Speaker touts batterer's program

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2001

Every week you see it listed in the court reports: "(Offender) must complete a batterer's intervention program." But what is that?

The members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce heard an explanation of the Central Peninsula Batterer's Intervention Program at the chamber's luncheon Wednesday at the Old Town Village Restaurant.

The speaker was David Shoemaker, a Soldotna psychologist, who conducts the program for the Women's Resource and Crisis Center.

"Let me ask the guys in the audience, have you ever been angry or felt out of control, and you wrap your golf club around a tree, or kick the dog or bang the washing machine?" he asked. "You don't do it because you are out of control, you do it to gain control. When we vent, it makes us feel back in control.

"Battering is the same," he went on to say. "When a man abuses a woman, he thinks of her as an object. He does not believe she is a person."

He said that attitude, despite changes in recent years, is alive and well.

"It comes from a value and belief system that women are not equal," he said. "It's all about control, and that's very prevalent in American culture, especially in men."

The Batterer's Intervention Program is comprised of 48 sessions and is for any men who are interested, though most who attend are there by court order.

"What I teach are the values I live by every day of my life," he said. "It's excellent for any man, and volunteers can come and gain a wealth of information."

He said the program can help a man have a better relationship with his partner.

"It's the longest program in the state, and quite frankly, we're proud of that," Shoemaker said. "Until just recently, we've never had a return visitor of all the men who have completed the program."

The program consists of several elements, including the teaching of communication skills, stress management, anger management, self esteem, empathy and compassion.

"If you have empathy and compassion, it's hard to be abusive," he said.

He said some men see the number of twice-weekly courses as excessive, but the ones who complain the loudest early on wind up being the happiest about the 48 sessions by the end.

"Forty-eight sessions allow them to take what we teach them and apply it to their everyday lives," Shoemaker said. "(In the class) they let their defenses down and get in touch with themselves."

He said some men continue to attend meetings even after the mandatory 48 sessions are up. For men who complete the entire course, there is never an additional charge to continue attending. The cost of the program's orientation is $125, with each of the sessions costing an additional $25. There are financial assistance programs that allow low- or no-income men to attend.

Nevertheless, about 60 percent of the men who start the course never finish it, even if it is court ordered.

He said the jail time alternative is often so minimal, some men choose that over the program.

Shoemaker said during the classes, he and a co-facilitator try to convey the importance of how the training affects the family.

"It really makes a difference with the kids when the family life is smoother," he said.

He said he recently dealt with two adolescent boys who constantly degraded women, saying men are better.

"This comes from home," he said. "Violence in the family has a tremendous impact on children. They suffer from depression, anger and become abusive themselves."

He described the program as trying to make a difference in the entire community.

During the course, gentle confrontation is used regularly, Shoemaker said.

"If someone says, 'my wife,' we tell them to use her name, so they see her as a person," he said.

When asked why there isn't a similar program for women, he said the dynamic of violence is different between the sexes.

"Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women, and the third leading cause of death," Shoemaker said. "If you turn it around for men, it doesn't even rank in the top thousand."

Shoemaker and WRCC Program Coordinator Cheri Smith performed a skit for the audience portraying an argumentative husband and wife. Shoemaker's character exhibited a variety of controlling behaviors toward Smith's character, forcing her to cancel her longstanding plans for a night at the movies with a friend.

By grabbing Smith's hand and taking the car keys from her, Shoemaker said he demonstrated physical abuse to go along with the domineering and intimidation that constituted emotional and verbal abuse.

"Physical abuse doesn't have to be extreme," he said.

Shoemaker said he gauges the success of the program by the feedback he gets from the partners of abusers, who tell him it helps.

He also pointed out that drug and alcohol abuse do not cause battering or sexual abuse.

"Fifty percent who abuse still do so when they're clean and sober," he said. "Alcohol only exacerbates abuse. It allows a man to act out the fantasies in the back of his head. Some men have told me they get drunk so they would beat their partners."

One of the hallmarks of the program is the safety check, which involves calling the abuser's current or past partner to see how the man is doing. Shoemaker said it is a way to gauge how the man is doing in the class. The safety check phone calls are done only with the partner's consent.

Shoemaker said men who are interested in taking the class can call him at 262-9837, or WRCC at 283-9479.

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