I was invited as a guest speaker to The Domestic Violence PACT (Promoting Accountability And Community Ties) Unit at Department of Probation, Bronx, NY. The PACT program works with felony offenders with a history of intimate partner violence within their relationship. The program serves offenders in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan area, while providing safety for the victims and accountability for the abusive partner. I met PO Bertrand at The Upper Manhattan Domestic Violence Services Collaborative conference, where several presenters, myself included, discussed teen relationship abuse.
Mr. Bertrand invited me to present at their weekly meeting stating, “We feel that your presence would be a great contribution to our general population, staff and clientele alike, and will become a constant reminder for the men to continuously challenge the “Male Privilege” supposedly received via socialization.” Changing societies’ view on gender roles is necessary to engage men in the fight to combat relationship violence. I was a bit skeptical about sharing my story with a group of admitted batterers. I was unsure of how they would receive what I had to say from a survivors point of view. Up until that point, most of the conferences that I have participated in the audience consisted of domestic violence service providers or groups of teenagers. I normally use a common outline for most of my presentations but I had to change my format to tell my story to connect with my new audience.
I was shocked by the setup of the PACT program, I imagined it to look like a stale institutional environment with plain walls. To my surprise the entrance reminded me of a college lounge and library area with computers and classrooms. Mr. Bertrand informed me that the PACT Unit was a part of The NYC Department of Probation Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON). Walking through the halls I got a few looks that let me know the program participants were thinking, “Who is this unfamiliar woman”? After meeting the PACT team, I sat in the front row with my back turned as I waited for the group of men to come in and be seated. We started off by showing the clips from my appearance on Katie Couric’s daytime talk show, Katie. While playing the videos, I heard a few gasps from the men, who I assumed were shocked by what they heard.
When the video was over, we were all asked to take 10 second break to reflect on what we just heard. Shortly after the moment of silence, the men were asked to stand as I was introduced and took the floor to share my experience with being in a violent relationship. I have to admit that it was a little uncomfortable at first because I was standing in front of a room of offenders trying to read their body language as I told my story. I did not want anyone to feel like I was accusing them, but I had to speak as if my ex-abuser was in front of me and I was letting him know how I felt. The audience gave me a round of applause then we began our panel discussion.
I received nothing but positive feedback from the guys as well as the staff. I think it was an educational experience for all of us involved. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with a group of admitted batterers that were held accountable for their actions. In our discussion some of them opened up about their experiences battering their significant others, not realizing that intimidation and verbal abuse were the most common. Others shared stories of witnessing abuse in their homes as children and not understanding how they became the abuser.
As the conversation continued, I didn’t look at these men as criminals, but as someone’s father, son, brother, uncle, and husband. It’s unfortunate that they were at the level of rehabilitation and not prevention, but I think their voices needed to be heard. There are several groups that involve men in their initiative to end violence against women like, CONNECT and Men Can Stop Rape, but if we combat intimate partner violence at the education and prevention, but by not including the rehabilitation aspect, we neglect a whole population of people. We always see women involved in raising awareness to violence against women but the movement is missing the face and voice of men. I agree with the PACT program’s initiative and I look forward to participating in their future presentations regarding violence against women.