Project Gets to Heart of Domestic Violence

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), July 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

Project Gets to Heart of Domestic Violence


Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

In some children's art, daddy is a fiery demon with flashing red eyes and horns.

That powerful portrayal of domestic violence is the starting point in a cutting-edge strategy from the Family Violence Prevention Fund for use nationwide in batterer intervention programs.

Officials of the four nonprofit batterer programs in Lane County, along with social workers and others involved in family issues, are getting a crash course in the Fathering After Violence Project this week under a grant that has brought a consultant from the fund to Eugene for three days of meetings and training.

The Fathering After Violence Project is being developed to fill a void in batterer intervention programs. Most such programs focus on the relationship between a batterer and the adult victim without much attention to the effects on children who witness the abuse, prevention fund consultant Juan Carlos Arean says.

But the fund's researchers are discovering the huge role that children's views of domestic violence can play in helping fathers renounce violence. Batterers generally are more likely to empathize with children's views than with an adult victim of abuse, Arean says.

"Children can be a very powerful motivation for men to change," he says. "Using their art is more to the gut than to the head."

Children's art is just the starting point for the fund's Fathering After Violence curriculum, however.

Once batterers begin to consider children's views of domestic violence, they are taught to look at the model set by their own fathers. In group discussions, they then explore how their fathers might have behaved differently to build stronger, nonviolent families.

Through these lessons, batterers may learn how they can rebuild their own relationships through nonviolence, Arean says. "The issue of thinking about their own fathers, that is very intense. It can be a very painful tool. Some of them may have great wounds," says Arean, who wrote the curriculum based on research the Family Violence Prevention Fund did in Mexico and the United States with a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation grant.

He says researchers realized they were plowing fertile ground when group after group of batterers in pilot programs reached the same positive conclusions about how they may rebuild relationships through nonviolence.

While initial results show that the project helps abusers begin to change, the curriculum is so new that no objective long-term studies have been done to determine whether participants are less violent in the long run, he adds. Certainly, the program won't work for violent people who are unable to empathize with either children or other adults, says Arean, who has 10 years of experience in batterer intervention programs. …

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