Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Church’s Approach to Domestic Violence Raises Eyebrows

Posted by Hannah at 9:34 AM

Chicago Public Radio had a article about a church there that is working with violent men.

On the second-floor of St. Pius V, a Catholic church in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, 22 men are winding down their weekly meeting. Facilitator Carlos López reminds the men about a verse from the New Testament book Ephesians: “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” And López turns to a stocky young man who’s attending for the first time.

LOPEZ: Hay algunas reacciones? Qué dices acerca de esta nueva experiencia?

The man says last year he and his wife had a fight in which she provoked him and he blacked out. He quickly fast-forwards to sleepless nights this year when he suspected she was having an affair. But some other men in the circle ask him to rewind to that blackout. The young man eventually admits he was choking his wife. López calls that disclosure a step toward taking responsibility for the abuse.

LOPEZ: He was able to break denial. And that happened because of the group process.

The men’s group is part of St. Pius’s domestic-violence program. A social worker named Dolores Tapia manages the program. She says the church at first keeps victims and batterers in separate group sessions.

The men’s group is part of St. Pius’s domestic-violence program. A social worker named Dolores Tapia manages the program. She says the church at first keeps victims and batterers in separate group sessions.

TAPIA: Y cada seis meses evaluamos con las mujeres. Cómo estás con tu pareja? Nosotros vemos que hay cambios. Estás lista para venir a otro grupo acá, que es el grupo de matrimonios.

And every six months, Tapia says, we evaluate with the women. If a woman agrees her partner has made changes, the St. Pius program will invite him to begin meeting with her in a group for married couples. If all goes well, Tapia says, a husband and wife can renew their wedding vows.

TAPIA: Ellos reafirmen sus votos de amor, respeto y fidelidad.

Tapia says that ceremony reaffirms their love, respect and fidelity. But the St. Pius process alarms some other domestic-violence professionals. Ida Anger directs programs on Chicago’s Southwest Side for Metropolitan Family Services.

ANGER: It’s the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ syndrome—that you can reform the beast by being the best wife, the best partner, that you can be.

Anger says the renewal of vows might convince the woman she has fewer options.

ANGER: Once she’s stood in front of the community and said, ‘This is my marriage and we’re making this work,’ and then if he gets abusive again, it might be more embarrassing for her and more humiliating for her to come out and say, ‘This isn’t working. He’s hurting me again.’

Anger says trying to reunify couples would disqualify St. Pius from winning Illinois approval as a batterer-intervention program. But Anger also admits that programs that meet state approval are far less successful than she’d like. Some men drop out of their program. Of those that finish, according to a 2005 study, 15 percent end up back in police hands after another domestic-battery arrest. Experts say some other graduates go back to their abusive ways but never get caught.

Perhaps no one knows more about Latino recidivism than Luis Ortiz. He helped found this state-approved program for batterers in west suburban Cicero. He convenes a dozen Spanish-speaking offenders for a weekly session in a cramped storefront as part of their court sentence. Most of the men are months into the half-year program. But when the 12 take turns telling their stories, just one accepts full responsibility for his violence.

ORTIZ: ‘My wife this’ and ‘My girlfriend did that’ and ‘My daughter this.’ So I think it was still they would not be here if it wasn’t for their other half, creating the circumstances for their demise.

Many domestic-violence scholars say the criminal-justice system alone is rarely enough to get a guy to end the abuse. For that to happen, they say it takes a great deal of social encouragement.

That’s the idea back at St. Pius, the Pilsen parish. Its approach borrows from the late Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire. He argued that people learn the most when they’re becoming aware of what oppresses them and responding with action. In that vein, the St. Pius sessions often touch on this country’s exploitation of immigrants. The church also departs from what Georgia State University psychologist Julia Perilla calls a tenet of the early women’s movement.

PERILLA: The whole idea was, ‘If we can only get the woman to leave the person, she’ll be safe, and the children will be better off, and she will definitely become a self-sufficient person that doesn’t have to put up with this.’

But Perilla says several Latino domestic-violence programs around the country are putting the victim’s priorities first.

PERILLA: Many of them, they still love those guys. Most men—the guys that have been very violent—they have very good qualities as well. They’re good providers, they’re responsible family members, they absolutely adore their kids and, at the same time, they’re violent.

Culturally specific programs are fine with Larry Bennett, a University of Illinois at Chicago expert on batterer intervention. But he has doubts about the St. Pius effort and others that include religious content.

BENNETT: If you scratch the surface, what you’re going to find is a reinforcement of male domination, the whole man-must-protect-his-family mentality. That’s what you get a lot of with religious programs. And that’s why I’m very leery of them.

The verse about marital love goes over well in the St. Pius men’s group. But they could get a different lesson from a verse just a few lines before: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”

LOPEZ: Our goal is to bring the message that a good relationship is an equal one.

Carlos López, the facilitator, insists spirituality helps St. Pius against domestic abuse. But beyond anecdotes, no one has studied whether the program succeeds—whether it helps the men discard their violent behavior or leaves the women in harm’s way.

To me if these men know that renewing the vows are the end goal - are they pressuring these women? I mean is what they want anyway!

Sounds good on the face, but the unsurface makes me nervous!

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