Men work to control domestic violence
“Jack” never hit his wife but he understands how frustration and adrenaline can clench a fist.
An escalated argument and a restraining order prompted what he calls his “moment of clarity.” He had a lot to lose. He needed help.
At 4:30 p.m. sharp on Tuesday, Jack and seven other men filed into a well-ventilated room on the second floor of the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center.
As they lined up to pay mandatory dues for their weekly Batterers Intervention Program meeting, it became clear that domestic violence crosses all socioeconomic barriers.
Well-dressed, kind and articulate gentlemen ranging in age from 21 to 40-something sat in a circle to share their stories of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is such a widespread thing,” one man offered. “It’s a cycle and it doesn’t affect just one type of person. We’re all here for different reasons.”
Program Facilitator Walt Dimitroff displayed a comfortable rapport with the men, who spoke freely about their situations, fears and concerns.
Not every man in the class was physically abusive. Not every man was mentally or emotionally abusive.
“We’ve all been in the same shoes,” a group member said. “We’ve all been locked up in it. If you don’t get a grip on your anger it’s going to take you over. It’s going to get violent.”
Dimitroff said there are no excuses made in the group, no justifications. However, there are patterns in the cycle of abuse, which can cause post traumatic stress.
“One of the misconceptions is people think many of the men are happy perpetrating violence and they’re not,” he said. “It’s a miserable life that they’re trapped into given their history. They’ve inherited it from their families.”
Statistics show people who experience violence as children are 1,000 times more likely to use violence later in life as a means of solving conflicts, Dimitroff said.
“What it says really, is that we learn that method,” he said. “There’s not an excuse for violence for any reason. There are not any excuses in this group. They are remorseful about it. They are taking steps to fix it.”
One member of the class spoke about his troubled relationship with his ex-girlfriend.
“I’m not even going to try to justify what happened with her,” he said. “I’m on my way now. I’m going to get better and I’ve changed a lot since I’ve come here. I handle things different now.”
Two men spoke about how difficult it was for them to break free from their unhealthy relationships, where girlfriends and wives were abusive, as well. Fear, love and laziness were listed as reasons some men stay.
“There’s your story, the other person’s story and the truth,” one man said.
For others in the class, keeping their families together and gaining self-control were main priorities. Some have come a long way in breaking down a belief system they’ve followed for years.
“The success rate with these guys since I’ve been doing this is incredible,” said Women’s Center Associate Director Karen Hodges, the self-proclaimed “bad guy” in charge of collecting fees and homework from the group and staying in contact with the probation department.
Dimitroff said there has not been a study conducted to document the exact success rate of the program in the 12 years he’s facilitated it.
“Over the last year, I’d be guessing, I’d say maybe two or three re-offended and those did not complete the program,” said Dimitroff, adding there are currently about 30 people enrolled in batterers intervention at the Women’s Center. “They were arrested before they got out of the program.”
While the majority of the group members were ordered by a judge to attend 52 classes – Nevada requires 26 classes – most said they appreciate what they’re learning.
“I think we’re fortunate we got the chance to do this class. I’m just sorry it had to happen so late in my life,” Jack said. “After everything happened, going to jail was the last thing on my mind. I was thinking about getting my family back. I was thinking, ‘How could I be such a horse’s ass to let it go this far?’ You have to ask yourself: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
Jack explained two of the tools Dimitroff teaches to prevent violence.
“There is a formula we use and it works,” Jack said. “It’s E + R = O. The Event plus your Response is going to equal the Outcome. A lot of times no response is a good response.”
Jack also explained SLEAR.
“You Stop talking, Listen, Empathize, Ask questions and Respond the best way you can,” Jack said. “If you’ve done that, you’ve done all you can. What you learn in this class is drop it. It is not important. You learn there is nothing that important. Time out is effective. Remove yourself from the situation. Take a walk. Get some time between you and what has happened so you can think more clearly.”
The class does not focus on how not to get angry, but rather how to prevent situations from turning violent.
“They don’t do a lobotomy on us in here or anything,” Jack said. “It’s just learning a different way of dealing with things.”
Once someone graduates from the program, they may return to the class, free of charge, as often as they want or need to.
“We can graduate but after that many years of violence, I don’t think it’s something you can just get out of your mind,” a group member said. “So you keep coming.”
Dimitroff said he thinks the class is worthwhile to almost anyone who is having conflict in their relationships.
“It provides support and education to remain nonviolent, verbally, physically and emotionally,” he said.
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