Addressing domestic violence’s root cause: New Alberta program aims to help men with abusive behaviour

Click to play video: 'New program in southern Alberta aims to help men with abusive behaviour' New program in southern Alberta aims to help men with abusive behaviour
Safe at Home officially opened its doors Monday. As Jenna Freeman reports, the southern Alberta facility’s focus is on helping women and children fleeing domestic abuse in an untraditional way – Mar 1, 2021

A unique program aimed at helping those dealing with domestic abuse launched in southern Alberta on Monday.

The goal of Rowan House Society’s Safe at Home in Claresholm is to help men treat abusive behaviour.

Read more: Calgary advocates warn about coercive control, another type of domestic violence

The society said the program is the “first of its kind in a rural setting,” having the abusive partner removed from the house to address their bad behaviour while the impacted women and children stay in the family home, “not having to uproot their lives and leave their communities or support networks to flee to an emergency shelter.”

“The kids are getting pulled out of school. They’re dealing with a lot of different emotions, and same with the mother, so keeping them in the home with their support system just lessens that traumatic experience for kids and women,” Travis Sandor, who works at Safe at Home, told Global News on Monday.

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The 52-week program — limited to those 18 and older who identify as male and have been involved in a domestic abuse incident — is designed to “help participants accept responsibility for their abusive behaviour while developing skills to self-intervene in the abuse cycle and build healthy relationships.”

Read more: Reading between the lines of Calgary’s domestic violence statistics during the COVID-19 pandemic

Safe at Home has psychoeducation, group therapy and individual counselling, and offers transitional housing for up to eight weeks.

“By working with the men in these situations, while still supporting the women and children, we hope to facilitate the wraparound supports that can lead to real change for these families,” said Rowan House Society CEO Timmi Shorr in a news release.

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Wanting to change but not knowing how

It’s difficult to know where to turn for help, especially when it’s a rarely discussed problem like domestic violence, according to Safe at Home program manager Jim Mason.

“You find yourself apologizing for your actions, promising you’ll do better, but then it happens again and again. Many men in these situations want to change, they just don’t know how,” he said.

“Our program provides a safe environment to share, learn and grow. While we can’t guarantee your relationship will survive the effects of domestic abuse, we do know the healthy relationship skills you develop in the program can help you become the man, partner and father you want to be in current and future relationships.”

A new southern Alberta program is addressing domestic violence in an untraditional way. Getty Images

Participants want to address their abusive behaviour in a healthy way, with the objective of having healthier relationships overall, Mason said.

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“Through our assessment intake process, we’re really looking at: do you recognize that you have a problem? And do you want to do something about it? That way, we’re able to help those who really want to move their lives forward in a positive way,” he said.

Read more: Head of Lethbridge domestic violence team steps down amid allegation of unwanted sexual relationship

Progress depends on the amount of effort someone puts in, Mason said.

“Behaviour takes a long time to change, and as they develop these interventions for their abusive behaviours — whether it’s financial, physical or emotional — they have to try those,” he said.

“Some of these interventions, they’ll get right the first time. It’ll work for them. Others, they’re going to find that it didn’t quite do the job, and they’re going to [need] help developing additional interventions.”
Click to play video: 'Increase in domestic violence reported during lockdown' Increase in domestic violence reported during lockdown
Increase in domestic violence reported during lockdown – Feb 23, 2021

Mason explained that homeless shelters or emergency rooms are not equipped to deal with domestic violence like Safe at Home can.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Domestic, intimate partner violence reports continue to rise during COVID-19 pandemic

“[Abusers] usually end up in places like emergency beds. Seven days and they’re having to find something new or trying to renew their emergency beds, so recognizing that domestic violence is more than seven days out of the house, this type of facility has a role to play,” he said.

Addressing the root cause

Safe at Home, which is funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada, offers a chance to significantly impact the lives of victims and people who end up dating the reformed abuser.

“All we’re really doing then, as a society, is simply passing these people along from victim to potential victim to potential victim. Escalation is a part of the cycle — there’s no doubt. Sooner or later, someone could be seriously hurt. They could be killed,” Mason said.

“This is an opportunity that I see to really address more of the root cause rather than the surface.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call 911, the Family Violence Info Line at 310-1818, the Provincial Abuse Helpline 1-855-443-5722 or the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-387-5437.

Alberta Health Services has resources for getting through tough times.


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