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Increase in number of younger men joining programmes set up to help change abusive behaviour

The Mend programme is 32 weeks long and mainly involves group sessions with other men.

Image: Shutterstock

MORE YOUNGER MEN have started to join programmes set up to help abusive partners change their behaviour.

There are currently 150 active clients on the Men’s Development Network service ‘Mend’, which has seven domestic violence intervention programmes across the country.

The network is a non-profit organisation focused on promoting equality in society under the mission statement ‘Better lives for men; better lives for all’.

It provides a number of programmes and support services for men, ranging from parenting development to phone line support and awareness raising. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie about the programme, CEO Sean Cooke said participants come into the programme through a number of avenues – sometimes they self-refer, or they could be referred through probation or a Tusla social worker. 

“There are a range of reasons, some people refer through anger management. It’s not an anger-management course but it addresses some of the issues around managing it,” he explained. 

Participants are initially assessed to ensure it is appropriate to include them in the programme.

“Some people may not be appropriate for it, for some people it’s not about trying to change their behaviour, it’s just about fulfilling a brief so they can get access to their kids, for example,” Cooke said.

After this, they go through one-on-ones with a trained counsellor, preparing them to go to the group sessions.

The group sessions are rolling modules on topics like gender, anger and relationships with partners. The total programme, which is run by both male and female facilitators, is 32 weeks long and around 20 weeks are usually spent in group sessions with other men.

“In terms of participants I think it’s incredibly diverse,” Cooke said.

What’s interesting is the biggest trend is they’re a bit younger coming into the programme now. The age group overall has been 25 to 50 and there has been a greater trend to the lower end of that, say 25 to 35. Before that it was a bit higher.

He said there has been a “cultural swing” around domestic abuse and younger generations are willing to confront it.

“I think that trend is down to a general awareness, people are not letting it continue,” he said.

“There are more opportunities for women to step out of something and say they’re not taking it anymore, and just socially it’s not acceptable. Domestic abuse used to be seen as something very private, people don’t really see it as ‘nothing to do with us’ anymore.”

Male victims of abuse

Cooke said the broadening of the definition of domestic abuse to include psychological abuse and coercive control have made it more acceptable for men who are themselves victims of abuse to come forward.

It has allowed people to engage with it more proactively and to name what’s happening to them. We have people ringing the advice line asking ‘Am I being abused? This is happening to me, is this domestic abuse?’.

The helpline has been operating for 36 hours a week since May this year, with trained psychologists and counsellors on the phones.

By the end of the year the network expects to have received around 600 calls.

We get a number of mothers and sisters ringing up asking how they bring it up with them or where they can do for help. We ask them if they can get their son to call us rather than giving advice to their parents on how to address it because they are coming at it from their own perspective. The person themselves may not see things that way.

Cooke said a lot of the men who call initially want to talk about something practical, like access to their children and they may call a number of times asking the same question.

“We’re not legal experts or housing experts, we ask them how they’re feeling and try to bring it back to that. Sometimes they’ll come back and say ‘You didn’t answer my question yesterday but I felt better when I came off the phone’. That’s the impact we want to make.”

Cooke said those who are running the phone line are also aware that they could be speaking with people who are the abusive people in the relationship.

“Research by Respect UK found 38% of calls to male advice lines were made by men who were potentially perpetrators,” he said. 

“I think it happens across the board. There are women ringing advice lines too who could be perpetrators. When they call we take them at face value and work with them a as victim, there’s a series of questions we go thorough informally and they help red flag a potential situation.

“The counsellor will have an indication of whether they’re a victim, a perpetrator or someone who is involved in a mutually violent relationship.

Cooke said calltakers would never confront the caller in this situation, but compiling this information will be useful for identifying trends. 

For counsellors and psychotherapists on the phones, this is also the stuff they need to be aware of in terms of the questions they ask. They might find out if there are children at home and then if there’s a safeguarding issue we would need to address that,” he said.

“It can be difficult because the calls are anonymous but we warn people at the top of the call that we will pass on details if there are child safeguarding concerns.”

‘Not all men’

Cooke said it can be a challenge for the organisation when it comes up against accusations that it is pinning the blame for all of the violence in society on men.

“If you believe in gender equality then you’re a feminist. That’s the place where we put ourselves. There are aspects of gender inequality that impact on men and that in turn has an impact on women,” he explained.

Our mission statement is ‘Better lives for men, better lives for all’ – we want to create a space where men are not themselves caught within the patriarchy by expectations imposed on them like being stoic, being the provider, being non-emotional, a violent person, not in a caring role.

Cooke said the network, as a men’s development organisation, recognises it needs to take a non-adversarial approach.

But we’re not a men’s rights organisation,” he added. “Clearly there are men’s rights issues, the family courts can be a nightmare and people do feel there are real gender equality issues there.

“The courts are not making enough attempts to work with men and this is another example of men being impacted by the patriarchy – the courts still operate as if men shouldn’t be in this role.

The problem with some men’s rights groups is that they blame the women for this, we say it’s the patriarchy, it’s the system that’s in place. That system has been historically imposed by men, ironically.

Education

The network has, as part of the White Ribbon Campaign, been visiting secondary schools to discuss issues such as consent, sexual harassment, healthy relationships and gender with students.

Cooke said the network hopes to develop a programme for primary schools over the next year.

“It can be hard to get into schools because there are different groups dragging out of them and they have a set curriculum to get through, so we want to have more of a conversation about how we can embed this education into the core curriculum,” he said.

“And that should start from as young as six, talking to children about healthy relationships with their friend or their mammy or daddy and then at 13 talking about relationships with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“We need to think carefully now about how we can integrate this into the school system.”

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