Posted on 02 May 2012 by Keith Lacey
Small resort communities like Osoyoos are not exempt from the damage caused by domestic violence, says the co-ordinator of a new community program designed to assist male perpetrators who realize they have a problem and want to do something to correct their behaviour.
Starting next week at four locations in the South Okanagan, including one in Oliver, men over age 18 who acknowledge they have a problem with abusive behaviour that has led to domestic violence can register for a new program called Change For Good.
The new pilot project is being sponsored by the provincial government through the Violence in Relationships Committee.
The Violence in Relationships Committee is made up of 30 organizations throughout the South Okanagan, including numerous counselling services, transition houses, RCMP, area Crown attorneys and “basically any group that has an interest in the serious issue of domestic violence,” said Sharon McDonald, the newly-hired facilitator of Change For Good, who didn’t want her real name used for this article for safety reasons.
When it comes to the issue of domestic violence, the entire “system” is designed almost exclusively to provide services and counselling for victims of abuse, but not nearly enough programs and services are offered for perpetrators, she said.
“The only real services out there for perpetrators are those that are forced on them when mandated by correctional services after being found guilty and convicted,” she said. “One of the biggest problems with that is there is a lot of abuse and domestic violence that is taking place where no one is getting charged or convicted.”
Having funding in place to hire staff means those interested in accessing assistance can do so free of charge, which is critical to the program’s success, she said.
“We want to offer a service that is open to adults who realize they have a problem and want to do something about it, that is accessible and, equally important, is free of charge.That’s what this new program is all about.”
Funding for the program came from the provincial government and the pilot project will be offered to men 18 and over, she said.
There are females who engage in abusive behaviour and domestic violence as well, but this program will focus on men, she said.
The goal and mission of Change for Good is to gather men who want to seek assistance and counselling in small groups to honestly and openly talk about their issues and hopefully get some answers in an attempt to change behaviour in the short and long term, she said.
“Abusive behaviour is ultimately a personal choice,” she said “If we are choosing to engage in one behaviour that happens to be abusive, people certainly have the capacity to make changes and do something else.
“There are a lot of abusers out there who make excuses and say ‘I lost it’ or ‘I couldn’t help myself’, but we all know those are simply excuses and attempts at justifying unacceptable behaviour.
“Our goal is to have our clients take a good look at why they are being abusive and help them change.”
Funding for the program was approved last fall and McDonald and the members of Violence in Relationships Committee have been organizing the program since she was hired on December 1.
Counselling sessions with Change For Good will be offered in Oliver, Keremeos, Princeton and Penticton.
Men who register can attend sessions in any of those communities.
“Some men are not going to want to attend sessions in the town nearest to them for confidentiality reasons or for work reasons, so this provides options to them,” she said.
The program is accepting clients throughout the first week in May.
While many abusers justify their behaviour in numerous ways, there are many others who know they have a problem and want to get some help and this program is designed specifically for them, she said.
“Acknowledging you have a problem and would like to seek out some help is definitely one of the biggest criteria at the core of this program,” she said. “This program is there for men who want to do something about their behaviour.
“Many men realize their behaviour is no longer acceptable, but don’t have anywhere to turn to try and make some changes. The hope is this program will offer them the chance to make those changes.”
Despite education and awareness, the reality is domestic violence remains a serious problem in Canadian society and around the world, she said.
“Despite all the advances in society over the past 30 years, it remains a huge problem,” she said. “The annual estimated cost of domestic violence is $30 billion when you factor in all of the costs like counselling, hospital visits, police involvement as well as the welfare system and court system.”
The Change For Good program is being modeled after a similar program in Calgary that has gained national and international attention due to its success in altering abusive behaviour among its clients, she said.
The booklet that will be used during the counselling sessions for area men can be accessed at www.calgarywomensshelter.com
Anyone wanting to register for the program can call 1-250-488-5939 or send an email to www.sos_change4good.yahoo.ca.