" has created invisibility for Women of Color in the differences they experience with domestic and sexual violence within our society. This point is important in exploring her work within Baltimore, as her status as a white woman needed to be considered in how she worked within her community.

Lisa used several examples of the need to consider intersectionality of oppressions in work to end domestic violence, and to do community coordination. Some important points for BIP/DVIP work include considerations of your facilitators matching the demographic breakdown of the community, having a curriculum that speaks to those differences if they exist, the need to cross-train staff on self-care issues that may overlap with hurtful, controlling, abusive, and violent behavior (such as looking at employment issues, connections that abusers have within community, etc), how feedback from group members is incorporated into the program, and making sure that administrators with power and privilege are not making decisions about programming and community engagement without the involvement of the community itself.

Next Ricardo Carrillo brought forward perspectives from his work with the Mexican Latino community, and described some of the unique challenges to addressing domestic violence. He described how many men he has worked with have grown up as children in environments which equated love with pain, a sense of moral correction to match values that stressed male dominance, and a concept of a spirit/soul wound that can create imbalance, internalized oppression, and ongoing harm in relationships. He brought forward how such childhood experiences may lead to difficulties for men in creating healthy attachments, and leading to dismissing behavior in relationships (as a part of being anxious from modeling behavior witnessed in childhood) or a preoccupied, ambivalent attachment in adult relationships (partially based on conflicting emotions from experiences in childhood).

As a result of these experiences, and in a need to address the hurtful connections men he has worked with have developed in their lives and relationships, Ricardo discussed the need to discuss and develop healthy connections in these men's lives. To discuss childhood experiences as a part of exploring internal coping strategies that can build to abusive and violent behavior in relationships. He also spoke to making cultural connections to health and respect that can be found throughout Mexican and Latino culture, and the use of parables, stories, legends, and history to create repairs and internal reflection.

Hoda Amine presented on the Muslim community responses to domestic violence, and referenced the Muslim Code of Behavior that puts forward community rules that overlap with respectful and healthy behavior discussions that often are a focus of BIP/DVIP groups overall. Some examples of this code include truthfulness, sincerity, unselfishness, humility, patience, forgiveness, purity and cleanliness, honesty, goodness and kindness to others, courage, consideration and respect for others, moderation, and cheerfulness. These values and behavior guidelines can be critical for all discussions during group sessions, but can also be a way to discuss specific movement toward ending domestic violence with Muslim men.

TA Bashir followed up by reviewing history of the Islamic faith, and the challenges that came from moving a people toward new patterns of worship and community value. Many patterns of behavior by men toward women stayed with older traditions that were oppressive and destructive, and these traditions are still coming out today hundreds of years after the formation of the religion. TA talked about creating connections to a womanist tradition, and guiding men to be more aware of the history behind their faith, and the challenges in working toward health and respect.

In looking at how faith can inform and transform change in men who are abusive, Chris Moles engaged the audience in methods of analyzing belief systems without judgment. He states that, "we do what we do because we want what we want," then further described, "we want what we want because we think what we think." This distillation of motive and reason behind abusive and controlling behavior allows for critical viewing of selfishness and a lack of value for family and self. He describes himself as a complementarian, but in a fashion which sees the natural balance and equality of men and women, and how relationships involve working together. Christianity and church services, he explained, have often become gatherings of performance art and socializing with little room for growth of respectful and healthy belief systems - and engaging abusers in their beliefs behind their faith, and their values behind their relationships can be excellent angles for interventions.

Staff from Emerge (Susan Cayouette, Ted German, and Erika Robinson) finished the day by detailing their work with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender, and Queer domestic violence offenders, as well as their work with heterosexual female perpetrators and anger management clients. This work has helped in better informing their work with heterosexual male domestic violence offenders as they have struggled to consider differences in power dynamics, levels and overlaps of entitlement, and has grown knowledge of the need to analyze reactive violence within male heterosexual abusers.

In the next post, I will be finishing up my summarization of the BISC-MI conference by detailing the third day. Again, feel free to visit the DVIE group on Facebook or visit the DVIntervention Twitter feed for links and more information. For links to conference materials, including presentations, click here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Reflecting Forward at BISC-MI 2016 Conference (Day One)

(Most links within this article connect to the Facebook Domestic Violence Intervention and Education group, where I detailed most of the conference. I apologize in advance for the length of this article, the details and information are extensive so I tried to do them justice in brief, which for the content of a blog entry are not brief at all. I hope those who attended can use this to reflect on the presentations you witnessed, and maybe expand your learning beyond the conference itself. Those who did not attend - I hope you can see the content of a BISCMI conference and join us next time!)

Since 1994, the Batterer Intervention Services Coalition has been steadfast in bringing service providers from around the state of Michigan to discuss trends, challenges, and updates to work with domestic violence offenders. Initially, they had a plan to be one of fifty-one chapters throughout the United States with goals of organizing work within the field. While there have been several attempts since 1994 to make that vision a reality, currently BISC-MI is the only organization that brings together not only providers within Michigan, but people from throughout the nation and the world who are interested in improving interventions for abusers.

The 2016 conference marks BISC-MI's 21st conference, and the theme of "Reflecting Forward" created an organized approach to considering the history of domestic violence work, and using that history to build toward the future. One tactic involved removing breakout workshops, instead using a themed plenary approach to the structure. This move may have galvanized attendee's focus, but I am sure was a disappointment to those who found particular topics not in their interests. At the same time, it offered a challenge to all to be engaged even in those areas of discussion that do not hold personal interest - but may be important to reflect on, or expand on, for yourself or those we work with.

The first day began with a presentation by Jackson Katz, an author, researcher, and presenter on objectification issues in media, using a masculinitites lens to consider sexism and other oppressions involved in our cultural makeup. He has a style that is unique to him, and much of the information covered would be groundbreaking for those new to work to end domestic violence. He spoke of the need for a paradigm shift on talking about gender violence - namely putting the emphasis on perpetrators, or those responsible (giving the example we speak of teen pregnancy and focus on girls, but do not talk about boys impregnating girls). Also a concept that domestic violence is a "women's issue" and instead shifting thinking to it being very much a "men's issue."

More interesting to me in his talk was his addressing various cohorts of men in the movement, quoting work by Michael Messner on "Some Men." I would have liked Dr. Katz to spend more time speaking to media, as he often does, rather than detailing other's work - but overall his presentation created a foundation for the rest of the day.

There was a flow from Dr. Katz talking about the big picture, to me bringing forward the large gap in services that is very common in domestic violence work - technology use. I provided information on the history of social media use, and how domestic violence agencies need to think of the internet as a community that needs to be coordinated. Social services has historically struggled with technology use, and when analyzing Twitter discussions of domestic violence and related issues, almost all content is focused on victims/survivors, and when abusers are a focus, it is mainly to decry the impact they have on families, and villainize their behavior. This creates great opportunity for programs to communicate the value in guiding abusers toward respect and health, as well as to humanize work in domestic violence overall.

I always encourage people to contact me for any assistance or questions about setting up or using social media to address domestic violence intervention, and I believe that as we move forward we need to be more conscious of both having a presence online to offer referrals and information to victims/survivors, and to consider how we engage abusers in entering into programs.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence sent Rachel Gibson  to speak to how abusers use technology to stalk, harass, and abuse their partners and families. NNEDV has been a pioneer in creating apps, videos, and tutorials on understanding security issues surrounding social media and technolgy, and Rachel did an excellent job giving an overview of several ways to be more aware of the risks. 

An example she brought forward included the EXIF (exchangeable image file format) geolocation data that is stored on photos taken with cellular phones. If a user does not know how to turn off this feature, any picture posted to the internet has data that indicates location coordinates. However, she also cautioned that some of the more common ways abusers might stalk would be to simply ask (or manipulate) children for locations. Sometimes it seems that someone is using technology, when in actuality, it is something much more simple - and it is important for safety reasons to understand both potential leaks of information.

Bryan Victor, a PhD student from Wayne State University in Detroit, went into further detail on sexting and dating violence - expanding on some of the information presented by Rachel previously. The phenomenon of digital cameras installed on cellular phones has over the past 10+ years created opportunity for teens and youth to pressure for nude photos. While often these photographs are most often acquired through consent (albeit with manipulation and coercion involved), they can easily be shared to others, over social media, or to pornographic sites which can harm someone in several ways. 

Often referred to as "revenge porn" where a perpetrator is intentionally sharing intimate images and/or videos with pornographic sites, there are efforts to instead re-frame the topic as "non-consensual image sharing" to better capture the broader scope of the use of someone's image in ways they do not want. This is a challenging topic on several levels, but with peer pressure and establishment of image and reputation being so valuable for teens, one site that can assist in discussing the topic with youth comes from the "That's Not Cool" dating violence intervention site. 

Shifting the discussion from technology (both its opportunities and its potential dangers), Debby Tucker opened the conference to talking about trauma informed considerations for interventions, particularly within the military community. She discussed much of the history behind work to end domestic violence as a whole, and I personally enjoyed her bringing forward that we need to stop using Lenore Walker's "Cycle of Violence" model. There have been efforts to educate the domestic violence community about how this educational tool is outdated, oversimplified, and problematic for several reasons - but in many ways Walker's work helped to move the military to understand and respond to victims/survivors in real ways. 

This is an important aspect I would like to spend a moment highlighting. I believe that we need to be aware of the fact that interventions in domestic violence are in their infancy. If you consider that most work began in the 1970s, and that legal/social responses did not become more prevalent until the mid-1990s, we have actively been working from frameworks that need to be analyzed and updated in order to move forward and evolve our work to increase safety and comfort for the victims and survivors we want to assist. These foundations have had important roles in our history, but we need to have the strength, courage, and fortitude to question ourselves and listen to those we serve (both victims/survivors and abusers).

Debby brought forward some differentiation between resistive, situational, pathological, antisocial, and battering violence - which could be a topic for an entire article all on its own, and is important to consider for all perpetrators of domestic violence. She highlighted some of the challenges within military responses to these varying kinds of violence and stressed the need to work to understand both the context and the intent behind violent behavior. This highlight is critical to working with military referrals who experience post traumatic brain disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Chris Huffine furthered the discussion of trauma informed care with abusers, and one of the first thing he worked to clarify is that trauma informed care is NOT trauma specific services. Working with domestic violence offenders is not therapy or a sort of counseling where a therapist is specifically working through trauma a patient experiences - domestic violence intervention (batterer intervention) when it is trauma informed, understands that abusers may have experiences which were traumatic for them, and by understanding that using that experience to generate both empathy for their partners, family, and themselves as well as understand the importance of self-care in being healthy and respectful. 

The part of Chris' presentation I was most appreciative of was his inclusion of the concept of cultural humility - the concept that it is most important to understand your own culture as deeply as possible, and from that work to not make assumptions about other's cultural experiences and backgrounds. If we worked more diligently to be introspective and reflective of our own experiences as interventionists, counselors, and educators - we may have more ability to be motivational and guide abusers to respectful and healthy alternatives. This standpoint emphasizes being WITH others rather than trying to understand them. In the case of trauma informed care - that approach is necessary if you are going to work to move people to end abusive, controlling, and violent behavior. Not to be with them in a collusive manner - but to be with them enough to understand methods of guidance and support that will work as a part of that change process.

Oliver Williams finished the day by again stressing the value of trauma informed care. He named some specific ways abusers might be drawn in to traumatic experiences as children, including violence among family or friends, bullying, neighborhood or community violence, and gang related violence. Oliver brought forward that some of the impacts of trauma might be a development of inappropriate or hurtful coping mechanisms which may grow into violence, abuse, control, and harm toward others and toward self. He discussed one man's story by showing a video and challenging BIP/DVIP work to expand out understanding in ways to offer guidance toward healthy self-care, counseling, and separate work from BIP/DVIP that may be necessary for victims of trauma.

Later that evening, we had an AQUILA meeting, an organizing branch of BISC-MI that involves planning and outreach. Much of the meeting was spent explaining the purpose and goals of AQUILA, which involve a combination of trying to get more people to understand the purpose and philosophy of domestic violence intervention (batterer intervention), and to combat some of the push back that has been occurring over the past several years by various research organizations to discredit the historical and current work to end domestic violence. In part, some of the major challenge with AQUILA has been in communication and ongoing motivation and connection. As I am personally a part of the steering committee and outreach subcommittee, I can understand some of the scheduling and problems in navigating my own busyness and the need to be involved in the process.

However, we have some possible solutions. We have begun to recognize that a listserv model of discussion has been cumbersome, at best, and that there is a need to develop systems of interaction that are not necessarily tied to a specific meeting time (either in person or by phone). With that in mind, I will be working on developing a discussion forum which can both be a hub for the overall organization of AQUILA committees, but also a place for discussions to take place in various categories. Currently, I administer the Facebook group which has several discussions and links to content and resources (an extensive file section) which in part has and will continue to serve as a parallel support to this work. I hope you consider joining us as we move forward.

(For links to conference materials, please click this link. Next article continues this discussion by highlighting more of the BISC-MI 2016 conference on day two.)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

We Don't Care About Domestic Violence - Part Two

It feels “good” to care for domestic violence survivors; to offer cell phones or other goods to shelters and programs; to donate money to deserving organizations that do shelter, counseling, advocacy, and support for victims of extreme harms. But there’s a reason why these victims take so long to leave hurtful relationships, it has nothing to do with strength or weakness and everything to do with our values.
We don’t value domestic violence programs or services. If we consider our monetary focus as value, in the United States it’s simple to see we value sports and entertainment to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. When we ask domestic violence programs to constantly find government grants or fundraise to survive tells us a lot about the lack of value we have for these services, and in the issue as a whole. Workers in domestic violence agencies get paid poorly, get little recognition or support, and many key services are staffed by volunteers (and sometimes interns) with little training.
History plays a big part in our apathy toward domestic violence. It’s been a strong value for things in the home to stay in the home. Sayings such as “a man’s house is his castle,” enforce ideas of patriarchy and control on their own. The book, “Domestic Tyranny” by Elizabeth Pleck details historical responses to domestic violence in the United States noting, “the Puritans regarded outside intervention as disruptive, justifiable only to the extent that is restored family order.”
Yet this small community in colonial Massachusetts set out to “reform the moral code” and address family violence in the mid-1600’s. They did so through church-based courts. The practice ended in the early 1680’s when Great Britain instituted colonial law.
Therefore, in some ways we cared about domestic violence in the 1600’s - for about 40 years. Similarly, in the late 1800’s, the United States had several “Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children” which worked to address family violence. This movement also lost momentum after 30-40 years. However, the care we showed in those years is similar to the care we have today. We like to cover our asses within professional communities by making sure we follow guidelines but don’t press much farther than that for fear of stepping on too many toes.
It’s no small coincidence that law enforcement communities only started to step up their response to domestic violence after Tracey Thurman sued the Torrington, CT police department for failing to protect her from her violent husband (and won a $2.3 million judgment). We care about losing money, and it’s a great motivator for change.
But it is a strange place we find ourselves today regarding how we address domestic violence. Funding, though minimal, exists for agencies serving victims and survivors of domestic violence. Very little financial support is provided for any work to guide change in domestic violence offenders.
For much of society, abusers are seen as incapable of change. It is easy to demonize their behavior by focusing on things like I mentioned in Part One of this article: to maximize the external harms and minimize our culpability in societal support for violence against women and children. Since we do not believe domestic violence offenders are human beings, we don’t think they can change - we certainly do not want to provide money to agencies and programs to try and stop violence and abuse.
We’re a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” sort of country. Out of sight, out of mind – right?
Domestic violence intervention programs (aka batterer intervention or other similar designations) are disorganized, poorly connected to each other, often have superficial linkages to domestic violence counseling and support agencies. We often use piecemeal models of intervention based more on individual facilitator whim than concrete and effective tools and educational lessons. We have very shoddy research on such programs, for the most part, that investigate agencies and programs that use national models – yet the national models themselves are not researched for effectiveness.
Then we have to consider what it even means to be effective in domestic violence work: does it mean a victim/survivor gets out of an abusive relationship and lives happily ever after? Does it mean an abuser doesn’t get arrested again?
A radical notion about domestic violence is that it is not a mental health issue, it is not a substance abuse issue – it is a BELIEF issue; an ENTITLEMENT issue. One could even argue it is a SPIRITUAL issue involving an individual’s values and meaning in life that sit in places of personal advantage and superiority. How do you measure those things? By surveying people using 1-5 Likert scales? That seems a poor method of capturing how someone sees value and meaning in their relationship with their partner and children.
I suppose we could conduct more longitudinal studies that survey victims/survivors (and perpetrators) over several years – but surprise! There’s no money in that, very little funding, or very specifically directed funding sources that target traditional research methods.
Maybe it is the fact that domestic violence is an entitlement and belief system issue that keeps us from caring about ending it, or preventing it, or talking about it in a useful manner. Many societal values are superficial – they involve rituals and practices that put a high priority on being happy at the expense of being human. The so-called “American Dream” was about acquisition, after all, not about relationships of care, health, and support.
Previously discussed, Pleck details in her book that historical systems of policy intervention in family violence have lasted 30-40 years. Perhaps we are at the end of that timeline in current history. It seems unlikely services for domestic violence victims and survivors will just end. It seems increasingly likely they will stagnate and miss working within communities to change societal beliefs.
It sadly appears there is little desire to coordinate domestic violence intervention services for abusers as being a critical part of ending domestic violence as a whole. We seem to be increasing our ability to at least have the awkward and uncomfortable discussions about oppression. Maybe we might start to see that intersectionality is a key to understanding how to intervene in violence.
It is my hope we truly start to care about domestic violence. Frequently, I say I like to think about how people in a hundred years will look back at the work we do today. How will they will see the failures and successes in our responses? It keeps me moving forward in this work despite the disheartening avoidance of facing the issue in real and authentic ways.

Note: “Domestic Tyranny” by Elizabeth Pleck can be found at

More information on “Thurman v. City of Torrington” can be found at