Batterers can get treatment
People convicted of domestic violence crimes can’t go back and change the moment they reached the breaking point with their significant other. They can, however, go through treatment programs and attempt to live non-violent lives.
All too often the victim’s progress is reported without an accompanying update on the aggressor.
California law mandates domestic violence offenders participate in a certified weekly group session for one year as part of the education and recovery process.
The South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center offers a batterers’ treatment program for individuals who have been convicted of domestic violent crimes and for those who choose to attend. The cost is $25 per week.
Lois Denowitz, community educator, said there is a misconception that the Women’s Center concentrates solely on the care of women.
“We want families to be whole and healthy,” Denowitz said. “We’re not here to break up families.”
“The majority of people in group are with the people they battered,” said Tamara Utzig, the legal advocate crisis counselor at the Women’s Center.
The program is designed to hold men accountable for their abuse and to challenge their belief systems, said Walt Dimitroff, a marriage and family therapist who has been the center’s program facilitator for nine years.
“None of the men want to live this way. In this particular community, people seem a lot more resentful,” he added, which could be attributed to the transient 24-hour lifestyle in South Shore.
“At first you see people acting very resistive. They have just been arrested and they think everyone’s against them.
“They eventually start to take responsibility for their actions,” Dimitroff said. He wants to educate the group that their violence is theirs and theirs alone. “We don’t let them use excuses.”
Dimitroff becomes frustrated with patients who treat the system like a revolving door.
He suspends patients from the program for non-payment and repeated absences only to watch the courts send them right back.
“If the courts aren’t serious, perpetrators won’t think it’s serious,” Dimitroff said, “What I’d like to see is some jail time.”
He would also like substance abusers to remain clean for the duration of the program. “Drug testing would definitely make a difference,” he said.
Dimitroff wishes the center could offer additional help for dual diagnosis cases, especially to patients who need psychiatric help to address mental health problems.
The program doesn’t have a definition of success. Patients complete the 52 weeks and are unsupervised thereafter.
“Maybe (patients) don’t make it all of the way, but they do learn little things,” Utzig said about changing learned behavior.
“If they have learned small skills like learning to cope with road rage, that is important,” Utzig said. “When you are hearing (patients) say ‘I wish they would have had programs like this in high school’ it is success,” said Utzig.
Dimitroff just received a phone call from a former patient who is starting a new relationship. The patient began to feel old feelings starting up again and wanted to talk about them. Dimitroff thinks patients who seek help without the help of a court order are success stories.
Dimitroff stressed that domestic violence should not be confused with anger management. Anger management refers to people who lose their tempers, he said, but domestic violence refers to those who physically, sexually, or verbally attack or intimidate their partners.
Most of the men he treats lose their tempers on purpose, he said. “It’s to maintain control of relationships.”
Denowitz is pleased with how well the community works together and said that there are more resources for available to people who are involved with domestic violence than ever before.
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