— Men need to stand WITH women in breaking the cycle of abuse.
In the basement of a local church, a small group gathers to learn about rebuilding trust and how to make the kind of apology that includes personal responsibility, understanding their motives, and a goal to change for the better. They vary in age and are working-class men, some with kids and some without; all having been arrested for domestic violence over the past year.
The group facilitators, Larry Schultz and Sally Berman, take turns instructing, asking questions, and listening. Throughout the session, the participants are given the opportunity to reflect on the evening’s lessons and share their thoughts on how their behavior has lead them to this group—one of a series of consequences for reacting with violence in a moment of conflict with their intimate partner.
In 1996, Schultz, a self-described accountant with a law degree, was employed by a local firm who hired a young, recently divorced mother. Over the course of working together for two years, which included a heated custody battle between the young woman and her ex-husband, Schultz observed her transform from timid and non-confrontational to a confident and well-respected colleague. In November of 1998, she was murdered by her ex-husband, resulting in over eight years of recurrent nightmares for Schultz, who, along with many others, felt the shock, injustice, and devastation of her loss.
In October 2008, Schultz turned his trauma into action and joined Community Alternatives to Violence (CAV) in Martinsburg, a small non-profit organization founded in 1996. CAV provides a series of 32-week classes in a group format to people charged with domestic violence (DV).
Schultz stated, “The vast majority of our group members come from the courts; usually from the magistrate as part of a plea agreement to DV charges. Some come from Family Court as well—as a condition of a Family Protection Act Order. Very few in my experience are self-referred.”
The mission of CAV is to work toward ending family violence locally through direct intervention with the abuser. Reflecting on the services and intended outcome of CAV interventions, Schultz expressed, “At our best, we offer participants a view of what their conduct looks and feels like to the victim. We spend a great deal of time exposing the rigid, stereotypical thinking and beliefs which drive this behavior. We specifically teach the importance of making repairs and amends for the conduct, breaking down the process of an apology into separate parts, and driving home how apology is indispensable to rebuilding trust.”
CAV serves men, women, and youth within the Eastern Panhandle Counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan. Schultz noted that while there are on average two to three charges of domestic violence filed daily in the Panhandle, only about 10-15 percent of these are referred to CAV for their group intervention services—the majority of which are male offenders.
Sally Berman, Schultz’s co-facilitator, has been with CAV since 2006. “They all come into the class as ‘victims,’ and most of them drop that after a while,” she explained.
Both Schultz and Berman are motivated by the impact and positive effects they’ve observed in the participants they’ve served over the years. Schultz states that, of the participants who complete the 32-week program, over 90 percent do not re-offend within the next five years, “… saving enormous money for the system and countless value for victims.”
Jackson Katz, educator, author, and public speaker, was recently brought to the Eastern Panhandle by CAV for a community workshop in Martinsburg. Katz is known for his work with the military and athletic programs on college campuses across the U.S. He has developed the Bystander Approach, with the idea of harnessing the power of people, men in particular, who are not either victims or perpetrators of violence, to step into their courage and end the complicit silence.
Domestic and sexual violence have long been labeled as women’s issues, and mostly women have taken the lead in creating systems of safe havens and advocating for the legislation and policies to fund and protect them. A recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime cited that, on average, 137 women die every day worldwide at the hands of an intimate partner or family member. With women being the vast majority of victims of intimate partner and sexual violence, primarily at the hands of male partners, batterer intervention programs like CAV and advocates like Katz are re-framing this as a man’s issue.
In a recently televised interview for CBS on the #MeToo movement, Katz stated, “Men have an incredibly important role to play. Men are committing the vast majority of the abuse, the harassment, and the violence, and until men stand with women as their partners and allies in this work, we’re only going to be cleaning up after the fact. We need to do a whole lot more.”
Similar to the work of CAV and other intervention programs, Katz recognizes the importance of questioning and challenging stereotypes of masculinity. Katz asks us to reconsider what we expect from men and boys and to work toward a “change in the social norms in male culture that allow this behavior to go on.” Being an effective bystander would look like: men interrupting other men in a setting where someone makes a sexist or degrading comment about women—stating clearly that a comment like that isn’t funny or appreciated.
When questioned about male victims, Katz acknowledged that males can certainly be vulnerable, yet “most male victims of violence are the victims of other men’s violence. So that’s something that both women and men have in common—we are both victims of men’s violence.”
Katz pointed out that the most impactful agents of change in this movement are male leaders who have large amounts of influence over organizational culture, whether in higher education systems, the military, or corporations. In his experience traveling, speaking, and training, he’s encountered “… so many men who care deeply about these issues, but caring deeply is not enough. We need more men with the guts, the courage, the strength—with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.”