(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.)