Statistically speaking, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in America have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. While it is our hope that all survivors escape the cycle of violence, our next best hope is that abusers stop abusing. In addition to supporting victims through providing shelter, advocacy, food, and counseling, GNO helps fund an initiative at YWCA Charleston called the Batterers Intervention/Prevention Program or BIPP. YWCA volunteer Elizabeth Stilwell interviewed BIPP Coordinator, Jackie Harris (pictured below), and shares what she learned about the challenges, and benefits, of this innovative program.
Discussion of domestic abuse is almost always centered around the victim. But there is another side to this issue: what about the abuser? What’s their story, and how can we help them understand the consequences of their actions? The YWCA’s Batterer Intervention/Prevention Program (BIPP) seeks to answer these questions. The goal of the program: ‘To help batterers and perpetrators identify abusive behaviors, recognize the effects of violence on others, accept responsibility for personal behavior and develop healthier relationship skills.’
The YWCA is fortunate to have strong leadership in this endeavor. BIPP’s coordinator, Jacqueline Harris, has first-hand experience. After growing up in a domestic violence situation herself, she frequently served as the go-to person for others who had questions. Jackie realized she could use her knowledge to help a wider group of people. She wishes more people knew about her efforts to “educate the men on how to have a healthy non-violent relationship with their significant other and children.”
Jackie has been working for the YWCA for ten years and has been with BIPP the last four years.
This is a big responsibility, but Jackie’s enthusiasm for what she does is apparent. “I feel like a superwoman,” she grinned. “This is my opportunity to make a difference. Whatever I do will impact [the participants] and their kids in the future.”
There are various batterer intervention programs throughout the country, but the local program, which serves Kanawha, Clay, and Boone counties, was founded by YWCA Charleston in the late 1990s. BIPP is a 32-week rolling program. The majority of participants are referrals from court orders, probation officers, or the Department of Health and Human Resources Child Protective Services. Their attendance is mandatory, often in order to retain child visitation rights.
The challenges facing the BIPP retention rate are numerous. First, there is the $50 one-time orientation fee and $12 fee per class, which men are expected to pay themselves. Some don’t return due to changes in their legal situation. “A lot of them stop coming whenever the court order is over,” Jackie explained, because their attendance is no longer a legal obligation. Others just lose their motivation to attend. Jackie is well aware of these issues. “I have to keep it interesting and keep them refreshed on the positives.”
Some of the men are resistant. Not unlike substance abuse programs, at the first session each participant must introduce himself and explain why he is there. Jackie says that one of her biggest challenges is “presenting the curriculum in a way that the men understand the importance of the message that I am delivering.” She estimates that “early in the program, probably half of them admit they did something wrong. By the end of the program usually everyone can see what they’ve done. Of course [there's always] one or two that never admit they did anything wrong.”
But in general, the men are well-behaved and participate in the class. They are encouraged to make suggestions for their fellow classmates and they respect Jackie. She believes that “the participants are truly impacted because they see me as a strong, independent woman who is teaching them what a woman really wants…which is a healthy, happy relationship with two equal partners.”
Jackie places a heavy emphasis on the importance of communication, not only for her students but for couples in general. Taking time to get to know each other is essential. “The more you talk to a person, the more you can see the red flags they’re raising.”
Classes focus on nonverbal communication as well. The men often don’t realize how even their unconscious movements affect their partners. Factors such as body positioning during an argument can make a big difference if someone feels physically intimidated or their only exit is blocked. Personal space is a powerful thing.
BIPP is only one of the YWCA’s programs aimed at changing relationships. A separate program, called Ending Violence Through Empowerment (EVE), is specifically for female batterers. Jackie used to be an EVE facilitator. She explained that sometimes there is abuse on both sides, or one partner will fabricate stories about the other to win child custody. Many EVE participants have had their children taken from them because of domestic violence at home. They take the program in hopes of regaining custody.
When asked about the single most important thing she hopes her students take away from the class, Jackie took a piece of paper and wrote emphatically:
No More Abuse = Know More A.B.U.S.E. (Know More Alternative Behaviors Used to Safeguard Everyone).
Safeguarding everyone—that’s something we can all get behind.
As an attendee, hostess, donor or sponsor of Girls Night Out, you are supporting victims of domestic violence through funding programs like BIPP. What will your role be?