Helping the attackers

FROM physical violence to years of demeaning mental torture, domestic abuse can come in numerous forms, yet help is at hand to help the attackers change their ways.

CHRIS CORDNER met the team at Harbour who help bring about change.

IT’S emotional work and often reduces grown men to tears when they realise their errors of their violent ways.

Every week, a team at Harbour Support Services in Hartlepool helps dozens of men to stop the abuse which is ruining their lives and that of their families.

Emma Goding, men’s service co-ordinator, has been with Harbour for 10 years and six of those in the men’s programme. She’s seen men who are guilty of violent, emotional and verbal abuse emerge from weeks of treatment as changed people.

On a monthly basis, Harbour gets 50 referrals across an area covering Redcar, Middlesbrough, Stockton and Hartlepool, with 14 of those from Hartlepool.

The team handling the “perpetrators programme” is 11-strong with eight people handling work sessions. There are two day workers and Emma.

Referrals can come from social services, probation or even from the men themselves.

Harbour does realise that it’s not just men who can be the attackers but their funding programme means they can only help male perpetrators at the moment.

Before anyone is accepted onto one of the 27-week programme, they have to go through three suitability assessments.

“We want them to acknowledge that there has been violence or some sort of abusive behaviour,” said Emma.

“Quite often, we get people who will say they have never been physically violent but they have been emotionally abusive, or they have jealousy as an issue.

“It can be things like making threats to a partner or threatening to take away the children, or calling them names.

“For them to be suitable, they have to be willing to attend a course and be willing to change.”

The course which follows lasts for 27-weeks split into three blocks.

“We look at abuse in all its forms,” said Emma. “Some people think that restraint is okay. We also explain what we mean by physical violence. We have to get across that it is not acceptable.”

Men are encouraged to talk about their life experiences, their upbringing and any abuse they may have suffered themselves.

But Emma added: “We always say to people that abuse is a choice they have made and other people will have had the same experiences as them but they were not abusive.

Men are encouraged to do “homework” to show they have learned the lessons of the sessions.

Emma explained: “They might be being criticised at home and instead of over-reacting and throwing their tea against the wall, they take the criticism and calmly explain their point of view afterwards.

“Often, the sessions are emotional especially when subjects such as violence and abuse of children is raised.

Emma said: “It can be quite hard for men to admit they harmed a child and that could have been emotionally as well as physically.”

But Emma is never failed to be moved by the changes which come across the men as the weeks progress.

“They can be quite cold at first. They can be resentful, angry and they don’t want to open up,” she added.

“By the time they get through the programme, they are in a different place.”

But she stresses that 27 weeks of help need not be the end for men who feel they need more support.

“They can always contact us. We are always there for them,” she said.

Harbour has worked with attackers aged from 18 to men in their 70s.

But the biggest barrier for many attackers is making the first step towards changing their ways.

Emma added: “A lot of them think there is a stigma attached to it. It sometimes stops people from coming to us.

“But by coming forward, it is the first step to getting some help regardless of how old you are or where you come from.”

For Emma, job satisfaction comes from “seeing families back as a family again”.

She said: “I love my job. It is always a challenge and it can be quite difficult at times.

“But when you have seen someone who says ‘thank you for listening’ it makes it all worthwhile.”

Emma added: “We get 50 men a month on average but I am certain there are many more perpetrators than that out there.

“My message to them is ‘come forward because there is a service here that can help you. Some people might not come forward because they fear we will look down at them.

“We want to help them and help them to change.”