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Inside The Family Place


Read Part 9 of the Deadly Affection Series in The Dallas Morning News

by Emily Roberts | Oct 21, 2014

‘Men can certainly change’
Father of two says the batterer prevention program alone can’t solve problem of domestic violence, but it provides a good starting point

October 19, 2014
by Diane Jennings
The Dallas Morning News

Joe Colucci admits he was arrogant; egotistical; controlling; unwilling to deal with emotions; and yes, abusive.

But the 52-year-old divorced father of two stresses now that he’s not that man any more. And he doesn’t want his son to be like he was or his daughter to be involved with a person like that.

“I don’t want anybody’s daughter to be with somebody like that,” he says.

So Colucci speaks out about domestic violence, not only during October which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but all year, from a rare perspective — that of a former abuser.

“The message I want to put out there?” he asks. “Men can certainly change. Is it common? I don’t think so. Is it possible? Absolutely. I’m sitting here as an example of that.”

Colucci says he changed after twice going through a Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) at Hope’s Door, a Collin County shelter.

Treatment for batterers began in the 1970s. An estimated 1,500 to 2,500 BIPP classes are held across the country, according to a 2009 report by the Family Violence Prevention Fund and the National Institute of Justice. Most clients are ordered to attend by a judge. Colucci, however, enrolled at the request of his then-fiancée.

Experts are divided on whether BIPP works because success is difficult to define and data hard to come by.

But Colucci says while BIPP alone can’t solve the problem of domestic violence, it provides a good starting point if someone wants to stop being abusive.

“I finally realized I did need to change,” he says, his voice hitching with emotion. “You just get to a certain point where you gotta say, ‘You know what? It’s not everybody else. It’s me. And I’ve got to do something different.’”

Recognizing abuse

One of the biggest concepts BIPP attempts to teach during the 24 week course is to recognize abuse. Many men don’t see their behavior as abusive.

“I know the gravity of the issues,” says Crystal, a BIPP facilitator who asked her last name not be used for safety reasons. For instance, since The Dallas Morning News began tracking domestic violence fatalities at the beginning of the year through the “Deadly Affection” series, 30 people have been killed in North Texas by someone close to them. Dallas was recently rated the deadliest county in the state for women by the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Most of Crystal’s clients, “can see on the news somebody killed their wife and separate it from them. That’s the hardest part to get them to see ‘You are in this category. You are in the situation. This can be you ... You may not be the person killing his partner yet — how do you think this person got here? How are you different?’”

The first time Colucci’s ex-partner confronted him about being an abuser, he was furious. “I was like, ‘You are out of your mind,’” he recalls. “‘There’s no way.’”

Though he never blackened an eye or broke any bones and was never arrested, he now recognizes his swearing, shoving, throwing objects and kicking down doors was abusive.

“I terrorized her,” he says.

Domestic violence counselors warn not to underestimate the impact of verbal and emotional abuse. Domestic violence generally starts with lower-level abuse before escalating to physical violence.

At a recent BIPP class for parolees, Crystal asked men in the class to list the names they call their partners when angry.

For a few minutes the half dozen or so clients grinned and chuckled in a game of one-upmanship.

“Bitch.” “Slut.” Whore.”

“That’s what you say to someone you love?” she asked quietly.

The men fidgeted a little uncomfortably in their chairs. The idea that name calling was a form of violence was obviously a new and difficult concept to grasp.

For many victims, emotional and verbal abuse is more painful than physical abuse, said David Almager, BIPP Program Director at The Family Place, a Dallas shelter. Bruises fade and bones heal, but psychological damage plays over and over in the victim’s mind. After long periods of repeated degradation, victims lose their self esteem and believe what the abuser is telling them, making it difficult to leave.

Colucci remembers sitting in class with a professional boxer who described the physical violence he inflicted on his partner.

“When he told us what he did, I was like…’I’m not like that.’ But you know what? When you think about it, I was just as bad as he was because the stuff that I did was emotionally scarring.”

Power, control and choice

At BIPP meetings for female batterers at Hope’s Door, the handful of clients repeat aloud: “I cannot control another person. I can only control myself.”

The facilitator opens each meeting with the same statement to reinforce the fact that domestic violence is not about anger, it’s about power and control.

Colucci says he was a “control freak” who used intimidation to get his way.

For example, one night his partner wanted to discuss something and he didn’t. “So instead of saying, ‘hey, I don’t want to talk about this anymore,’ I jumped out of bed, grabbed the post … [and] swung the post and smashed it against the bed frame,” Colucci says. “That’s how I decided to end the conversation.”

BIPP facilitators use various exercises to show clients that violence is a choice. Almager often asks clients if they ever slap their boss after they receive negative feedback at work.

They don’t. Neither do they punch the police officer who stops them for speeding.

But if their wife or partner says or does something they dislike at home, they choose to react violently.

“Violence is always a choice,” Colucci says. “To me that’s the bottom line of it. It’s not that ‘she pushed my buttons,’ it’s that I chose to become violent at that moment because I was feeling stressed or frustrated or whatever.”

They don’t. Neither do they punch the police officer who stops them for speeding.

But if their wife or partner says or does something they dislike at home, they choose to react violently.

“Violence is always a choice,” Colucci says. “To me that’s the bottom line of it. It’s not that ‘she pushed my buttons,’ it’s that I chose to become violent at that moment because I was feeling stressed or frustrated or whatever.”

Domestic violence will persist, Colucci says, “if men don’t take the lead and start bringing it up, and talking about it, and calling other men on it.”

His willingness to speak out is unusual, says Vinson-O’Neal, who has since left Hope’s Door. “There are a lot of men who may have made that same turnaround,” but they don’t speak up because they fear being ostracized professionally or socially.

Colucci, who is self-employed. says he doesn’t worry about what others think. He wants to see domestic violence reduced, and is willing to do whatever he can to help. “And if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day and say ‘I’m OK. I’ve done what I can’.”

He’s been disappointed in one of his efforts to help start a support group called A Better Way that meets at Hope’s Door. The group is designed to provide “after care” for men who have finished BIPP but still need to talk about situations they encounter.

Unfortunately, A Better Way is “in a holding pattern,” Colucci says ruefully. “Because I can’t get guys to show up.”

Batterer Intervention and Prevention Programs

What they are: Classes for people who struggle with domestic violence

What they do: Hold clients accountable for abusive behavior and teach them the basics of leading a nonviolent life.

Who attends: Most clients are ordered to attend by the court; individuals may self refer

How long they last: 90 minutes a week; most classes in North Texas are 24 weeks

How much they cost: About $25 a session.

Read the full article at DallasNews.com.

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