A new, unified national intervention programme for perpetrators of domestic violence is to be rolled out by the Government.
According to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, whose department oversees the programmes, the new national scheme will involve a “systematic” follow-up with participants and partners once the first group of men complete the programme.
Last year, the Department of Justice spent €653,500 on the domestic violence perpetrator programmes, with 187 interventions.
“Interventions include individual assessments for programme applicants; one-to-one work with men in relation to their participation in groups to address the offending behaviour(s); and working with them in such groups,” said Mr Flanagan in response to a parliamentary question from Green Party TD Catherine Martin.
“The programmes have been developed in order to maximise the safety of female partners and ex-partners of the men on the programmes and their children. All programmes have a dedicated partner contact element where partners are provided with practical support and advice.”
He said 102 partners/ex-partners participated in the partner contact arrangements facilitated by the perpetrator programmes in 2016.
“Informal feedback suggests that the programmes give rise to positive outcomes in relation to the safety of women and children and positive outcomes also for the men,” said Mr Flanagan.
According to Owen O’Neill of Move Ireland, one of the organisations which run the programmes, the new plan will see participants given three one-to-one sessions prior to group sessions as well as more during the group gatherings and a number after they finish. There will also be comprehensive follow-ups with both the men and their partners.
He said those operating the groups also try to see what further help the men might need, such as mental health supports or addiction counselling.
The men that avail of the programmes come from a variety of sources. Mr O’Neill estimated that 20% are referred from probation services, 40% from Tusla, 20% refer themselves, and the remainder come from the likes of addiction services or GP referrals.
He said while the organisations are seeking to work with the men, there are checks and balances. They might check in with the man’s partner to see, for example, whether what he says in the sessions is being put into practice at home.
“We need to be sure that the safety of the women is not compromised, though,” said Mr O’Neill. “With social workers and probation officers it is no problem, but we do not want him going home and saying ‘you said this’.”
Lisa Marmion Safe Ireland, an agency working on domestic violence, said it was crucial that women and children’s voices were heard.
How men react to the sessions, which last eight or nine months, varies. Some ‘get it’ straight away, according to Mr O’Neill, while for others it is a struggle. “Some may have to come back again even up to five years later if they feel that the triggers are coming back,” he said.
Topics covered during the sessions include intimacy, sexual respect, trust, what it means to be a man, and how women should be valued by men.
The men are taught about self-discipline and are encouraged to challenge each other over inappropriate views during the sessions. Over the course of a programme, they will attend 23 group sessions and up to 10 individual sessions so that the messages and learnings can be ingrained.
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