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Ali’s twin sons saw it all. They saw their dad shouting at their mother. They saw him smash a door and shards of glass glinting on the floor. And they saw the police officers, after their mum called for help.

And how did these six-year-old boys feel? Ali* clears his throat. This is not an easy thing to talk about. “Very frightened. They probably lost their trust with me.”

But he says he was relieved, pleased even, his wife called the police to their Melbourne home after he shouted and smashed things. It was not the first time.

The visit from police became a line in the sand, a turning point.

“I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I was always aware it wasn’t the proper behaviour,” he says.

A court appearance followed, a humiliating experience he never wants to repeat. Ali pleaded guilty to wilful damage and had an intervention order issued against him. Punishment came in the form of a one-year good behaviour bond, and he was ordered to do a behaviour change program.

Men’s behaviour change programs, many with long waiting lists, have become a common penalty meted out to perpetrators of family violence who come before the courts.

But until now, there has been little Australian research.

Now a comprehensive snapshot of 300 Australian men who use violence, and their partners (or ex-partners), over two years, gives cause for optimism. The Monash University study found:

The number of men inflicting violence fell by half across all categories of abusive behaviour, from physical violence to demeaning behaviour.

Their violence didn’t just shift from one area to another. It reduced in all areas, with 65 per cent of the men reporting they were either no longer violent, or almost violence-free, after two years.

About 80 per cent of men saw their abusive behaviour as serious two years after their program finished, compared with 60 before the program.

It was surprising to find the men who improved the most had been ordered by a court to do the program, said co-author Professor Thea Brown, from the uni’s Department of Social Work.

Men’s behavioural change are not an anger-management courses. The counsellors and psychologists who run them try to increase an abuser’s empathy for their victims, and talk about how stereotypical gender roles can be damaging to women.

“Often we have to go back to the grassroots and talk about respect for the views of others,” says Pam Wilkie-Clark, who runs the men’s specialist service at Bethany, in Geelong. The men in her programs often view assertive behaviour from their partners as being aggressive.

Partner’s views on the program varied considerably, Professor Brown said. Those who stayed with the man, or new partners, were very positive. But those who had left were negative, feeling the program had either not protected them, or came too late to matter.
‘That frustration inside me, sometimes it’s hard to cope with’. Ali

During his six-month program at Bethany, Ali realised his approach to parenting was quite different to his wife, and he got very angry at her approach. She was very relaxed while he wanted a strict routine. The main thing he took away from the program was that everyone, including his wife, was entitled to personal choice.

And not everything has been resolved. Before the police were called in, Ali had been to a counsellor a few times about his abusive outbursts. He says he will go back.

“I still sometimes become really frustrated. I don’t react, I never externalise it. But that frustration inside me, sometimes it’s hard to cope with.”

Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended a boost to heavily over-subscribed men’s behavioural change programs. In the most recent budget $1 million was put towards these programs.

The research was funded by Violence Free Families, and will be available online soon.

For help in a crisis call 000.

For family violence help contact Safe Steps: 1800 015 188

*Names have been changed.

Read Miki Perkin’s full article here: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/domestic-violence-mens-behaviour-change-program-shows-abuse-can-be-stopped-20160830-gr4tet.html

Violence Free Families works for the elimination of all forms of family violence. We believe that Research, Innovation and Education can help improve the lives of vulnerable children and women, and help curb the incidence of family violence.