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A Special Report on Men and Rage
Domestic Violence treatment in the U. S.  What works, what doesn't and the politics that controls treatment decisions.

Esquire September 2000

Some stew in silence, some spit their fury onto the floor. Some scream at her, some threaten. This year, nearly two million men will boil over and smack her, and many of
those men will be ordered to undergo treatment. The problem is, the dominant treatment model—mired in feminist orthodoxy—doesn’t work.


Have you ever loved a woman? So much you tremble in pain?

Yeah—me, too.

But that’s the blues talking, bro—Layla, disc two, cut three. That’s poetry.

Real life is this: You’re laying down—for the last time, goddammit—some forcefully hushed nonsense that passes at the moment for the Law, which has been violated, and it
was a small thing, maybe, but now as the two of you go back and forth, it isn’t small at all, it’s big, big enough to swallow you, both of you, puffing red with hate, awaiting the
next opening, the right spot to sink the fangs in again, only deeper.

And sometimes, in real life, the love, the trembling, and especially the pain can get a little out of hand, you know? Sometimes it doesn’t end with words. Sometimes it ends
with a smack. Sometimes it ends on the floor with somebody’s hands around somebody’s throat. Sometimes it even ends in the hospital or morgue.
Have you ever hit a woman? Gosh, no. What sort of nasty prick do you think I take you for? Me neither.

But have you ever picked up a chair and smashed it against the floor so hard it broke? Yelled at her for not having dinner ready? Thrown a plate of food against the wall?
Punched a hole in the door? Shouted threats at the top of your lungs? Called her names that you’d kill anyone else for calling her? And blamed her for the whole goddamn

Yeah—me, too.

Not that this story is about me. Or you.

This story is about those other guys, the men who batter women, who go too far. This story is about fixing those men—the abusers. Not us.

For us, two imperfect souls tangle, bump, and bruise. And our love? Our love abides.

But that’s poetry, bro.

Real life is this: Men explode.

Vic is in the last two months of the forty-eight-week batterer-intervention program he was sent to as a condition of his probation. This is not one of those trendy
anger-management "workshops" in which the rapper or jock defended by his pricey lawyer battalion spends a few hours in a high school cafeteria learning new ways to
count to ten. This is forty-eight weeks minimum, and it kicks off with eight two-hour intake sessions in which you’re confronted with your crimes and given the ground rules.

You will not be absent without a documented excuse. You will not yell, rise to your feet in anger, or otherwise disrupt the group. You will not refer to your victim as "my wife"
or "my girlfriend" or "the mother of my kids"; you will call her only by her given name. You will not engage in any form of couples counseling, because that would imply that
she shares the blame for the abuse and because you might use anything she says in couples counseling as an excuse to beat her again. Your partner will be phoned by

the program to make sure that you are living up to the agreement that you’ve been required to sign, promising that you will use no verbal or mental abuse, no name-calling or
intimidation. If you deny or minimize your abuse, the group leaders will confront you, in group, with the details from the arrest report or the complaint filed by your wife. If you
continue to insist that you didn’t do it or that it really wasn’t that bad or that the booze, the job, or the woman you have battered is to blame, then you will be sent back to
stand before the judge for sentencing.

If you make it through intake—of the nine men Vic enters the program with, only four make it—you have forty weeks to go. If the group leaders feel
you have not made sufficient progress, you may be required to start over. Their task is not merely to protect your victim and stop your violence; you are here to be
resocialized. They want to break down your belief system and rebuild it in the right way.

Vic is doing well in the program, although he’s not quite sure even now, with eight weeks left, that he has ever owned an actual belief system or owns one at present, or
what his belief system might consist of beyond wishing to be a better husband and hoping that the single night he spent in jail will be his last.

Vic is lanky and moonfaced, with liquid, bovine eyes and a shy grin. (Vic’s name and identifying details have been changed, as have those of the others who spoke with me
about their abusive relationships.) He wears khakis, a blue shirt, and bucks. He is the youngest officer of a small tech-sector start-up. He is not rich yet, but he has equity.

"Small equity," he adds softly. "It’s enough that if this company becomes ultimately successful—and I believe it will—there’s no reason why my family will not be millionaires."

Growing up, he was a prairie geek, a kid lost in the dead space a half mile outside a town of seven thousand people, with a paper route that ran fifty miles. He began fiddling
with computers in high school, and before long his teachers noticed that he was smarter than everyone else around him. When the school
office received a flyer from a fancy-pants New England prep school, one of those places that prepares Bush kids for Bushhood, offering a summer program for gifted
students, Vic’s guidance counselor told him about it and Vic went home and told his parents, neither of whom had gone past the twelfth grade.

Although his mom was skeptical, the ride was free, and so Vic went east. He came home to finish high school, smoked the SATs, married Jackie, his longtime
sweetheart—by then they had a son—and returned east to attend an Ivy League college.

They were in over their heads, raising a kid, living in a cramped campus apartment in the middle of a real city thousands of miles from home, scratching to buy food. Vic,
working part-time after classes so Jackie could stay home with the boy, sank into fatigue, into silence, into sullen, enraged defeat.

He exploded for the first time in 1993.

"I remember coming back from class," he says now, sitting on a sofa in his living room, his legs crossed at the ankles, staring off to the side. "I don’t remember a whole lot. I
know that the program frowns on this—‘You prefer not to remember.’ They frown on the fact that you say, ‘Oh, I don’t remember.’ It’s significant." He sighs. "It’s not that I
don’t take responsibility. It’s terrible, the things that I did."

What happened, that first time?

"One of the things that bothered me was the fact that it seemed like I was working my ass off and I’d come home and, you know, she was at home. Coming home at
lunchtime and being upset about something. I started yelling at her. I’ve never been one to do any serious name-calling, but I was complaining about something—Why can’t
you do this? Why hasn’t this been done?—I don’t even know what it was. I made a big deal out of it. I was screaming. I threw the glass that I was drinking out of against the
wall. We continued to argue, and I was screaming at her. We went back and forth. We were eating burritos, and I threw the food at her. At her. She started crying—the food
was hot. It hit her. She had some on her chest and on her neck and maybe on her face, too, I think. It was hot. It burned her.

"That wasn’t enough for me, I guess, because I went around and I had her on the floor and I had my hands on her throat. I remember being over her. I remember my hands
around her throat. I was choking her, screaming at her. And then I remember leaving."

His hands are clasped on his thigh. His smile is calm and polite. The words he speaks do not tumble out: His voice is steady and low, a drone in dead air. It is as if he is
benumbed by it still, talking to himself. Eight years together with Jackie, nothing like this had ever happened. Nothing close to this.

Then Vic left, hopped on his bicycle and rode to the computer lab. A neighbor had phoned the campus police during the fight, and within an hour Vic got an e-mail from a
college dean about the incident. After a few hours at the lab, he went home.

He spoke to the dean, who was very understanding and referred him to a faculty member, a psychiatrist. Vic met with him twice.
"I’d sit there, he’d ask me something, and I’d talk. One time this guy went to sleep—I’m sure of it."

Vic chuckles.

"I was like, Okay, doc, fix me. This is your job—you need to fix me."

Men are men: Much is beyond fixing. We’re gonna scratch our nuts, fart freely, drive fast—and many of us, helplessly bobbing in tides of biology and culture, habitually turn
to aggression to cope with our anger and frustration. You know the drill: Men won’t talk; men fear intimacy; as boys, we’re taught to use our fists to speak the feelings in our
hearts. But maybe, just maybe—for our own sakes, for the safety of our families, and for the advancement of a more just and egalitarian society—even the most explosive
among us can be caught and punished, taught and trained, conditioned not to explode. Maybe we can be fixed.

Of course, fixing a man, tearing down and rebuilding his belief system, takes considerable time and effort, and group leaders like Vic’s need to slice through your initial
baloney—I don’t really need to be here; I’ve only hit her a couple of times—as quickly as possible. You are here because of what you did. You chose to abuse. Whatever
she did or said is immaterial. And don’t say that you just lost control. You exploded, yes, but you did not just lose control.

You did not choke the boss who rides you like a  mule. You did not take a swing at the jerk on the next barstool. You controlled yourself just fine with them.

The group leaders need to get to know you better, but they don’t want to hear about your money problems or your lousy job or your bastard father’s temper or your feelings
of shame and powerlessness. This is not therapy. They need to get to know you better because you need to know yourself better as a man—a powerful and controlling
man, a dominant and abusive man.

They have a few questions for you:

Do you criticize your wife? How often? Her appearance? Her desirability? Her competence as a mother? Her friends and family? Do you expect her to cook for you, to clean
the house and wash your clothes? Do you tell her what to wear? Where to go? Whom to go with? Do you yell? Call her names? Mock her? Give her the silent treatment? Do
you give her an allowance? Does she have knowledge of the family finances? Who makes the decisions in your home?

They do not ask if you have ever loved a woman so much you tremble in pain. That’s poetry, bro—there is no poetry inside this room.

Inside this room, relentless confrontation is based on a single tenet of faith: that all men—all men, not merely those who have assaulted their partners—exist along a
continuum of violent and controlling behavior. This is the credo of the "profeminist model" of batterer intervention, which is so entrenched that more than twenty states
forbid any other form of treatment for abusive men. It’s this room or a jail cell.

The profeminist model’s most visible and vocal proponent is, of course, a man, David Adams. In 1977, Adams cofounded Emerge, the first program in the U. S. to offer
group counseling to men who batter. He is a quiet academic type, a youngish, lanky, mustachioed psychologist with a weathered, battle-weary look in his eyes and a voice
detached from passion.

"My father was abusive," Adams says. "He was violent toward my mother and toward us four kids. My mother died as a result. Not directly—she died of heart failure—but she
was very overweight, and that was very much related to the fact that she was battered. Also, she had chest pains, and my father basically said, I’m not taking you to the
doctor—so he was denying her medical attention. She died at age forty-three; Emerge was formed not long after that. So it was wishing not only that there had been help
available for my mother but for my father as well.

"I’ve had other jobs from time to time, working in mental-health agencies. It always bores me, because it’s not connected to a social issue. That’s what I like about this work:
It’s a social problem. It’s dealing with an issue that has relevance to everybody. What’s more relevant than helping men and women to relate to each other?"
Indeed. The profeminist perspective sees relevance, not rage, in Everyman’s every whiskered act. Cursing, glaring, slapping, choking, throwing plates and punching walls,
yelling, even sulking: These are the hammers we’ve learned to use on women when they won’t submit to us. For David Adams, our private behavior with our intimate
partners is the social problem. And domestic violence is the logical and natural result of—it is, at root, caused by—a culture of patriarchal oppression that keeps men in
power by subjugating women.

Domestic violence, says Adams, has nothing to do with getting pissed off or losing control and very little to do with actual physical violence.
"Battering isn’t about fighting—99 percent of battering has nothing to do with fighting; it’s simply day-to-day controlling behaviors that don’t involve getting angry at all.
Battering isn’t irrational or emotional behavior—it’s power and control. It’s purposeful. It’s a skill. What makes somebody a batterer is a mind-set more than a set of behaviors."

Changing a man’s behavior is tough; changing his mind, even under the duress of court-mandated confrontation, is slow and brutal work.

"The trick is getting them to complete the program," Adams says. "We send half of them back to court. Some judges just do not understand the requirement that men take
responsibility for their violence. They don’t understand—they say, They’re showing up, they’re participating, what’s the problem? These programs aren’t working."
The courts are precisely correct: Batterer-intervention programs aren’t working. They’re failing. The most optimistic large-scale study to date of intervention outcomes found
that half the men who begin these programs don’t complete them, and 30 percent of those who finish treatment assault their partners again, as opposed to 40 percent of
the dropouts—which suggests that actually attending these programs makes very little difference at all. And these national results are positively golden compared with
those of Emerge, where, Adams has said, nearly three fourths of the graduates continue to physically abuse their partners.
This dismal record is business as usual to David Adams.

"It’s a given to me that I can’t change batterers," he sighs. "All I can do is provide information—the rest is up to them."
It’s tough to topple the Patriarchy man by hapless man. The profeminists’ failure may be proof—it certainly is to Adams—that a man needs more than forty-eight weeks of
confrontation and a misdemeanor rap to get his mind right.

Or maybe there are better ways to fix a broken love.

The second time Vic explodes comes late in 1998. He and Jackie tried couples counseling in ’94, but after the second session, Vic knew the marriage was over, and he told
her so.

I can’t do this. I just don’t think there’s anything we can do at this point to make it better. I just don’t think it’s going to work.

And Jackie listened—it was more words than she was used to hearing from Vic in an entire week—and gave him her answer.
I’m pregnant.

They talked about it and agreed that it would be unfair to bring another child into a failed marriage, and Jackie made an appointment for an abortion. But something about the
talking, about reaching an agreement together, felt good—and when Jackie’s abortion date rolled around, she didn’t go to the clinic.

"Our relationship got a lot better," Vic says. "I don’t know what it was. We started talking more. We got a lot closer. When Grace was born, it was kind of like all roses again,
almost. We were back on track."

They were back on track. But as Vic devoted more time and effort to his family, he began failing classes, and after a few semesters of that, the dean called him in and
suggested that perhaps Vic’s plate was too full. Perhaps Vic should take some time off. Or perhaps Vic should rematriculate at some other, less demanding institution.
"They tossed me. I took it hard; Jackie took it hard. It was the whole reason we came here. I felt very down."

Vic began doing a little consulting, working at home, while Jackie signed up for some classes and took a full-time job. She left home at 6:30 a.m. and often
didn’t get back until 11:00 p.m. Vic dressed the kids, fed them, and put them to bed. Every day was a dirge: no degree, no real job, nothing to say, and no one to say it to
anyway. Vic stopped eating and sleeping and saying anything at all to Jackie, and on weekends she watched the kids playing around in the living room while Vic sat dead to
the world, staring at the TV.

Get on with your life, she’d say, but Vic couldn’t.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself, she’d say, but Vic couldn’t.

Talk to me, she’d say, but Vic wouldn’t.

"I was just showing absolutely no emotion, no happiness, no sadness. One day she said, I’m sick of this—why won’t you talk to me? I wouldn’t talk. She just started hitting
me. Talk to me. And I wouldn’t talk. She was hitting me in the stomach. Talk to me. Then she slapped me. She was gonna beat it out of me. Twenty, thirty minutes—I didn’t
do anything. I just let her hit me. I didn’t say anything."

Jackie kept hitting him until Vic stood up from the sofa, gripped her head in his hands, wrenched her down into a hard side headlock, and held her there until her arms
stopped flailing.

"That pretty much ended things. After that, she was like, I can’t do this anymore—you’ve got to get help. I don’t remember. Nothing was really said after that."

Do women explode, too? Do women sometimes feel so blinded by rage at the men they love that they seek to seize power—or just to vent their spleen—by belting them in
the stomach for half an hour?

Sure they do. Twenty-fve years of research proves they do. The first National Family Violence Survey, in 1975, found that women are every bit as likely to assault their male
partners as vice versa; in 1985, the same survey showed women assaulting their male partners a bit more frequently. More recent studies have demonstrated similar gender
symmetry; in one study, more than 70 percent of the women interviewed said they had initiated the physical violence in their marriages, that they had struck the first blow.

But such data only stands alone, as factoids subject to various, often controversial interpretations. And because the study of domestic violence—like all human endeavors,
sometimes even marriage—has become a tug of war over power, control, and money, paying too much heed to such data can kill your reputation and your chances for
funding. If you dare to draw the wrong conclusions—that, say, women are not always or in every case the victims of abuse or that all men are not merely cogs in the machine
of patriarchy—the profeminists will trash your methodology and your motives.

Research on the gender symmetry of domestic violence is both fascinating and potentially illuminating—and for twenty-five years, it has done nothing but fracture and
paralyze the field. Sociologists, psychologists, victim advocates, social workers, and gender politicians have spent decades abusing one another and spatting about the
existence of battered men, the relative lethality of men’s and women’s violence, and the flaws of something called the Conflict Tactics Scale.
The data, meanwhile, may be trying to tell us something vital: There may be more than one kind of abuser. There may be at least two distinct types of domestic violence: one
that fits the popular image of a chronic, vicious wife-beater whose assaults reinforce his verbal and psychological abuse and function to maintain control of his partner, and
another type that reflects Vic’s behavior—and Jackie’s.

One doughty Penn State sociologist, Mike Johnson, has begun to connect the dots. He calls these two types "intimate terrorism" and "common couples violence," and his
work thus far in delineating their differences is stunning. In common couples violence, men and women erupt in nearly equal proportions, and their physical abuse is not
part of a web of controlling behaviors by a dominant partner—it is a momentary boiling over, an explosion of rage. Compared with the violence of intimate terrorism, the
abuse in common couples violence is generally far less severe, simmers down far more quickly, and recurs far less often—even in the absence of any sort of intervention.

What makes Johnson’s research so stunning—what makes it crucial to refining batterer intervention and essential to our understanding of domestic violence in America—is
that the whole foundation of the profeminist programs and our culture’s entire image of domestic violence are predicated solely on the behavior and the visage of the
intimate terrorist, who some surveys have shown represents 10 percent of all physically abusive men.

I asked David Adams about Mike Johnson’s research, which began in 1995.

"I don’t really put a lot of stock in that," he said.

I honestly don’t believe he had the slightest idea of who or what I was talking about.

If the profeminists are right, if domestic violence is simply and always caused by a culture of patriarchy, then Johnson’s work really doesn’t matter anyway, nor does the
weight of evidence from years of research that indicates that the confrontational style of the profeminist programs actually increases violence, particularly in the early weeks
of men’s participation in these programs; that abuse is more prevalent in lesbian and gay relationships than in heterosexual relationships; that there are clear, compelling
links between battering and substance abuse, battering and mental illnesses, battering and economic status, battering and race, and battering and childhood abuse; and
that differing intervention styles may work better for specific abusers, based on their psychological typologies.

"The problem," says David Adams, "is that there’s a career to be made for a lot of people who like to do this kind of research, and a lot of research money is available."
He may be right. But Adams is one of the people whose career and funding are at stake here, too. And to say that none of this kind of research may be helpful or relevant to
fixing men who batter—to ignore and dismiss and trivialize these findings—surely helps to explain the profeminists’ grim and stubborn failure.

Their victims are men and women like Vic and Jackie. As the laws get tougher, as mandatory-arrest protocols increase the numbers of men charged with domestic assault, as
the courts grow increasingly clogged with batterers booted out of programs like Emerge for not going along with the program—they and their children will suffer.

No one disputes that an abusive man should be held accountable for the pain he inflicts, patriarchy or no. And nothing should exempt the profeminist-model advocates
from accountability for the results of their blind and dogmatic abuse of power.

For couples like Vic and Jackie, the most appropriate court-mandated intervention program may be couples counseling—which, thanks to profeminist clout, is outlawed in
more than twenty states as a treatment option in cases of domestic violence.

Do the profeminists believe that abusive men can be fixed? David Adams speaks almost triumphantly about seeing in his rooms the sons of men who went through Emerge
a generation ago. Over and over I saw and heard profeminists cite their own programs’ dismal record, not to suggest any need for a different approach but as proof that men
are abusers because they are men, women are victims because they are women, and the core of the problem is societal, beyond the reach of treatment.
Even the most optimistic researchers and counselors I spoke with agree that some men are beyond help—5 percent to 15 percent of abusive men is the best guess. These
are sociopaths, domestic terrorists. As an argument grows vicious, their heart and blood-pressure rates don’t rise; they stay constant. Researchers call them cobras
because they uncoil in perfect, chilled control.

A cobra does not explode: He strikes.

There’s a chill in the room even before Jules starts talking, a sense of presence missing, of vacancy. He is tall and lean and pale, sharp featured, a writer in his late fifties.

"Talking with your hands," Jules mutters.

I ask him what he means.

"You can’t reason with people. So you hit them."

He smacks the back of one huge hand into the palm of the other, hard. The crack of it echoes off the bare white walls of his office.

"My father was six four and weighed 250 to 275. Mostly I got hit"—and here again he smacks one hand into the other—"with the back of the hand."

How old were you?

"When I started getting hit?"

His eyes are wet. He sits perfectly still, his hands flat on the table.

"Six months old. I can’t remember not being hit. He didn’t want another kid. My mom and I got hit. I saw them engage in a fight one night where she picked up a table lamp
and smashed it against his head. Not that she wasn’t a battered woman—she just reached a point where she didn’t care anymore. She provoked and stoked, and they took
off together.

"I got hit more on a day-to-day basis, mostly slapped. There were a few occasions where I got punched out. It got to the point where it didn’t hurt. I hated this guy. I resented
him being alive."


"I don’t have any really hard feelings about it. I worked a long time"—Jules slaps the table on each word—"to get over that, to get to the point where it’s just a story. I have to
feel that way so that I can let go."

Is he still alive?

"He killed himself."

Your mom?

"My mother has cancer in a serious way, so I’ve gotten involved with family for the first time in seventeen years. Letting go—just letting go. I’m hoping that that starts with my
wife soon."

Was she the first woman you were violent with?

"No. Ummm . . . 1971, I was living with this woman, and I just picked up this stapler and threw it across the room. I don’t know why. It hit her in the head and cut her head

You weren’t angry?


Was it in the context of a fight?

"No, it wasn’t."

That’s odd, isn’t it?

"I agree with your observation. If I analyze it, here was a woman who I didn’t really love. She was less than me, and I don’t think very much of myself—throw that in the mix.
That brings up difficult stuff. That’s not my only violence against women. There’s other major shit to deal with. I’m also a rapist."

The room feels full now. Jules, his eyes moist again, reads the fear on my face.

"It is frightening to sit down with somebody who could, who just . . . has a reflex." Again he slaps the table. "It’s weird, just fucking weird. I’m also a rapist, which is fucking
weird." Slap. "Certainly some of it was classic date rape—just getting what I wanted or attempting to—and having sex with women who were intoxicated and passed out. I
raped my wife in a blackout—not an alcoholic blackout but in a rage. And before we were married, I raped her once—she had passed out. I’m not struggling with that. I know
what it was. I’m a rapist."

A literary magazine sits on a nearby table. The cover photo is of Jules. He and his wife have separated; she has filed for divorce.
Was there a last straw?

"Yeah. I had taken her jaw and I had her facedown on the table with my left hand, and I was squeezing her jaw so hard that I think it popped out for a second. And popped
back in."

Whoa, buddy.

"There’s nothing between you and it when you’ve reached that point. There’s no stopping. It’s not rational. It’s not logical. It’s there. You just do it."

Jules has never been arrested. He did six months in a profeminist batterers-intervention group—led by a male-female team—voluntarily, at his wife’s urging. That was five
years ago.

"I’m used to spending serious dough to deal with idiotic shrinks, and here are these two people that do this gut-level thing. It only went to a certain point. There’s only so
much they could do for me.

"I don’t think I wanted to save my marriage. I wanted"—Jules is slapping the table again, harder and harder—"to preserve this place where I could be taken care of. I wanted
my wife to take care of me. I want a mother. I want security. I want someone to just make it okay."

Did the program help?

"It snuffed out the physical violence. Certainly there were threatening things after that, physical threats, but no hitting."
What was a typical physical threat?

Here Jules rises from his chair, comes at me with his arms curled and his fists balled, and doesn’t stop until he’s a half inch away. He smiles at me—a placid, friendly
smile—and returns to his chair.

"I didn’t know any other way to describe it than that. And there were times when I threw things—not at her, but close enough. I wigged out one time and flipped the bed over
when she was in it. This stuff happened after the classes."

Jules’s hands are talking again.

"We would probably be better off getting divorced. I don’t want this gal back—I just don’t want her to fucking be happy. I’m jealous. I’m insanely jealous of her having an easy
life and my struggling. I don’t want to be with someone who’ll give me that look. I would like to move on to a relationship where we don’t have this history, this shit that we’ve
tortured each other with.

"If I’m in a new relationship, I’m not with that person who doesn’t trust me."

Jules is something else, something nasty, a different breed than Vic. Yet it is Vic, not Jules, who has been arrested. Vic, not Jules, who has been thrown in jail.
Vic and Jackie come home from the movies one day last year, five months after Jackie punched Vic and Vic put her in the headlock. Things between them have been
so-so, but Vic’s beginning to feel pretty good overall. He’s found the job at the tech start-up. He’s getting out of the house, eating and sleeping again.
He notices that a button is open on Jackie’s shirt; he can see her belly. Vic pokes her. Maybe he is teasing.

Jackie—maybe she is teasing back—punches Vic in the stomach.

Vic gets pissed.

You get upset about me hitting you—why are you hitting me? he yells. If you don’t want me to do that, just say, "Please don’t do that." I don’t think it’s fair that you can hit me,
but I can’t hit you.

Jackie screams, You choked me, Vic. You choked me.

Vic explodes.

"I slapped her. Open hand. One time. Her face."

If you feel so threatened and so in danger, call the police, he says.

Vic grabs the phone and thrusts it at Jackie.

Here, he shouts. Call the police.

But Jackie doesn’t want the phone.

Then I’ll call them, Vic shouts. I’ll tell them that I hit you.

Vic dials 911.

Jackie grabs the phone and hangs it up. Vic stalks into the bedroom, furious. Jackie follows.

Vic, why are you so upset?

I just don’t think it’s fair.

Then the phone starts to ring.

Answer it, Vic.


"I pulled her onto the bed and then I put her on her back and I was on top of her and I was choking her. I didn’t have my hands around her throat, but I was choking her. I had
my hands on her chest or whatever. I was pushing down pretty hard."

Vic and Jackie both end up on the floor, their anger spent. She leaves the room; he sits there for a few minutes and decides to take a walk. He meets up with the cops in the

You call 911?

No. Maybe one of the kids.

Let’s take a look. Come on.

Inside, Jackie is crying at the dining-room table. She explains to the police what happened. Vic is arrested and taken off to jail.

"I’m in the holding cell with these guys who are really scary. They brought me some McDonald’s—little cheeseburger, little fries, small soda. The worst thing was the toilet. I
said, I’m not gonna take a crap until I’m sure I’m not going home. I’ll explode before I do that.

"I was up all night, thinking, What are you doing? You didn’t finish school, your marriage sucks, you’re in jail. You don’t even have any friends you can call to get you out. It
was the low point of my life."

In the morning, Vic is brought before the judge. In court, he and Jackie can barely look at each other. Jackie doesn’t want to press charges, but the assistant district attorney
insists. Jackie explains to the judge that she doesn’t want Vic put in jail to await his court date in a month, while Vic stands there trying to figure out what is going to happen.

Back in the cell, Vic is handed a no-abuse restraining order by the guard, who tells Vic that Jackie’s on her way to pick him up.

The ride home is very, very quiet.

You want a divorce, Vic?


Home, Vic hits the john.

"Oh, yeah—the most memorable bathroom experience I’ve ever had."

Then Vic goes to bed.

"If you had absolute certainty that there would be no legal or social repercussions, would you beat the crap out of your wife? No matter how angry you were?"


"Why not?"

I don’t know. I just couldn’t.

"That’s right. You wouldn’t be able to tolerate yourself. Your sense of self—that’s what keeps us all from being abusive. Not fear of consequences—compassion. It’s not that
these guys have too much anger or too much patriarchy; they have too little compassion. You have to build that up if you want them to change."

Steven Stosny, the man doing the talking, is, like David Adams, a psychologist, fifty-three years old, with a placid, hangdog face, a professional, soothing voice, and a
small dent in his skull where his father struck him with a shingle during a severe beating fifty years ago.

Stosny was teaching at the University of Maryland in the late 1980s when he began working with batterers, trying to find a way to lower the drop-out rate at a local
intervention program based on the profeminist model.

"The problem was that the treatment itself was repulsive to them," Stosny says. "All they got was confrontation—You’re completely wrong and your wife’s completely right.
And they shut off. What motivates somebody to exert power over somebody else? You’re feeling powerless. That’s the problem you have to address—and they completely
ignored that."

So Stosny founded the Compassion Workshop, a twelve-week batterer-intervention program in the  Washington, D. C., area. The workshop claims a drop-out rate half that
of the average profeminist-model program’s and a recidivism rate of 14 percent—five times better than Emerge’s.

"Domestic violence is the only field where you fail for twenty-five years and wind up being considered an expert," Stosny says. "If you just arrest abusers or just have a
protective order issued, that’s as effective as their forty weeks. I couldn’t do what David Adams does—my threshold for the pain of failure is much lower than his."
Adams dismisses Stosny’s results as suspect. "In this field," Adams told me, "it’s never credible when somebody reports a success rate of 90 percent—it’s just completely
illogical. I have a lot of suspicions about Stosny—he’s kind of creepy. He seems to be on this mission to undermine the established programs."

Stosny’s approach is controversial. The Compassion Workshop ignores gender issues—the groups include male and female, gay and straight, abusers and victims—it does
not confront batterers or ask them to confess to abusing, and it runs only twelve weeks. It starts with a hypothetical: You’re stuck in a desert with enough water for only two
days. You know you’ll need at least two days to make it out of the desert. You come upon a baby in the sand—crying, dehydrated, dying of thirst.

Would you share your water with that child?

Of course you would. Humans are wired to feel the hurt of others, especially babies. We’re connected the same way to the folks we love. This is our core value, the
goodness at the depth of our soul.

You are told to pick an image to represent your core value: a warm sunset, a calm sea, a tree line etched against a blue sky. You learn to name your core hurts: You feel
powerless. Unlovable. Rejected. Guilty. Disregarded. The hurts that enrage you enough to explode.

Twelve times a day for six weeks, you role-play by yourself—you practice summoning that anger for a few seconds by recalling a time it bit you. Then you go deeper, calling
up the core hurt that triggered your rage. You practice feeling that core hurt for a few seconds. You say it aloud: I feel unlovable. Then you go even deeper: You summon
the image that represents your core value. Feel it. Then feel the core hurt of the person you’re angry at—because their core hurt is what prompted them to say or do
whatever they said or did to you, and it is going to be the same core hurt that they triggered in you.

Feel their pain. You won’t have to share the last of your water with them, but the idea is you won’t smack them around, either. You won’t explode.

The relentless repetition of this exercise—HEALS, Stosny calls it—is a method of cognitive restructuring. There is much more to the Compassion Workshop—homework, a
practice tape, meetings—but HEALS is the crux of the program.

Thirty people attend tonight’s workshop. After a few words from Stosny, they divide into groups to practice HEALS.

Stosny asks Mr. Williams, an older black man, to sit in his group. Mr. Williams and his wife have had a fight that began when he saw a bottle of perfume on her dresser. The
perfume, it turns out, was a gift from a nephew, but the fight was bad enough that Mrs. Williams refused to attend tonight’s class.

"Let’s do a HEALS on this," Stosny says. "Start from when you first saw the perfume."

"I just walked into the bedroom and asked her where did it come from," Williams says, his stout arms crossed upon his chest.

"Did you ask her where it came from, or did you demand to know where it came from?"

"I just wanted to know where the perfume come from."

"Why was it important to you? What did it feel like to you?"

Williams frowns. He tries, but the effort to put words to what he felt bears no fruit.

"I don’t know. It just come across my mind."

"A lot of things come across your mind. What made it important?"

Williams pauses a long minute, licks his lips, and leans forward, his face impassive.

"I just saw a bottle of perfume sitting there and I just asked her. I’ve been married fifty years. She gets mad with me and don’t wanna come here with me. This is the reason I’m
in this class—on account of her, see?"

"Mr. Williams, you need to be here."


"You need to learn what your emotions are doing to you. They’re ruining your relationship of fifty years. It’s tragic."

"Fifty years," Williams echoes. "She should know me by now."

"She does," Stosny tells him. "But she doesn’t want to put up with it anymore. If you want to keep the relationship, you’re going to have to understand your emotions and

"I figure I can ask any question that I want to ask her."

"Is that helping your relationship?"

"It makes me feel good."

"It makes you feel good?"

"Yeah, it makes me feel good. I felt good when I found out where the perfume come from."

Stosny makes arrangements with Mr. Williams to meet one-on-one next week.

"It is tragic," Stosny says later, after class. "His wife is ready to leave him after fifty years. It would be tragic for him to spend his eighties alone. We have to label things to
understand them, and he has no emotional labels at all. Men in general don’t. They can see what their wives do, but they can’t see what they do. If you get a couple that has
a seven-year-old daughter, that daughter has a better emotional vocabulary than the father, even if he’s very bright. They’re really struggling for their souls."

Stosny seems tired. As I watch him gather the abusers’ homework assignments into his briefcase, it occurs to me that the men who work with men who batter—Stosny,
David Adams, the other counselors I watched at different treatment programs—all of them seem tired.

Not only tired, I realize then, thinking of the hole in Stosny’s skull—they are shell-shocked, wounded, scarred. Not by the work itself—their work gives them a sense of
meaning and power as men; but talking with any one of them brings forth a story about being hurt long ago, by a father’s angry hand.

"I can still picture his hand coming at me," one counselor told me, crying at the memory of his father. "I can still imagine, like a catcher’s mitt—the end of it all coming fast at
me. The power that it had. I have feelings of mistrust and fear that I still carry with me—and now I’m forty-nine. These are just men. They’re not criminals. To say they’re
criminals is to criminalize all men."
They all wanted, needed, to talk about it. They had yet to stop trembling from the force of some explosion years before. Which may help account not just for their career
paths but also for the depth of the enmity within the field. Adams told me that the last time he and Stosny sat together on a conference panel to discuss the various
treatment models for batterers, Stosny himself exploded.

"At the end of this workshop, he comes up to me," Adams says, "and spit is flying out of his mouth, he’s so angry. His face was red. He completely loses it—Let’s get it on. I’ll
come up to Boston. I’ll take you on. Let’s do a double-blind study."

Adams refused. This academic combat might be funny if the lives of the men in these programs—and their partners’ pain and trembling, too—didn’t count. I don’t know if
Stosny cooks his books, but he deserves credit for appearing to actually give a damn about fixing abusers in his workshops. His work may be of value—and the relatively few
programs based on abusers’ individual psychodynamics or family-systems theory might also contribute helpful insight and technique—but, as in a sour marriage, the parties
locked in this battle have long since written each other off as the enemy, as biased, hopeless morons.

And the abusers—the guys in need of help? Pawns, fending for themselves as best they can.

I call Jules nearly a year after our meeting.

We spoke on the phone once, not long after we first met—he called to say that he didn’t think it was a good idea to get together again. He had some things to work on,
some things in himself, and participating any further in this story wouldn’t help him do that.
"Great," Jules says when I ask how he’s doing now. "I can’t believe how much better things are."

"No," Jules says when I ask if he wants to talk about any of it. "I don’t think that would be such a good idea."

Vic makes it through and out the other side.

He starts a batterers program even before his court date arrives. A rude thing, to be just another cookie in the cutter, to be confronted by strangers who control his legal fate
and the future of his family, who already think they know him, his attitudes, his marriage.
His group leaders arch their eyebrows when Vic tells them that he does much of the housework, that he cooks for the kids, that he has never told Jackie what to wear or
where to go or whom to see. They jump all over him when he minimizes his own behavior—I don’t belong here. Why should I be here?—after hearing one of his group
describe the day when he came home from work, found his crack-addled wife piping up with her friends, yanked her to her feet, and punched her face bloody. And when
Vic insists that some of what the cops said is untrue—the police report makes it sound as if Vic’s tussle with Jackie on their bed was a sexual assault—they accuse him of
denial. Vic is a deer in their headlights, afraid that they will toss him back to the judge.

Two of his nine fellow freshmen have already been terminated for raising their voices. You’re being disrespectful to us, the leaders told them. You’re being disrespectful to
the group. Gone. Three more have dropped out or have been booted. Vic isn’t sure why they’re not here, not sure that he’ll be here next week.

Then the program contacts Jackie, who confirms that Vic has told the truth.

He makes it through intake, into the ongoing group, where the male group leader refers to Vic’s family as the Cleavers because when Vic does his check-in, he never has
any fresh verbal or psychological abuse to report. And when it’s Vic’s turn to map his relationship history, when the leaders walk you through your abusive and controlling
behavior with every woman you’ve ever known intimately, he is both proud and a bit embarrassed that the beginning and end of his list is Jackie.

"You’ve gotta fix yourself," Vic says the last time we meet. Jackie is here, too—a smallish, slender young woman with blond hair and the same shy smile as Vic’s. It is a rare
dinner out, without the kids.
Group is over with, and his probation has ended. Vic is the best-case scenario—young, bright, and stoic, with a good job and a partner who loves him back. "Philosophically,
I don’t agree with a lot of the way they think about things, but I’d like to think I came out cleaner on the other end."

"We both looked at our relationship," Jackie says. "We both were doing the fighting. We said, Okay, what do we want to do? Do we want to leave each other and go our
separate ways, or do we want to stay together and work it out?"

There was no turning point, no defining heart-to-heart, no explosion of tenderness, no poetry—only a summer day when Jackie nabs a baby-sitter and Vic skips work so
they can do lunch out. They’re sitting in the restaurant after the table has been cleared, and Vic says, "What would you like to do?" and Jackie shocks Vic by answering,
"Let’s go to a ball game"—and he phones the ticket office on his cell, and, by God, there’s an afternoon game that day, and they have a pair of seats for Vic and Jackie.
So they head down to the ballpark and sit together in the bleachers filled with sun.

"Do you know how great this is?" Vic says, and takes her hand.
And Jackie nods.


How Rage Works
Getting mad Is Bad For Your health. Did you know that for two hours immediately following a screaming match with your wife, your chances of suffering a heart
attack—because of the sudden and sustained elevation in blood pressure and pulse—increase more than twofold? That while you’re fuming at that slowpoke in the left
lane, your liver is converting the fat in your bloodstream into cholesterol? That as you’re shouting down that cretin at the end of the bar who thinks the DH is the best thing
that ever happened to baseball, potent body chemicals such as homocysteine are damaging the interior walls of your blood vessels? Blowing off steam may feel good, but
it’s definitely bad for your health.

To get some idea of how bad, pay attention to how you feel after your next explosion: flushed and sweating, spent and trembling? As if you’ve just been in a fight for your
life? In fact, that is precisely what your body believes it’s been through, even if all you’ve done is read your cable guy the riot act for showing up late. Anger is one of a
handful of emotional responses—along with fear, grief, and
extreme anxiety—mediated by the fight-or-flight response,
the full-body endocrinologic, neurologic, and cardiovascular reaction to threat.

Fight or flight is a miracle of evolution. Let’s say you’re confronted by a mugger on a dark, empty street. The cerebral cortex processes this data and sends a message to the
lower brain: fight or flight. Then the hypothalamus takes over, and in a matter of seconds, the adrenal glands secrete stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to
help steel the body for action. The nervous system jumps to life. The heart pumps faster and harder, and your breathing deepens. By the time you confront the mugger—or
turn and run—blood is surging through your body, mainly to the muscles, lungs, and other organs needed for action. Stored fat is downloaded into the bloodstream for a
quick energy hit. Your entire body is in a state of extreme agitation, and even if you wanted to let it go at this point, physiologically, you couldn’t, because the body systems
that slow us down have been shut down.

When truly needed, this ancient biological mechanism will definitely give you the necessary edge. But if you call out the guard when you don’t really need it, getting your
hackles up becomes a kind of endogenous drug abuse that is very harmful to your ticker. All that rushing blood and all those stress hormones may serve only to damage the
interior walls of your major arteries. All that fat that is released into the bloodstream for energy—converted to cholesterol when it goes unmetabolized—may turn into lethal
"foam cells" (buildups of plaque) that can occlude major arteries, causing heart attacks and strokes. If you’re a type-A personality and make a habit of blowing your stack, you
may develop multiple foam cells, turning your circulatory system into a virtual minefield.

Not surprisingly, men are far more likely than women to engage in self-destructive hostility and to suffer from its side effects, since testosterone and male socialization tend
to encourage rage and aggression. (It should be noted that women are equally susceptible to the detrimental effects of anger should they lose their cool, however.)
Researchers like Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University also believe genetics or early-childhood development may make people—male or female—more prone to hostility
because of a chronic shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a substance associated with feelings of contentment and inner peace.
—Jim Atkinson

Slaying the Dragon
It’s not as easy as counting to ten, but there are things you can do to counteract a fiery temper

No one really knows what to do with his anger. I tend to sigh and cuss like a sailor. I have one friend who throws things, another who swears that sex cools him
down—though how he manages to time his hits, I’ve never figured out. For most of us, the body can handle anger, like social drinking, in moderation. For others, chronic
anger can become part of your physiology and can make you more prone to a host of maladies.

There’s no Prozac, no Lasik surgery for chronic anger; in some ways, doctors are as clueless as laymen about how to treat it. For example, scientists now believe that the
maxim that anger expressed demonstratively—say, in a primal scream—is much less harmful than anger "stuffed" may be wrong. And exercise
appears to help, but only under the right conditions. "If you could go run a mile or two when you get mad, it’d be ideal," says Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University. "But
that’s not realistic. And come to think of it, if you’re still thinking negative thoughts while you’re running, it’s probably not going to help your blood

Cognitive anger-management programs, on the other hand, which teach you how to short-circuit a tantrum by reasoning with yourself, are heartily endorsed by some
shrinks and actually have proved in a couple of studies to lower the risk of recurrence of heart attacks among heart patients. But many of them, at their core, seem to offer
little more insight than that you "try not to get angry so often."

Given the fact that anger is such an intensely physiological experience, it would seem that a physiologically based therapy might work best. There are no magic bullets here,
either, but the most promising treatment may be some variation of the Relaxation Response developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and
president of the Mind-Body Medical Institute. This technique, ?rst outlined in Benson’s 1975 best-seller of the same name, sounds hackneyed and simplistic. Find a
favorite chair and get comfortable and quiet. Close your eyes and breathe slowly through your nose. Pick a word, phrase, or even a short prayer, and repeat it as you
meditate. The repetition, Benson says, clears your mind of everyday static and allows you to relax. It takes discipline, but do this for twenty minutes twice a day, and after a
month or so, you should see measurable results. You should also find yourself less prone to blowing your stack and less inclined to stay mad if you do go there.

This may sound like BS, but Benson swears by its efficacy and has more than a quarter century’s worth of research to prove it. "Our studies have shown that when you
regularly evoke the Relaxation Response, you will be less hostile," he says. "Your threshold for anger will be higher because fight or flight is mitigated. It’s not so much that
there’s an opposing chemical cascade as that the relaxation response cuts down on the angry one. It helps release endorphins. It’s really the only way to diffuse anger."
—Jim Atkinson

Getting Help:
Twenty-five years after the feminists broke ground, we’re still stuck on the ground floor

Anger has been a problem since the dawn of time, but it wasn’t until the dawn of disco that it was seen as a problem in need of a solution. Before then, the (male) powers
that be had been content to treat abuse as a family matter, leaving resolution up to the people involved. Right.

It wasn’t until 1977, when David Adams founded Emerge, that we had our first program designed to treat angry, abusive men. Three years later, the "profeminist" treatment
model was developed by Ellen Pence in Duluth. That, in addition to Pence’s local crusade, led Duluth to become the first jurisdiction to adopt a mandatory-arrest policy for
misdemeanor assaults, a policy that has since gained currency nationwide. By the mid-eighties, batterers’ clinics and anger-management programs had sprung up
coast-to-coast, and state courts began steering offenders to treatment rather than to jail. The federal government, however, still had no real plan of attack.

In 1994, on the heels of the O. J. Simpson 911 tapes, Congress passed the National Violence Against Women Act, which, among other things, made crossing state lines to
assault a partner a federal crime. The acknowledgment that gender-based attacks violate a woman’s civil rights may have been a milestone in lawmaking, but the problem is
that if no state line is crossed, you still wind up in the hands of the local courts, many of which have no clear guidelines on what to do with you.

Meanwhile, if you’re worried about where your anger might take you, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233). Tell them you want to check yourself in
before the courts do it for you.
—Elizabeth Einstein

Copyright Esquire Magazine, 2000.

Click for article:
Feeling Their Pain:  Steven Stosny says he can break the cycle of domestic violence - Annys Shin, City Paper, April 27, 2001

Methodological description is available in:
Stosny, S. (1995). Treating attachment abuse: A compassionate approach. New
York: Springer Publishing Co.

Replication data is available in:
Larson, E. L. (1997). An evaluation of the compassion workshop, a group
program for perpetrators of domestic violence. Thesis, unpublished:
University of Maryland, College Park.
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