This project was supported by grant number 2018-TA-AX-K026 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the latest episode of our podcast series, our host Juan Carlos Areán from Futures Without Violence speaks with Ed Heisler and Chris Godsey from Men As Peacemakers and Kourou Pich from HarborCOV Communities Overcoming Violence about restorative practices in abusive partner intervention as well as intimate partner violence cases more broadly. The group explores various aspects of restorative justice, such as accountability, indigenous cultural practices that inform this approach, and how communities can come together to heal from harm.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
“We've learned a lot of lessons. Restorative justice is messy. It's not a perfect process, but we've seen a great deal of benefit come from those connections to community, connections to system, and to putting specific time, and resources, and connection into higher-level domestic violence cases, men who have caused harm.”
Juan Carlos Areán: Greetings. My name is Juan Carlos Areán, and I'm a program director in the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence. We partner with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office of Violence Against Women.
We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country to help them enhance their abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies. We have been producing a series of podcasts focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention programs.
Today, we're going to go beyond traditional abusive partner interventions and talk about restorative approaches when working with families affected by domestic violence.
I have the pleasure today to be joined by Ed Heisler and Chris Godsey from Men As Peacemakers in Duluth, Minnesota, and Kourou Pich from HarborCOV Communities Overcoming Violence in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Thank you all so much for joining us today. I would like to start by asking you all to tell us about your work and your organizations. Let's start with Ed.
Ed Heisler: Thank you for having us. It's very exciting to be here with you all. My name is Ed Heisler. I use he and him pronouns and I'm a co-executive director with Sarah Curtis at Men As Peacemakers in Duluth. We feel very fortunate that we have the opportunity to focus in our organization on promoting gender equity in the primary prevention of sexual and domestic violence as well as commercial sexual exploitation, so looking at ways in which restorative approaches and innovative approaches to trying to build prevention strategies within community can be used to reduce the amount of gender-based violence that's being experienced in community. That's the big-picture overview. The reality is that what that looks like is a lot of connection with people in community, generating things like hope and a sense of possibility in creative ways of looking at how we might work with the younger generations, and work with older generations, and create possibilities for our communities where we are able to move past some of the violence and oppression that has existed, and be in ways that really help each other thrive.
That's what I'm fortunate to do. I come from a history of working in the movements to end violence against women and children in batterers intervention programs. I started out working at a shelter and feel very, very fortunate for all the lessons, and learnings, and relationships that have gotten to this point.
Areán: Thank you so much, Ed. What about you, Chris? What's your role at Men As Peacemakers?
Chris Godsey: Hi. Thanks, Juan Carlos. Thanks again for having us here. I am the program coordinator for the Domestic Violence Restorative Circles Program. My role as program coordinator put me in contact with folks from social services, in criminal, legal and community organizations and agencies. We can educate them about what the Domestic Violence Restorative Circles Program is and isn't, and so we can build relationships that help us collaborate in a true community effort to help both people who have used violence and survived violence to get to places in their lives where they are safe to thrive and contribute to community as much as possible.
I come from battering intervention program work. Ed was actually one of my very early mentors in that work. He and I both hold that work very dear. I think we share a commitment to restorative practices as an extension of those programs and not necessarily a competition with them. That's part of our community relationships.
Areán: Excellent. Thank you, Chris. What about you, Kourou? Can you tell us about yourself and about your work at HarborCOV?
Kourou Pich: Sure. Thank you, Juan Carlos. My name is Kourou Pich. I am an executive director. Harbor Community Overcoming Violence is founded in 1998. We provide free safety and support services along with housing and economic opportunities that promote long-term stability for people and survivor that affected by violence and abuse. We specialize in serving survivor who face additional barriers, such as language, culture, and economic, by working to create connections to the support survivor need to rebuild their lives through a continuum of options with a commitment to social and economic justice.
We also take a comprehensive approach to addressing violence within the context of family culture and community. We try to stay away from social services. Social services has its own core value. For HarborCOV, we just trying to work toward kind of social justice framework and building the community and stability for survivor. Social justice mean, to us, that we are promoting the community that has an abundance of resources and really looking at the community's resiliencies.
Areán: Well, thank you so much. That's wonderful. I'll stay with you, Kourou. Can you share with us your journey, both personally and organizationally, to adopt restorative practices as part of your organization?
Pich: It's a great question. Before I started working at HarborCOV, I was working at the Rape Crisis Center. I identify myself as a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault before I enter to this work. For Harbor Community Overcoming Violence, we began to implement the circle process in 2014, as a way to cement the relationships and learn together. Circles, traditionally indigenous ceremonial practice, meant to strengthen the community and its governing processes.
Currently, we host Circle within individuals and family from our various communities in both Spanish and English. We also create circle internally for our staff that we can explore lesson via learning from our work and enhance our team dynamic. Circle help us process what we are learning from our work and continually improve our practices as well. We are more able now to live our value and come together every day to support survivor through the circle process. We also have community circle. There's another circle. We call it Mens in Leadership circle as well. We also engage other partners in ongoing learning. We have connected to other domestic violence organization as well. It's an ongoing implementation efforts for HarborCOV.
Areán: Thank you so much. Very, very inspiring. Ed, you mentioned in your introduction that you come from the battering intervention field. I'd be interested in your case and in Men As Peacemakers... How did that journey to moving toward restorative practices work for you?
Heisler: It was quite a journey. The story for me personally actually starts before I was working in the field. I had an opportunity while I was in school to study in Northern Ireland. I had had the experience of getting to know the political landscape of what was happening in the conflict of Northern Ireland. When I arrived, the work that I was able to do restorative justice work with young people.
I was just struck. I remember just the feeling of recognizing that there was such a huge difference between what I understood from the books that I was reading about the conflict in Northern Ireland and what it was like to actually be with kids, and parents, and staff at a school, finding ways for those young people to see, and understand, and be with each other in deeper ways, and to work out both conflicts that had happened and find ways to find connection in an environment that had been conflictual.
That was my personal entrance point. Then when I moved to Duluth, and I worked at a battered women's shelter, and was quickly mentored into doing batters intervention work, there was a conversation that was already happening in Duluth around the potential usefulness of restorative justice. It really focused on a couple of key problems.
One was looking at the effectiveness of batterer intervention programs to begin with. In Duluth here, they had been keeping data. It was looking like, from a statistical perspective, about 70% of the guys who were going through traditional batterers intervention programs weren't showing back up in the system, but then there's the 30% that are.
One of the founding questions was, what are we going to do about those 30%? because at the same time, folks like Violence Free Minnesota were doing focus groups and research with survivors. What they were learning was that people were talking about how when the folks who had abused them were leaving incarceration, that that was the time that they worried about the most, that it was a time when there wasn't much stability in the community, and that it was a time when folks with a highly established pattern of abuse were basically reconnect again. It became a very volatile and dangerous time for folks who had experienced violence as those people were being released.
We really ended up focusing in on, where is there need for an intensive approach and a deeper approach to trying to interrupt the harm? That certainly included a lot of exploration of what restorative justice options existed, why restorative justice might be useful. Frankly, there was a lot of argument and dynamic, like useful tension, around concerns around victim safety and offender accountability versus the strengths of using a community-based practice like restorative justice.
In the end, we started very slowly. We started in relationships all across the system. The program has been designed so that it is both an intensive way to connect high-level men who have caused harm, back into the community. Over at least six months, we're looking at trying to interrupt some of the behavior patterns that they have developed that are contributing to violence.
In addition to focusing specifically on the violence, we're also engaging both the system and the community in a very different way. One of the most important parts of this to us is the fact that the community is now directly connected in the position of responsibility to the issue of domestic violence. It's not just something that gets referred over to the criminal justice system.
We've learned a lot of lessons. Restorative justice is messy. It's not a perfect process, but we've seen a great deal of benefit come from those connections to community, connections to system, and to putting specific time, and resources, and connection into higher-level domestic violence cases, men who have caused harm.
Areán: Thank you. That's fascinating. Going back to you, Kourou, obviously, you are an organization that does not work necessarily with people who cause harm, but with survivors of such harm. I would like to hear how you operate with those circles, including the community circles. In particular, I like to hear about the community circles that you do with men in the community there in Chelsea and beyond.
Pich: For HarborCOV, it's a little slightly different. We are a survivor center, so we work with survivor. Survivor will tell us what works for them. A little history... In 2014, we experienced a tragedy. One of our survivor was murdered by a stray bullet from the community.
It was very traumatic for staff, for survivor's families, for survivor's children, for the community as a whole. Community experienced violence that has a capacity to grapple with the impact of loss, grief, trauma, and systemic discrimination, and incapacity. Regardless of the type of community violent effects, it effects are poorly managed by a lot of the systems because they are misunderstood. As a result, there's a lack of resources as well.
Community are often left to address the impact of violence alone. So since circle was gifted to us. We don't call it a restorative justice circle. We call it community governance circle instead. From that time on, we have built the circle into our day-to-day practice. We started with the survivor first. Before we had a circle, we call it kind of support group. The engagement was not that great. People came, but there were not a deeper engagement from the survivor itself.
Then we simply promoted the circle. There's more engagement because circle promote equity within the circle. Everybody feel that they are part of the circle. They are part of the community building. They are part of the learning together. Survivor were able and are able to connect with one another, to share, and speak, and listen from the heart. The level of engagement is very, very strong. They're very committed to coming together and show up for one another.
The same for staff... After the incident of the violence, it took us two months as staff to come together. We sit in circle every week, really sharing who we are, sharing our core value, we're talking about love, what love mean to us. We're talking about respect. What does it mean to us?
We sit together and then sharing. At HarborCOV, I would say 80% of the staff are people of color. Women and men of color are coming from different country from around the world. By sharing who we are, our core value, and really looking at our differences as an abundance, not as a deficit, staff are more engaged. Staff are really invested in the organization because they feel like they're a part of the building of the community.
Then we also have community circle as well. We will host circle here and there for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Then I have been doing the White Ribbon Day Campaign, which is a worldwide movement in response to a massacre of 14 women in Montreal in 1989.
I invited men in leadership, such as police chief, fire chief, city mayor, principal, chief of probate, so the people who is really holding a lot of power. The purpose of this circle is an invitation to men to deepen and live out their commitment to the White Ribbon Day.
We invited 30 men, and 37 men came to the first circle. Someone would share that, "I'm guilty of verbally abusing my wife. This is what I was taught." This is men in leadership who otherwise won't be able to sit together and share all of this experiences and then share how they contributed to the violence against women and gender-based violence.
For us, we're not looking for good men or bad men. We're looking at socialization of manhood and how a majority of men… let's say, good men supporting this model of violence against women. I'm focusing on men because I would say 95% of survivor that we are serving have been abused by their partner who identify as men.
How can they be part of the work that interrupt the construct of violence against women and gender-based violence? How can they model that? How can they have conversation about the reflection of themself? How can they be part of the chain?
Areán: Very inspiring, what you are describing and how you have integrated the circle process looks like in all of your work, internal and external. I would like to ask you, Kourou, about the role of culture in your circle. I know you are in a very, very diverse community. As you mentioned, you have a very diverse staff, so how do you centralize culture in these circles?
Pich: As you know, circle is a process of community building through the creation of sustainable long-term relationship between the members of the circle. Circle is supposed to bring people together. My mentor always said, "People should feel better, and encourage, and inspired after they leave the circle."
As a woman of color centered organization, we at HarborCOV deeply committed to an anti-oppression and racism approach to work with families and community. In order to support them as they navigate the intersections of oppression and define their life as people of color and poor people living in the United States.
Circle process guides individual work, with families, because it forces to us live out our principle. As a member, we have to be in a good standing with our relationship with one another. Before we show up for one another, we always say, "Let's build our relationship. Let's reveal our interest. Let's reveal our challenges."
When we have done all of that, we understand one another. We can show up for one another. We also create space for belonging. When people feel that they belong regardless who they are, they want to stay. That is important for our community.
Areán: Thank you so much for that, Kourou. What about Men As Peacemakers, Ed? How do you centralize culture in your work there?
Heisler: Thank you, Juan Carlos. It's amazing and inspiring to hear Kourou talk about the work that they're doing in the residence even though we're very different organizations, and they're very different programs, how at the core, there's a lot of similarity to what we're trying to accomplish.
Starting from a big-picture perspective, there are many different forms of culture. There's the reality that people come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences, and that those backgrounds and experiences, and the realities of sexism and white supremacy, and other forms of oppression help shape people's experiences. In our circles and in our organization, our goal is to create space where people can bring all of who they are, and all of what matters to them, and all of what they have experienced to the table, and that that's part of the way that we build relationship and gain deeper understandings about ourselves, and about each other, and what is possible moving forward.
With the circle program in particular, we're actually trying to influence culture more broadly across our community in a few ways. We want, first of all, to have community, have a sense of connection and responsibility to issues of domestic violence, and domestic violence being an extension of our responsibility and to one another's well-being as a whole.
We're recruiting and training volunteers that we think would be a good fit for each circle. They're learning about the dynamics of domestic violence and battering that exists. They're learning, at the same time, practices for how you join a circle, be in mutuality in a way where you don't see yourself as teaching somebody else something, being above somebody else, being separate from somebody else. They're getting information about how to hold those two things and practicing, doing it on a weekly basis.
For volunteers in the program, people who have been connected, and folks in the system as well, talking about how the Domestic Violence Restorative Circle Program has changed the way that they look at the issue of domestic violence. They see it in their lives in an entirely different way. They see their responsibility to be a part of it as being different. That's a cultural component in addition to the pieces where the circles are specifically looking at cultures of masculinity that differ, depending upon people's background, but there are some core things that exist around being better than, and the degradation, and the things that justify violence that's used primarily against women and girls.
Then our commitment to building circles that are filed with people to the best of our ability that are going to allow for the belief systems, the cultures, the backgrounds, the experiences of the participants to come through in ways that are going to help them find their traction in the things that really make them shine, and create good in community, and also offer opportunities to look at the things that have not been working so well and have contributed to creating harm.
Areán: Thank you so much, Ed. I would like you to talk about the fact that many of this restorative practice have their origin in indigenous cultures and indigenous circles. I would like to know how Men As Peacemakers honor that fact and avoid cultural appropriation when doing the work.
Heisler: Yes, that's a fantastic question. A part of the equation for us is the acknowledgement that this is a practice that has been heavily informed by the leadership of Native communities. Then coupling that with the very important practice of not trying to pretend that what we are doing is the indigenous practice of talking circles.
That includes everything from not mimicking the exact things that indigenous communities in our area would be doing, using the same things like feathers and things like that, and recognizing that what our program is, is it is an invitation to step into the responsibility to care for one another, and that that responsibility in Anishinabe communities and communities that have used circles across the world is one that involves practices like circles of how you might address things like conflict and harm.
There's a real importance that we don't pretend that what we're doing is adopting that whole piece in the way that the community, the indigenous community, around us does. Even more importantly, that we're not writing grants, seeking funding and resources, and doing things like that in such a way that suggests that we're using and leveraging something that is for those people's use and has come out of those cultural traditions and those spiritual traditions. That would pretty much be the definition of cultural appropriation.
What is important to us is that at the core of this is the call to accept responsibility for the well-being of one another and to see ourselves in a light that says that I have a responsibility to step forward fully for the well-being of others and for my community, to connect with the things that make me whole and well, and to be a part of wholeness and the wellness of other people. Even though we would have people in our circles who would come from a variety of different backgrounds, and faith traditions, and things like that, remembering that restorative justice is not a methodology and a process... There have been people doing restorative justice for long, long periods of time that don't need to call it restorative justice.
That name in and of itself is a way of putting a frame around practices that have lasted for a long time. Another part of not culturally appropriating and being in right relationship with folks is to show up fully into the leadership that is happening on a day-to-day basis with Native community.
Here it means showing up to the events that folks in Native community feel are important. It means highlighting the ways that Native people are actually stepping forward and providing governance, and leadership, and vision for what balance in our communities, and balance with our planet, and things like that can believe, putting time and resources towards those things, and being full-throated about that leadership because indigenous communities and Native communities have experienced colonization and genocide and continue to be invisibilized in tremendous ways where those of us who are white in particular tend to forget that and tend to downplay the fact that indigenous leadership, and indigenous power, and indigenous practices are a very dynamic part of what is creating goodness in our everyday lives.
Areán: Thank you so much for that. Very informative and well-put, Ed. Now Kourou, from your perspective, would you like to add anything about how to both honor indigenous traditions and avoid cultural appropriation?
Pich: Sure. Every time we open a circle, we host a circle, we acknowledge the land that we are standing on is the indigenous land. We also acknowledge that the process that we are using is gifted by the indigenous people.
We hold ourself accountable. We partner with the indigenous community to have a check and balance. We want to make sure that we utilizing this process accountably. We creating space for acceptance. It's an invitation for people to come together as who they are and to speaking, listening from the heart. Yes, we thrive to do our best not to colonize any group, to decolonize... that the mainstream practices.
Areán: Thank you so much for that, Kourou. Chris, as you know better than me, the use of restorative practices and restorative justice is still controversial in the domestic violence field. What would you say to people that are afraid that these practices can make things worse for victims and survivors?
Godsey: One of the first things I would say is that before I took this position, I'm in this Peacemakers, I shared those concerns because I had seen a restorative justice case go in a way that I considered horribly wrong. And then one of the reasons I took this position was that by the time it opened, I had learned more about what restorative justice is, what it's not and how it can be practiced in a way that is very conscious of what survivors need. I don't like it when people dismiss my concerns. I worked really hard not to respond dismissively to folks who say they have concerns. And then I would explain what we do at Men as Peacemakers and what I know folks do in some other situations to use restorative principles. And I'm also going to introduce the word transformative principles or the phrase transformative principles into the conversation.
Because even though I know devotees of transformative justice and restorative justice see those processes as different, I think they share some characteristics. And my experience tells me that both of those things can be practiced in ways that help people who have used violence, acknowledge the harm they've caused, take accountability for it and figure out how to repair it while simultaneously involving survivors as little or as much as they would like to be involved, in ways that are as safe as possible. The conversation gets a lot more complicated from there, as you might imagine, but I'll just say something really basic about how we operate at Men as Peacemakers. We have made the decision and we've been consistent in the decision to work in transition circles, exclusively with people who have used violence. We have a separate circle track called survivor circles for people who have survived it, but we don't even open the possibility for those circles to ever share space or time or process.
When we are working with people who have used violence, we are doing everything we can to focus on them and their behavior and the effects of their behavior. And that is heavily informed by experiences we have had with survivors. Some of us on staff are survivors. We always try to have a survivor or a survivor advocate in a circle with someone who has used violence. And the intention is not necessarily to get the survivor and the person who has used violence in a room together to resolve something in a definitive way. It is to help the person who has used violence really deeply, not just see and understand, but feel the harmful effects of violence they have used. And when I explain that to people who are skeptical or doubtful or just downright resistant to restorative practices being used in cases of domestic violence, that's where I try to focus.
I try to let them know that I hear their concerns and I have shared those concerns. And one of the reasons I took this position was because I have learned enough to believe that there is great potential for responses to harm that didn't create more harm. And that that could be done safely, even in instances of domestic violence that are part of patterns of battering. Long term, sometimes over years, emotional and physical and mental violence. That we can be aware of the power dynamics that are parts of those situations. And we can use that awareness to help both survivors and violence users. And I'll stop there because I'm conscious of going on and on. Like I said, it's a fairly complex thing to talk about as I'm sure you and everyone listening knows.
Areán: The other side of the coin is that a growing number of domestic violence organizations are paying attention to restorative and transformative justice and what's going on in those fields. What would be your advice to APIPs that want to move towards being more restorative or transformative in their approaches?
Godsey: I try to stay away from giving advice, but if I were asked what my experience tells me and what I have learned through my own life experience and from people who know more than I do. One of the things I would recommend is to, if you are currently administering or working in a BIP or in APIP, do what you can to notice the restorative or transformative features of that work. I think I said in my introduction that I came up in a Duluth model, battering intervention program setting. That was my formative experience and the movement to end domestic violence. And because of the way I was educated and mentored in that work, I have always seen that work as being inherently restorative and transformative.
The setting looks a little bit different from how the setting in our domestic violence restorative circles look, but we're doing the same thing. We are compassionately engaging with people who have used violence. Acknowledging the fact that they very often have experienced harm in addition to causing harm and also asking them to deeply feel the effects of violence they have used on people around them and then figure out how to make changes. A lot of people hear the term Duluth model and based on how they've been educated about it, they might think it means a 150 different things. The way I learned about it is that it names a philosophy for helping communities work together to end domestic violence. And the men's group programming is one aspect of that community response. And the precise name of that men's group curriculum is creating a process of change for men who batter.
And that's what I've always understood that work to be is helping people understand their lived experiences in a way that builds them up, helps them see the positive things about themselves and to capitalize on those things and change their behavior and their thinking and their attention so they're not violent. It's one of the first things I would say. After that, I would say, if you truly want to figure out how to apply restorative or transformative practices to working with violence users and survivors in your own community, learn as much as you can about what other communities are doing and then figure out how those practices do and don't fit within your own community.
There are in this position, I'm blessed to have a lot of conversations like this with people who are very curious about restorative justice and want to know how we do it in our program at Men as Peacemakers and I usually wind up speaking in long paragraphs like this, because I want to make it very clear that we didn't just grab a curriculum from somewhere or a set up, have a list of things to do and then do that thing. There were almost five years of sometimes very contentious conversations among a lot of people in the anti-violence movement in Duluth that happened before this program even started. And that's exactly what those folks were doing. They were learning about very ancient traditions. They were learning about modern interpretations of those traditions. And then they were figuring out how can we do this in Duluth in a way that does everything we want it to do. That protects survivors, that honors people's culture and backgrounds, that helps violence users. And that I think there are really valuable conversations that people can have across cultures and across communities and those conversations need to be had.
Areán: Thank you, Chris. Thank you so much for our guests. Ed, Chris, and Kourou, you were fantastic. Over the course of our podcast series, we're touching on several other topics including trauma center, APIPs, working with Native men, victim safety, and working with faith communities.
To find the rest of our podcast series, you can visit our National Clearinghouse on abusive partner intervention programming at courtinnovation.org/abusive-partner-resources. To learn more about our project or request technical assistance, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about Men As Peacemakers at menaspeacemakers.org, and HarborCOV Communities Overcoming Violence at harborcov.org. You can also visit futureswithoutviolence.org and courtinnovation.org for more information about our organizations. Thanks so much for listening. So long.