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The Devil is in the Details

Some thoughts on working in men’s domestic violence intervention programs.

By nature, I was always a ‘near enough is good enough’, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, ‘take people at face value’ kind of person. However, over the years, since working with dv perpetrators, I’ve had scales lifted off my eyes and I have learned that I need to pay close attention to detail. In this work, the devil is in the details. Words and details matter more to me now. In fact, I cannot let words go now with exploring the reality behind the words. Words can reveal but words can conceal too! Words matter so much so that I may have turned into an irritating ‘nit-picker’. So, forgive me if that is how I come across.

Facilitators of men’s programs are about (among other things) uncovering, exposing, and exorcizing this ‘devil in the details!’ Facilitators are working to ‘irritate’ and disrupt uncritical accounts and justifications of men’s violence, by challenging the details. I am interested in the details of what is said and even more interested in the details that are left unsaid. So, my radar needs to be attuned to the words and expressions men use in the way they describe and account for their violence. It is a major part of how facilitators are supporting men to face up and ‘fess up – to take responsibility for their actions and their intentions. We want men to be transparent, open, honest, and responsible.

What does it mean when a man says ‘we had a disagreement’ or ‘we argue a lot’ or ‘it was only a few harsh words’ or ‘I fell off the rails’ or ‘I just saw red’ or ‘I was having a bad day’ or ‘she made me so angry’ or ‘she gives as good as she gets’ etc. etc. etc. etc!!! I am so curious about men’s ways of framing their violence.

  • What is going on here beneath and behind the words?

  • What is his intention in framing awful abuse in such euphemistic ways?

  • What is his intention in controlling the narrative by using these innocuous words and phrases.

What we do know is that these stock phrases and expressions are smoke and mirrors. What are these words and phrases hiding, covering up and camouflaging? From what reality is he diverting our attention? His surgically edited and skewed account, often, deletes depth and details of horrific violence and control, painting himself in the role of victim and her as the nasty provocateur. In group, we want to examine what exactly and precisely and regularly is he doing to her in this relationship.

We need an unedited and honest version of events to get to the reality of his treatment of her. This is one of the approaches that facilitators use in men’s domestic violence intervention groups. We attend (or at least, aim to attend) to the reality of his abuse, his violence, and the effect it has on her and the children. I’m thinking wouldn’t it be good if courts, police, corrective services, etc. explored her reality more, rather than running with his diversionary tactics. Paying attention to details and seeing the camouflage for what it is, can help us all lift the lid on what he is wanting to keep invisible, and to keep the focus on his violence and his stopping violence. So often, police reports, court records, risk information from the women’s advocates can give us a clearer picture of the reality of his abuse.

While on this subject, is it just me or does anyone else have a problem with the term “Men’s Behaviour Change Program”? Am I just ‘nit-picking’ yet again? If words and details are important in this work, don’t these words, that our response system uses, minimise and camouflage what we are

doing with the men in our programs? It is easy to change behaviour when courts or police or corrective services have you in their sights, and while he might not touch her physically, he is still intimidating, threatening, scaring, gaslighting, and controlling her. He is still the power over her. Yet, he has become a more sophisticated and manipulative perpetrator. In truth, it is more than just behaviour, we are also wanting to change attitudes, beliefs that drive violent behaviour. We are working with men to change their mindset, their worldview, the lenses with which they view women and relationships, their male script that greenlights violence in intimate relationships. This is demanding work, and difficult work. It can be rewarding and meaningful work when we are doing it effectively. It takes time, commitment, and tenacity. I prefer the term “Men’s Domestic Violence Intervention Program” – nothing to hide behind there.

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