April 25, 2013

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When Push Comes to Shove

The domestic violence crisis 

Editor’s note: Because this is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we are reprinting by permission an article that highlights the continuing problem of domestic abuse.

In 2010, John Wiser, 27, stormed into his Stuart Heights home and beat, kicked and choked his 31-year-old wife, Shae, in front of her two young sons. By the time friends could respond to her frantic phone call for help, she was lying in her front yard, hemorrhaging and barely conscious. Five days later, she died.

It would be the final, fatal chapter of a long, violent story. Shae Wiser was known to the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults Crisis Resource Center, which counsels and shelters victims of domestic abuse—though “never in a million years did it cross her mind that he would kill her,” says the center’s director, Regina McDevitt.

According to police, John Wiser later stated that he beat his wife that night “more than he had ever beaten her or any other woman before.” 

Unlike many other violent crimes, episodes of domestic violence are almost never incidental. They are part of an exponential pattern spanning multiple relationships and generations. An abuser—typically a man—often batters a succession of girlfriends or wives, says Mark Carpenter, who counsels offenders. The children who regularly witness that abuse are far more likely to become batterers, or battered, themselves—perpetuating a cycle that likely was in place decades prior, when the abuser himself was a child in a violent home.

That’s why Carpenter is alarmed by the relative youth of the men now entering the Abuse Intervention with Life Skills program at The Lighthouse Counseling & Life Skills Center. Carpenter is director of The Lighthouse, Southeast Tennessee’s largest provider of court-ordered counseling for domestic violence offenders. 

“When we started doing this 10 years ago, the majority of the guys were probably in their late 30s and early 40s,” Carpenter says. “We’re getting kids as young as 18 now, who really should have had an intervention in third or fourth grade. When you look at our public school system now, with the increase in bullying and things like that—that’s the biggest reason you have to stop it. It comes out of a cycle. It’s primarily the cycle or the family that’s going to be the highest predictor.”

Therefore, while most efforts to resolve situations of domestic violence involve removing the victim from danger, that often doesn’t stop the problem, he says.

“If we don’t make efforts to change the abuser, imagine the 18-year-old kid in our program. He’s going to have a whole lot more relationships in his life. There are going to be three, four, five other women who, if we can’t stop the cycle, he’s going to abuse, too, as well as their children.”

Counseling after the fact is far from a sure solution, he adds. Depending on the study, he says, only 20 to 60 percent of perpetrators who receive treatment are considered remediated. 

“I usually classify it into two groups,” he says. “There’s a group of guys who really are decent people, but they have no skills. They came out of abusive homes, they don’t know how to handle power, they don’t know how to handle their emotions. They just need skills and accountability. It’s almost like they just need to grow up. But there’s a percentage out there that no matter what you do, they are going to reoffend, and that’s the scary part.”

The main obstacle to remediation is the tendency for an abuser to blame his victim. “If we can’t get them past that, there really is no hope,” Carpenter says.

April 25, 2013

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