Kyabram Free Press

Changing men's behaviour

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Change is difficult. And anyone who’s quitting smoking or giving up the drink will tell you long-term change is harder. But when change involves turning around ingrained behaviour learned over a lifetime and that underpins nearly every interactio­n you have – the change becomes lifesaving in more ways than one.

Katie Richter has the job of helping men who treat women badly see the error of their ways. How do she and her colleagues across the Goulburn Valley and the country do it? Max Stainkamph finds out.

The circle will be full of men – they will be sitting in chairs arranged in a circle, giving off the feeling of an Alcoholics Anonymous-type group meeting.

These men are part of a behaviour change session. Some of these sessions are voluntary, when men put their hand up as having a problem or have volunteere­d themselves to come forward, but the men in the circle when Katie Richter walk in aren’t there by choice.

These men – who might have breached AVOS, or gone before the courts on charges related to domestic violence – are old and young, some gruff and some well-dressed, and all mandated by courts in one way or another to be there.

Ms Richter is the senior practition­er of Uniting Victoria Tasmania’s Family Violence Interventi­on Program in Shepparton.

Specifical­ly, she’s part of the court intake and assessment program, which is where many men who are sentenced by courts to complete men’s behaviour change programs are sent.

How do you change that? Years – or decades – of learned behaviour, of men justifying what they’ve done?

“We don't actually change the men, the men change themselves,” Ms Richter said.

“My job isn't to tell them that they're wrong, it's to explore it with them, and they do the work.”

She said when the men began the 20-week course, they often had a “lack of accountabi­lity” for their actions in their first few sessions.

“We work to unpack that and get them to shift their accountabi­lity and be accountabl­e for what they can be accountabl­e for,” Ms Richter said.

“That's something we say every single week: you can only be accountabl­e for what you can be accountabl­e for.”

The courses – which are run throughout the eastern states – were largely designed by No To Violence, an organisati­on that engages with men to try to end domestic violence.

No To Violence put together the framework on which Ms Richter’s Uniting course is built on, and chief executive Jacqui Watt said the course was based on the fundamenta­l principles the organisati­on believed in.

“We don’t believe men are born violent, we think there are social and environmen­tal factors which cause them to become violent,” Ms Watt said. “We want them to understand what they’re doing.”

Ms Watt said having other men in the room was crucial to the sessions, and having participan­ts at different stages of the program allowed them to lead the way for newer members.

“It’s a big ask for a man in his 40s who’s been using emotional manipulati­on for the last 20 years to admit to his behaviour and acknowledg­e it’s wrong,” Ms Watt said.

“We rely a bit on peer pressure.” In practice the men, Ms Richter said, often came around — and thanks to men who had been there for longer, usually the majority of participan­ts ended up with stronger grounding in taking responsibi­lity for their actions.

“Blokes will come in on their first night and they'll be like, ‘where's the women's group’, and . . . the ones that have been there for weeks will say ‘yeah mate, we've all been there [and thought that], it's not about them’, and just shut it straight down,” Ms Richter said.

Both Ms Watt and Ms Richter work with men who have perpetuate­d family violence, be it physically, emotionall­y, financiall­y — or in any other form.

They don’t see them as monsters. “Family violence is everything that men have been taught their entire lives growing up, it's so systemic,” Ms Richter said.

Breaking that system down isn’t easy. Often, many men don’t recognise the underlying behaviours that lead to violence, intimidati­on and emotional abuse.

People who run the courses don’t directly tell participan­ts they’ve done the wrong thing to end up in the sessions – and they don’t necessaril­y focus on the violence itself.

Practition­ers such as Ms Richter explore what’s behind the actions.

“We ask ‘what do you think her experience of that was?’ and get him to unpack it,” she said. “Eventually they realise it themselves.”

Each of the sessions is run by two facilitato­rs – a man and a woman.

Ms Watt said having women in the conversati­on was important.

“The courses are designed with a male and female facilitato­r, that’s one of the fundamenta­l things it’s

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“Part of what sparks [family violence] is disrespect for women, and that disrespect gets amplified up to homicide.

“That’s not to say anyone who disrespect­s a woman is going to commit murder but that’s where it starts. We have to tackle that [disrespect] to fix the issue. It starts at demeaning comments and goes all the way through.”

Crucially, does the program work? ''Yes. It doesn’t have a 100 per cent hit rate – nothing does, let alone something like this. The court-mandated sessions can be tricky,'' Ms Watt said.

“We don’t expect people to walk in and say ‘I’ve been a bit of a bastard, can you fix me?’” she said.

The fact the program exists at all gives Ms Watt hope, as does the fact voluntary programs – where men ring up and say they want help – are growing in number.

However, more is needed.

“I think it’s fundamenta­l to be able to say ‘we have a system to help prevent family violence’,” she said.

“We’ve got bits of a system . . . we never seem to have enough courses or counsellor­s or funding.

“Family violence does damage to kids, to health services, to the country . . . it’s intergener­ational.”

No To Violence runs a men’s referral service on 1300 766

491. If you’re a victim of domestic violence and need help, call Triple-0 in an emergency and 1800 737 732 for the domestic violence counsellin­g line.

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 ?? ?? Commitment: Uniting Victoria Tasmania Shepparton family violence interventi­on program senior practition­er Katie Richter.
Commitment: Uniting Victoria Tasmania Shepparton family violence interventi­on program senior practition­er Katie Richter.
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