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Domestic abuse work is helping men change and making women safer (1/2)

BLOGS | 16th December 2020

As part of the Talking Justice blog series Caledonian National Coordinator Rory Macrae talks about the work of the internationally-recognised system helping change abusive behaviour

We believe that men who abuse women partners have the ability to change and we get immense satisfaction when this happens. But even if they’re not ready to make changes, our work can still help make women safer.

I started working with perpetrators 30 years ago and was involved with designing and implementing the Caledonian System around 10 years ago. It’s an integrated response to domestic abuse working to change men’s behaviour but also offering separate support to women and children.

Men who have committed domestic abuse are referred to the programme either as part of a Community Payback Order or as a supervision requirement when released from prison.

The work is based on evidence and the practice manuals were scrutinised by a very robust accreditation process. I am proud that it is now internationally recognised as a gold standard model.

Research has shown that men who have completed the programme are judged to be lower risk to partners and children. And women who have taken up the service have reported that it made them feel safer.

It is implemented in 19 out of 32 local authorities across Scotland covering 75 per cent of the population and we hope it will eventually be available to all local authorities across the whole of the country.

There are three of us in the Caledonian central team and earlier this year we joined Community Justice Scotland.

Although we’ve previously worked directly with men who have abused partners, the bulk of our work now involves support, oversight and training staff in local authorities to carry out this work.

People tend to think of the Caledonian as a men’s behaviour change programme, and although it’s the man who comes through the door first it’s important to stress the women’s and children’s services are just as important.

Even if a man’s behaviour doesn’t change we believe his partner’s safety can be increased if he’s involved in the programme and she has access to the women’s service.

Some men we work with will not be ready to make changes. But working with a man means we can learn more about the risk he represents. This helps the risk management process and his partner is supported and where necessary given advocacy help. She will be empowered by that involvement to make her own choices and to keep herself as safe as she can even if the man doesn’t change.

It’s a gendered approach and deals only with men who are abusive to female partners in heterosexual relationships.

Clearly women can be violent too – but the reasons for the violence may be very different and the proportion going through the courts is very small.

Our society has traditionally organised itself in a way that gives a disproportionate amount of power to men – even if individual men we work with may sometimes feel powerless.

The attitudes we’re brought up with as men and women impact the way we behave.

We help men understand why they have ended up hurting the women they love. We invite them to think about their behaviour in terms of the expectations they have of their partner and children and also the expectations they feel are placed on them as men.

In our experience perpetrators are very often unhappy on some level with what they’re doing even if they are consciously using abuse to exert control over their partners. We invite men to consider whether in behaving abusively they are being the men they want to be. We are clear that they are responsible for their own choices and they are the ones who need to change.  Domestic abuse is still prevalent but there has been a huge change of attitude over the years in how the justice system deals with it.

In previous decades it was seen as private behaviour that went on behind closed doors. Now the police and the courts take it much more seriously and it’s rightly seen as a serious justice issue.

All those years ago sending an abuser to prison was probably the best the system had to offer in that it would have provided short-term respite to victims.

But now it’s recognised that sending a man who is behaving abusively, often because of misogynist views, to a prison full of men is very unlikely to promote positive change or rehabilitation.

If we want to change behaviour so we have fewer women being abused by their partners then it’s about smart justice and we believe the Caledonian system is the best way of achieving that.

Our Talking Justice blog series brings together reflections from across our society. We are committed to changing the conversation about justice, increasing understanding and support for what will make Scotland better for all of us. To that end, we have have created a resource that maps out the Scottish justice system. This has been developed into an interactive digital tool: Navigating Scotland’s Justice System.