Two thirds of violent men who attend behaviour change programs completely stop abusing their families within two years, but they always fear slipping back into their old ways.
The first Australian study into the long-term effects of interventions for domestic violence perpetrators found that court-ordered participants in behaviour change programs were the most likely to stop being violent.
Monash University followed men who attended behaviour change programs in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia for two years after they completed the program.
Monash social work professor Thea Brown said 65 per cent of men were classed as violence-free at the end of the study. This meant they no longer physically, emotionally or sexually abused their partners, or made them afraid.
“That’s a good outcome. The men do improve considerably,” Professor Brown said. “It shows that the programs are effective.” After the initial three-month program, most men continued to use professional help to remain violence-free.
Men who had been ordered by the courts to attend a behaviour change program did better than their peers. Professor Brown suggested this could be because they were more tightly monitored, had been rattled by their court experience, or feared the legal consequences if they didn’t succeed at changing their behaviour.
All the men said it was difficult to remain violence-free. “None of them ever felt they were in a secure position and wouldn’t slip back,” Professor Brown said. “It’s very hard to do as well as they should every day of the year.”
One man said: “I only feel confident when I’m doing the program.”
This daily battle was identified by some of the men’s partners who contributed to the study. “He’s good most days, not every day,” one woman said of her partner. Overall most women were optimistic about the future with their formerly violent partners.
Half the men had broken up with their partners before they started the behaviour change program. Forty per cent of the program participants were born overseas.
Older men who were in relationships and had a higher standard of education were marginally more likely to permanently change their behaviour. However Professor Brown said: “We still don’t know why some men change and some men don’t.”
Men said the program facilitators, rather than the actual content, made the difference to them. They also liked the group dynamic. “They found a lot of individual support, they felt they were being accepted by other people, they felt less evil,” Professor Brown said.
Men were disappointed the programs didn’t provide any help with their parenting.
The programs failed to reduce the incidence of mental illness among domestic violence perpetrators. Thirty per cent of violent men have mental health problems. The programs did halve the incidence of alcohol and substance abuse.
Professor Brown said her research, which was funded by Violence Free Families, showed there was a need for closer monitoring of participants in men’s behaviour change programs, and proper exit assessments that could refer men to ongoing support services. Parenting advice also needs to be provided.
By Cosima Marriner
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/nsw/the-violent-men-who-do-change-20160527-gp53j0#ixzz4A6rIHGt3