The other side of domestic violenceWhat happens to the abusers?
The following article is the sixth in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on domestic violence. Called the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, the series aims to educate our readers while offering information – and hope – to those needing help. –Ed.
Phil Nichols, a retired Snohomish County Sheriff’s sergeant, stood in front of a group at the Everett Police Department’s South Precinct and asked, “How many of you were raised in a home with domestic violence?”
All but a few of the 21 people gathered raised their hands.
By the time Nichols, now a domestic violence counselor, went through a list of common characteristics of those involved in domestic violence – unemployment, drug use, differing religions from a partner or spouse, couples who are living together, blue-collar workers, those with less than a high school diploma, those between the ages of 18-30, low income and alcohol use, etc. – each person had raised a hand at least once, most several times.
The group was made up of mostly men, with a few women. They were at the precinct on Feb. 19 to attend a Domestic Violence Victim Impact Panel as part of their sentencing for being the abuser in a domestic violence crime.
Nichols said despite the factors that might influence someone to commit an act of domestic violence, it is always a choice.
“If you’re OK with accepting accountability and responsibility for your behavior of choice,” Nichols said, “that’s where it begins.”
He works for Evergreen Manor, a treatment facility in Everett, and spoke to the group about ways to change patterns of behavior and take control of their actions.
Nichols brought in a speaker who chose to remain anonymous – who has gone through the Evergreen Manor program.
“I am a perpetrator of domestic violence,” she said.
She was getting high and “getting loaded,” and her behavior was spiraling out of control.
Her family wasn’t doing very well, she said, and soon the teachers at her son’s school got involved.
“He went to school and was crying,” she said, “and the teachers were asking what was wrong.
“He didn’t want to tell them, but they knew there was a domestic violence situation going on at home by his reactions.”
Child Protective Services took her son from her, and placed him with a family member.
“I was not allowed to see him,” she said.
The court ordered her to get clean, and go through a rehab program in order to get her son back.
“I was deemed the perpetrator, because I was being violent,” she said, “and boy was I.”
She was out of control, and thought everyone had wronged her. She began working through a 26-week program at Evergreen Manor.
“When I first started, I couldn’t fathom changing the way I thought,” she said. “I believed what I thought was true, but it turned out that I was wrong.”
Going through the program, she was able to realize that her belief system was wrong, and that every time she reacted a certain way – with violence – she would get a reaction that “was never good.”
She felt like she was always on the short end of the stick, because everyone else was able to keep his or her behavior under control.
Her son is now 15 years old, and he is abusive because of her earlier actions when he was younger, she said.
“He is violent,” she said, pausing. “I’ve raised a domestically violent child.”
He’s the controlling boyfriend type, she said. He’ll take your phone, your keys.
“I’ve learned through the program that I don’t have to react to those actions,” she said, “and that I don’t have to abuse someone because they’ve hurt me.”
Her son will look at her lately and say, “I’m going to do everything I can just to push your buttons.”
She said she struggles, and even still thinks about “putting her hands on him,” and it’s OK to want to do those things, but to act on it is not OK.
She described taking her son somewhere the day of the panel, and the struggle just to get along.
In a tense moment, she didn’t put her hands on him. “Today was a good day,” she said.
“She has an ongoing dynamic situation,” Nelson said, “and I’m pretty impressed with how she’s handling it.”
Officer Craig Bartl of the Marysville Police Department shared this statistic: The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex-male partners during that time was 11,766. That's nearly double the number of casualties lost during war.
He also presented the group with an emotionally chilling 911 call on YouTube called “Lisa’s 911 call,” and explained the legal aspects of domestic violence – who gets arrested and charged in a situation, and the levels of assault.
Lisa Campbell has been the Legal Advocacy Director for Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County for over nine years, and said she has seen a range of reactions from participants.
“Some are very thankful and open to what we are presenting,” she said, “and others aren’t.”
It was a smaller, quieter group on Feb. 19, she said. There was not much audience participation or feedback, and they typically have between 30-45 people in the group.
“We hope that the panel plants a seed so that offenders can take a look at their behavior,” she said, “and realize that there are better ways to resolve their interpersonal conflicts.
“We also hope that they see what a negative impact it has on their children.”
If you or someone you know is involved in a domestic violence situation and needs help, call the free, confidential 24-hour DVS hotline at 425-252-2873. Collect calls are accepted.