AUGUSTA — The man gave no clue that he is a batterer.

He could have been a friend, neighbor or family member.

He didn’t raise his voice, talk out of turn or insult anyone, sitting in a Menswork batterers’ intervention group recently.

But when the man spoke to the group, that image was shattered.

He stated his name, his partner’s name, his victim’s name and the abuse he inflicted on her.

The couple got into an argument, he said, and he got so angry, he choked her until she lost consciousness.

Jodi Johnson, who is facilitating this Menswork class with Menswork Director Jon Heath, reminded the abuser to use the word “strangled” in the future — as it is a more accurate word to describe his actions.

“That’s recognizing that what you did could have killed her,” Johnson said.

Heath reminded the batterer that someone who is strangled is only a few seconds away from death.

“You could be sitting in prison right now, for murder,” he said. “You need to focus on more accountability, understand that what you did is so close to killing.”

The goal of Menswork, in existence here since 1996, is to keep victims safe, stop violence and teach men to be accountable for their actions and respectful of others.

Two recent domestic-violence incidents recently left six dead and prompted Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey and other men to call on all men to take the lead in stopping the violence.

The program is in Somerset and Kennebec counties, is under the umbrella of the Family Violence Project and is certified by the state Department of Corrections.

All of the men in the group have been convicted of domestic-violence crimes, including domestic-violence terrorizing, criminal threatening and domestic-violence assault.

They are required to attend 48 two-hour Menswork sessions and pay $35 per session. Men also may refer themselves to the program, which averages 100 to 120 men at any time.

They get help in recognizing that they have a problem, admitting their abusive behavior and recognizing that it is a crime. They also are taught to accept responsibility for their actions.

They learn that, even if negative circumstances don’t change, they still can change their positions and emotional reactions to those circumstances.

The 10 men in Tuesday’s group sat in a half-circle in a small, carpeted room in the Fairfield Building on Wabon Street. Some were a few weeks into the program, some several weeks; others, nearly finished.

One by one, they reported to the group about their previous week, situations they encountered that could have caused them to explode — and in previous times would have — and how they handled them better. They also noted whether any protection orders had been filed against them in the last week. Feedback from facilitators and role-modeling respectful behavior is an important part of the class.

One man who has been in the program more than 25 weeks said he was with his children and something happened that made him angry. He took a breath and talked to himself.

“I just closed my eyes and held it together,” he said. “I just didn’t want my children to see me angry. I didn’t yell. I didn’t get angry.”

He admitted that six months ago, he would have sworn and thrown things.

Heath and Johnson noted that the change in the man from when he first started with Menswork to now was remarkable.

“That wall that was way up there during orientation. I’m not seeing it,” Johnson told him.

Heath asked whether he had ever heard of the “flight-or-fight response.”

“What you actually did was, you used the upper part of the brain — the part that intellectualizes, rationalizes,” he said. “That’s a real huge event — to know that you can do that. Your family’s going to thank you.”

Much of the session focused on effects of domestic violence on children.

Children in a state of fear absorb information differently from other children, and living in that state often makes them overreact to normal stress, Heath told the group.

Very young children, ages 2 to 4, typically talk about abuse, act out violently, become withdrawn, have problems relating to other children, have delayed toileting issues, suffer from eating and sleeping problems, are insecure and can be fearful or depressed, Heath said.

They also may develop speech problems. “That’s a really common one that we see,” he said.

Teenagers typically have school and social problems, get into relationships early to get out of the house, develop eating disorders, hurt themselves and become withdrawn.

Heath asked how many of the men had been abused as children or had been exposed to abuse. Most raised their hands.

Heath said infants need to bond with a parent, and that may not occur if there is domestic violence in the home.

“In a healthy household, the infant pretty much becomes the center of attention, and that’s what they need to be healthy,” he said.

Johnson and Heath emphasized that children hear abuse in the home, even if they are in another room or on another floor, and abusers often tend to downplay what children know.

Some abusers become jealous of a mother’s relationship with her children, according to Johnson. Heath said respecting a mother’s maternal authority is critical.

“It’s an irreplaceable bond that father’s should honor,” he said.

After the session was over and the men had filed out of the room, Johnson said the limited research she has done indicates that about 50 percent of men who take part in the program reoffend after a five years.

Heath said he thinks the most important lesson they teach men is to see patterns in their abusive acts.

“If you can be aware of certain patterns, you can change your future,” he said.

For many, participation keeps them out of jail, according to Johnson.

“If they can do this program straight through, they get off probation early. That’s a bonus,” she said.

Heath said some do an initial amount of jail time, then enter the program.

“If they fail here, their probation might be revoked, and they might go to jail and have to come back here as a condition of probation,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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