Our station's Taking Action Against Domestic Violence campaign is now in its 4 th year.
Over time, our research has brought us to the doorstep of abuse victims, advocates, and even former abusers.
While our focus is mainly on victims and local resources to help them – in recent weeks we've heard from a growing number of viewers asking "What about abusers? What's out there to help them?"
Matt and Susan McMillan are uniquely qualified to answer that. Susan is a former victim of abuse. She met her current husband when he was assigned by the State Attorney's Office to prosecute her batterer 22 years ago.
Since then, Susan and Matt have devoted more than two decades of their lives to teaching batterers how to stop the cycle of violence.
Their Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) is Florida's first certified batterers' intervention program. While the couple works with both male and female batterers, I'd like to focus on their Men's Work program.
Susan McMillan, a licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional, points out that victims of abuse are more likely to come forward if their abuser will be facing a "help program", not just jail time.
Enter the McMillans, who point to research which shows that two-thirds of men who complete a Duluth style program, such as the one they operate, remain non-violent at five years out.
Fewer than one percent of abusers who have graduated from their program have been ordered to repeat the classes for new offenses, although she cautions there are no guarantees.
"This is behavior that has been entrenched in their lifestyle for 20, 30 years. So if we can help two thirds of them, that translates to thousands of families which are safer," says McMillan.
The participants are court-ordered to attend the 29-week course and meet at least once a week. And there are the occasional cases where the batterer has enrolled voluntarily.
"We believe that an underlying belief system is behind the abuse," says McMillan.
"So we challenge their belief system about what men's and women's roles are. Since abuse is learned, it can be unlearned...We have to teach people new behavior. Battering is quite different for a mental health problem. Many abusers learn their tactics from their parents. Their fathers abused their mothers or abused them…Also, society (Hollywood, video games, magazines) glorifies violence and objectifies women," says McMillan.
DAIP and Men"s Work students are required to complete homework assignments, watch videos of abuse victims in counseling, and engage in role-playing exercises reinforcing non-violent behavior.
Homework assignments are painfully introspective. Batterers must examine their behaviors and identify how they control/manipulate their partner and explain what feelings motivate them to do it.
The last step is designed to make the batterer accept responsibility for their actions, rather than place blame on the victim.
With the help of counselors and role-playing, the batterer learns non-violent behavior.
DAIP and Men's Work students who drop out or don't complete the assignments can be ordered to jail or ordered to repeat the program.
"Battering is about power and control. Other therapies such as anger management or psychotherapy ignore power and control, and remove the responsibility from the abuser," says McMillan. "In our program, we show the men that they are responsible for every move they make, and we teach them how to let go when they don't get their way."
For more on the program visit www.AffordableCounselingBySusanMcMillan.com