DOMESTIC IN PROGRESS

Editor's Note: This is the third installment of a four part series on domestic violence in Rogers County. The name of the individual involved has been changed to protect his identity.

He didn't know how to walk away.

James said that before he went through the intensive counseling program meant for perpetrators of domestic violence, he didn't know how to walk away from an emotionally-charged situation.

He was charged with a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence and found himself enrolled in the intensive 52-week batterers intervention program through Safenet Services, called "CHANGES."

The program, and the name itself, stands for commitment, honesty, accountability, nonviolence, growth, equality and safety.

"When I first found out I was going to do the class, I asked around and a lot of people acted like it was the worst thing ever," James said. "You go in you tell them about your experience the first day…and everybody made me feel so comfortable. All that worry went away."

When asked about the road that led him there, James said, "In my experience, my situation, I have a hard time walking away from things. If someone was to come at me in a bad way, I'd have a hard time walking away from it."

Not wanting to re-hash details, he reiterated, "It was just about control."

"I'm a product of my environment, the way I grew up. I'm always on defense, trying to defend myself. If I feel like someone's going to hurt me, or something like that, I'd react," he said. "I got into a situation where I didn't walk away. I let somebody push me and I should have done better. I'm not blaming the other person, it's my fault. What I learned in this class is that I can only control me, I can't control everybody else."

But, he said, this program helped him with all that.

"Through this class I learned how to try to walk away better. I've been in situations since that I did walk away. It made me feel better knowing I could because in those other times, I wouldn't have."

James said he made it through all 52-weeks without missing a single class.

"I knew guys that had been in there three or four times because they'd been kicked out .If you miss too many or get in any trouble you have to start all over," he said. "But I did it because I wanted the help, I wanted to get better. I have kids and what am I showing them by going to jail and getting in trouble. I don't want them seeing me like that. I want them to see a better me. It was my bad that got me here but I hope it's my good that makes it better."

When asked what he learned about domestic violence during this program, James said, "Domestic violence is trying to control a situation, trying to control somebody. Sometimes you feel like maybe that person is trying to control you so you try to get control back. But like I learned, I can't control anyone else, I can only control myself. No matter what anybody else does or says it shouldn't matter."

James said he often thinks about the person that was on the other end of his offense.

"I think about it a lot. It doesn't go away just because I'm out of the class. I think about it all the time," he said, quickly moving on.

"Domestic violence can happen to anyone. You can see couples and think they're perfect but you never know. Once you let anger get the best of you, you never know—it could happen to anyone," he said. "When someone pushes your buttons again and again and again it takes a strong person to walk away."

Now that he has graduated the program. James said he wants his children to see better from him, to do better than he did.

"I hope to teach them to keep their hands to themselves and control their anger. It's not worth it to be that way. You have to be a better person," he said. "I grew up basically homeless, around drugs, anger and fighting, all that stuff. My kids never had to. My kids are the opposite of me. Their attitudes and the direction they go are a lot better than I would have done. I let my anger get the best of me at times, and my kids don't."

He said looking at his life now, the outlook is brighter.

"I know things will be different. I don't walk around with that weight on my shoulder, that chip on my shoulder anymore," he said. "I'm going to do way better than I ever did, because my kids are looking at me. I want them to see me being better."

Batterers Intervention in Claremore

Safenet Services Director Donna Grabow said they’ve offered a Batterers Intervention Program since 1995. Now, the program is going strong with four classes per week.

Grabow said a total of 80 individuals went through the program in 2016, 79 in 2017, 76 in 2018 and 91 in 2019.

“We cover everything from power and control, the cycle of violence, how society views domestic violence, how men view it and how women view it, the effects of domestic violence on children. We can spend three weeks on that last one, easily,” said program counselor Lucy. “But if the guys come in with a problem they need to talk about, that’s what we talk about.”

She said, “If they can learn how to walk away from a violent situation, I’m thrilled. Acknowledging that it’s not everybody else’s’ fault.”

She said it’s usually about the fourth month mark before participants realize they have to undergo change.

“Until then it’s blame, blame, blame. It usually takes about four months and they realize they have to change themselves,” said Lucy.

She said the program used to only be a six week program, but the recidivism rate was high.

“Their attitude coming- they are mostly angry and upset about being there. They, of course, say the police have lied,” Lucy said. “Then they get more passive. But somewhere along the line it really kicks in, for the majority of them.”

She said there are always those who are there to bide their time and have no interest in recovery.

“Everybody thinks that the men are awful, and they’re not. They’re just like your brother, your dad, your husband. They present really good in public but go home and are a different person,” she said. “For the most part they’re decent men, but they’re raised and see it and don’t know how to handle disagreements or conflicting thinking. He thinks he’s the head of the house and wants things to be his way, he wants everyone to think the way they do. But they’re not all horrible, horrible men.”

She said every situation is different.

“Sometimes it’s because they grew up around violence. Sometimes they get out of a relationship and never abuse again, sometimes they abuse everyone they’re with,” she said. “Sometimes it’s drug or alcohol related. Sometimes marriage counseling will help. Everyone is different.” If there’s one thing the majority of the men have in common, Lucy said, it’s control.

How Oklahoma came to require batterers intervention programs

A bill authored in 2019, Senate Bill 1102, by Rep. Rob Standridge authorized district attorneys to refer anyone accused of domestic abuse or assault to a deferred prosecution program.

"This would require the accused to attend a batterers' intervention program certified by the Attorney General or other certified treatment program as currently required for defendants with suspended or deferred sentences for the same or similar offenses," said Standridge. "The accused would be required to participate in the counseling or treatment for a minimum of 90 days and could not reside with or be in contact with the victim or his or her family."

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