The tail of a salmon and the words of a girl are the slipperiest things on the planet.
“It annoys me that people keep asking ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ People seem to want to lay the blame on the woman, when the only valid question is - Why does he hit her?”
Who: Sara Brammer
What: Psychologist who treats violent men.
They often come across as really nice people. They normally start by down-playing or justifying their own behaviour. They believe, and want to convince us, that the only reason they did what they did was because of something SHE did. 80 per cent of the men who take part in the treatment group at Synergy Services in Kansas City have been sent here. They have been found guilty, but can avoid going to prison on condition that they take part in this group with other men, weekly, for between 26 and 58 weeks (depending on how serious the violence was) and say: ‘My name is XX and I’m here because I beat my wife.’ The remaining 20 per cent are here voluntarily.”
“The ones who come of their own free will are more difficult to treat because we have no hold on them,” says Sara Brammer. “They usually enroll during the ‘honeymoon phase’, between their bursts of violence. They often drop out when the tension increases. Someone who drops out of the treatment is at much greater risk of repeating the abuse.”
I thank God that my daughter called the police that day. That saved me, and my family.
Sara remembers her first meeting with LeAnthony. He was not a nice person at the time.
“No,” admits the tall, well-dressed African-American who wants to tell us how he has changed. “I was always a trouble-maker. I made it clear that I wouldn’t tolerate anyone who didn’t see things my way. I thank God that my daughter called the police that day. That saved me, and my family.”
“LeAnthony is a good, if unusual, example of the methods we use in the men’s group actually working,” says Sara Brammer. “He proves that a man who is prone to violence really can change his behaviour. We have a handful of men like this. Research indicates that the longest forms of treatment are the best. Batterer intervention groups are about equally as effective as classes designed to treat drug/alcohol use. The best statistics available are that after 4 years of treatment, 70 percent of the men stop being abusive. But we have no idea how much of that is because they really have changed. The men know that they are on probation. They know that if they’re arrested for beating their woman again, they’ll go to jail.
There are a lot of other ways to exercise control and power, without using your fists.
We know even less about whether they stop the sexual, mental or economic violence. There are a lot of other ways to exercise control and power, without using your fists. The only people who can answer that are the men’s women. The most important part of our program is that we are focused on the safety of the victim. All of the men in our program are required to sign a release of information so that we can contact their victims. We try very hard to contact her.”
We have the opportunity to meet Sheila, LeAnthonys wife. She describes a marriage where she was ‘walking on egg shells’ the whole time.
“He would just explode, you couldn’t see it coming. I learned to look into his eyes to judge the situation. When his eyes were dark I couldn’t argue with anything – a question about an item on a bill would be enough. He only beat me occasionally, but he often used to break things. Mainly things that meant something to me. He never touched his own things, no matter how out of control he seemed.
The more I learned about his childhood, the better I understood him. He’d been walking the line between life and death all his life. We were all victims, including him. Everything has changed now. My husband is my best friend, and you treat your best friend well.”
The more I learned about his childhood, the better I understood him.
LeAnthony’s treatment helped him understand his own father, and the violence the boy LeAnthony had lived with all his life. According to Sara Brammer, in around a third of all abusers the violence can be traced directly back to their own childhood; in other words, the man was himself beaten, or saw his mother being beaten. Another third have some form of medical problem, such as mental illness, severe alcoholism or substance abuse.
“But the rest, a third, fight because it works,” she says. “He sees that he gets what he wants when he beats her. She learns that he will resort to violence to have power over her. The batterer also convinces the victim that the abuse is her fault and then she tries to do whatever she can to avoid the abuse. After a while, he doesn’t even need to beat her so often. Just the threat is enough.
I’m not the least interested in what the woman has or hasn’t done. ‘My wife’s a drunk who is sleeping with the guy next door,’ he says. ‘So what? ’ I say. ‘We’re not talking about her here. We’re talking about you.’
It really annoys me when people keep asking ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ People seem to want to put the blame on the woman, when the only question that matters is ‘Why does he beat her?’
I’m not the least interested in what the woman has or hasn’t done.
I’m sure we have cases here where the man has been sentenced to undergo treatment, and gone through the programme but not changed at all,” believes Sara Brammer. “In cases like that, the woman might not think there’s any point in reporting him to the police again. “It doesn’t help.” And society might not notice anything – until she’s dead.”
It is Thursday afternoon and a group of men are sitting in the sparsely furnished meeting room. It is time for the treatment. There are usually six or seven participants, but several have left the room, not wanting to be photographed or interviewed.
Bill has no problem with going public. He is a dangerous-looking, heavily tattooed man, who has been sentenced to undergo treatment. He says his wife has only ‘ended up under the TV’ once. He has been in prison before, but always after beating up men. He used to believe that beating up men and women were two different things. It was a matter of honour for him not to beat up women.
“You probably didn’t need to use violence as long as you were in control,” guesses Sara.
Bill describes an incident that happened on Saturday morning.
“My daughter called and said my wife’s new boyfriend was threatening her. And do you know what I did?” He looks round proudly. Everyone shakes their head. “I called the police. I would never have done that before. I’d have grabbed my baseball bat, gone round – and I’d be in jail now.”
I called the police. I would never have done that before. I’d have grabbed my baseball bat, gone round – and I’d be in jail now.
Bill did in fact go round to his wife’s, but he got there after the police had arrived. He shouted insults at the police, who began to take his accusations against his wife’s boyfriend less seriously, and his daughter does not appear to have been in any danger. It is even possible the incident was provoked. Bill and his wife are in the midst of divorce proceedings and she probably knows which buttons to tap to trigger his violence.
Sara Brammer is not impressed by Bill’s actions.
“There are always going to be things that make you mad. A normal person would have reacted quite differently in that situation.”
She draws a line on the whiteboard. She writes ‘not abusive’ at the left of the line, ‘super-abusive’ at the right.
“Where is Bill on this scale?” she asks.
He wants to place himself somewhere in the middle, while one of the other men places him off the scale, to the right of ‘super-abusive’.
“A super-jerk, an asshole,” declares Sara.
Bill does not seem bothered. Sara says that there are a lot of violent men who respect her, and that she can say almost anything to them. There are even some mentally ill abusers, where there is not the slightest hope that the treatment will help, who come to Sara’s group every week.
“So I can at least keep an eye on him.”
In order to be ‘discharged’, a man must have taken part in all the meetings, made a personal safety plan, not been reported to the police again, stopped badmouthing women and – if necessary – be able to communicate with his partner.
As we leave Synergy Services, we see the notice on the front door. ‘The carrying of all types of weapons, including concealed handguns, is strictly forbidden on these premises.’
That’s good to know. It certainly seems the safest bet.
Maternal deaths: 16 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.06
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion. Some states have regulations making certain information to pregnant women mandatory, including the size and appearance of the foetus.
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: one woman in six has been subjected to sexual violence.