Six-month course helps violent men to change

Darren Mulligan: identifying triggers

A six-month programme aimed at getting men to address their violent behaviour against women is to begin in Galway.

MOVE (Men Overcoming Violent Emotion) started in Dublin in 1989 as a response to the growing incidence of domestic abuse and branches spread around the country.

It is a problem that has only worsened in the intervening years.

Nearly half of all the women killed in Ireland since 1995 were killed by a partner or ex-partner.

A 2004 review of domestic violence intervention programmes found that while “there will probably always be some men who will not change, some can and will, and that carefully managed group work programmes can help”.

“This is more likely to happen when the intervention is well designed, delivered and monitored. Researchers concluded that carefully managed group work programmes, particularly when delivered in conjunction with a criminal or civil justice response, are worth running,” the report found.

After an absence of over a decade, MOVE has returned to Galway. The 26-week group course is funded by the Government and is free of charge to participants. It is open to any man with a history of physical, emotional or sexual violence against a partner who is willing to change.

The programme also involves 40 weeks of work with the woman in the relationship or ex-partner, providing information, support and safety planning.

The biggest aim of the initiative is the protection of women and children, explains Darren Mulligan, a social care worker who is one of the facilitators on the course.

“We do an awful lot of work with the partner – more than with the perpetrator, it goes on for much longer. But this is the only thing out there aimed at the men, something needs to be done with men to address domestic violence or it won’t stop,” he insists.

On joining the group, the men must sign a contract stating they will not engage in violence for the duration of the six months and commit to change.

Participants can refer themselves if they realise they have a problem with domestic violence while others are referred through the Probations Services or by social workers.

With a minimum of eight in the group, it is facilitated by a male and female care worker once a week for two hours.

“The biggest thing we are trying to do is identify triggers – what gets them to that stage. When they can identify the triggers, they can work out a different behaviour, maybe have time out and go for a walk instead of lashing out,” states Darren.

“The group gets support from each other by talking, being honest and come to an understanding of what’s really going on.”

The programme examines carefully what happens before and after violent incidents and the emotions and behaviours that lead up to violence. The participants are helped to understand these and given techniques to help them slow down, think about what they are doing and make different choices. Among the skills taught are self tracking patterns of behaviours that are harmful to themselves or to others and improving communication.

Previous groups have followed a familiar pattern. Generally it takes six weeks before men take responsibility for their behaviour.

“In the beginning they may be blaming the gardaí, social workers, probation officers for their violence. It may be alcohol, a history of violence in the family. It then dawns on somebody, hey lads, we are here because of us, and they take ownership, it clicks.

“Not everyone who drinks is violent, not everyone who was abused is violent. It’s really about taking ownership of the here and now,” reflects Darren.

The 2004 review found that while not all men quit their abusive behaviour, some do change.

“Some of these changes do seem to be attributable at least in part to the men’s participation on the programme, although it is difficult to isolate what is due to the programme and what is due to other factors, principally the influence of separation or the threat of it and the effects of other interventions or the threats of them,” the researchers found.

“Some men do not change whilst they are on programmes. Even if they do not change, programmes could be a way of assessing and monitoring their behaviour and holding them to account.”

The women who have been victimised stated they felt safer following their participation.

“Women who come into contact with the programmes when their partners apply to participate often get help, advice, support and information for the first time. Some of these women are unlikely to have received this help from anywhere else.

“Some women are able to use this information and help to make informed choices about their own protection. When they do, they often find increased safety as a result. Some women get such high levels of support and advocacy that they feel that their lives have changed completely, even if they did not feel that their partner or ex-partner changed.”

Darren believes if the programme persuades even a handful of men to leave their violent behaviour behind it will have been worth the six months of work.

“I don’t think we can say they’re cured.  It’s the only group of its kind in Ireland that targets perpetrators so if you have a few men out of every group who learn how to have relationships that are based on love and trust and not on power and control, that’s a success.”

There are still slots available for men on the course due to start in May. For more information contact 085 8087465.