The three fundamental principles of professional practice with men who use violent and controlling behaviours are:
- Safety—no harm must be caused by the intervention, not only to the fathers who are participants in the program, but also (and in particular) to the mothers and children affected by the fathers’ behaviours.
- Respect—this should be afforded to the fathers who are participants in the program, and also (and in particular) to the women and children affected by the man’s behaviour.
- Accountability— services and staff must, within the scope of the law, hold to account fathers who perpetrate domestic and violence.
Men can contact MensLine on 1300 789 978 for confidential counselling, referral and support. MensLine also has a list of domestic violence services by region, including behaviour change programs for men who use violence.
Interventions that are inappropriate
The following support services or interventions are not appropriate in domestic and family violence cases:
- Couples or family counselling and mediation—Domestic and family violence isn’t a couple’s issue that can be worked through with mutual responsibility. It’s a criminal act. Referring men and women to couples or family counselling implies that women have responsibility for men’s use of violence and gives men a space to voice their denials or blame women. Women are also unlikely to feel safe in speaking about the violence and control they’re experiencing if the abuser is also there.
- Anger management groups—In anger management programs, participants are taught to use techniques like time out or walking away. These programs sometimes fail to look at the larger issues of power and control involved in domestic violence. Many men who use violence can manage their anger effectively, as they are never violent anywhere other than in the home.
- Some visitation arrangements—Visitation arrangements may include unsupervised visits that endanger adult victims or children. Careful assessment should be undertaken in these circumstances.
- Anything that may increase the level of danger—A domestic violence order may seem helpful, but may also enrage a violent man and increase the risk of harm, particularly if the man has a prior history of non-compliance with orders.
Make sure a domestic violence order does not take the place of a safety plan.
How fathers can help children heal once the violence stops
Separate work must take place with the father and the child to be certain that his violence has stopped.
Children need to be offered support before they can repair. Sometimes this can be having support from their mother, or there might be a need for professional involvement.
A child’s trust in the father’s behaviour is likely to be deeply broken. They are likely to find it difficult to trust what the man says without first seeing sustained change in the way the man behaves towards them and their mother.
The man must be prepared to talk to the child about his use of violence. This is critical to the child’s healing.
The types of messages a father needs to give a child include:
- Violence is not okay.
- I am responsible for the violence.
- I am sorry for hurting you. I am sorry for hurting your mum.
- It is okay for you to be mad or scared of me. Your feelings are important.
- This is not your fault or your mum’s fault.
- I am getting help so that I can keep you safe.
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