In this second episode, Juan Carlos Areán of Futures Without Violence, is joined by Jessica Nunan, executive director of Caminar Latino, and Lee Giordano, director of training at Men Stopping Violence. They discuss the importance of centralizing culture in working with people who use violence, something that traditionally has not been the focus of abusive partner intervention programs across the country. They discuss the formation of their culturally-responsive models, how they hold space for conversations about anti-racism in the group room with participants, and what is lost when conversations about culture and oppression are not included in the work.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
JUAN CARLOS AREÁN: Greetings. My name is Juan Carlos Areán, program director in the Children & Youth Program at Futures Without Violence. We are partnering with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country interested in enhancing their current approaches to engaging people who cause harm in intimate partner relationships and holding them accountable. We are producing a podcast series focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention programs.
Today I have the pleasure to be joined by Jessica Nunan, the executive director at Caminar Latino in Atlanta and Lee Giordano, director of training at Men Stopping Violence in Decatur, Georgia. They’ll be talking with us today about culture-based approaches when working with men who use violence. Thank you all so much for joining today. I would like to start with Jessica. What does it mean for your organization to put culture at the center of your intervention?
JESSICA NUNAN: Hello everybody. I think for us, when we say that we put culture at the center of our work, it’s recognizing the impact and the incredible influence that the way in which we’re raised and the roles of beliefs, the values, really can impact individuals and communities, behaviors, and their way of life. At Caminar Latino, we felt that the only way that we could create sustainable change was not just focus on stopping violence by saying it’s against the law, but instead really addressing within the culture and the values.
AREÁN: Thank you, Jessica. What about you, Lee, what would you like to add to that?
LEE GIORDANO: Thank you, Juan Carlos. For us, we see the prevalence of domestic violence rooted in dominant culture, and this dominant culture supports male violence against women. We start by acknowledging that and knowing that if we’re going to have an impact on male violence against women then we also have to have an impact on culture change broadly in our society. We also work primarily with Black men in our program in Atlanta. We have a multiracial program; about half of it is made up of white men and half of it or a little over half of it is made up of Black men. We know that if we don’t think specifically about how we approach our work in ways that will benefit the populations we work with and particularly center Black men’s experiences, then we may default back to mainstream norms and have a program that doesn’t address all of the needs of marginalized men in our communities.
AREÁN: Thank you. That’s really interesting. I’d like to ask a follow up question for Lee now. What does that look like on the ground? How is Men Stopping Violence different from other programs?
GIORDANO: We see a need to change not just patriarchal norms in our community, but also racist norms in our community. We see racism and sexism as intertwined in creating the foundation for the prevalence of violence against women in our communities. When we created our curriculum, we made sure that we have lessons and discussions about inequality and about racism mixed into our general curriculum, our everyday practice. We also prioritize the voices of women of color and historically we have looked to women of color for leadership and sought feedback in our practices. We’ve also incorporated those voices into our curriculum in the readings and videos that we use.
AREÁN: Thank you. What about Caminar Latino?
NUNAN: What we’re most known for is our comprehensive approach. Within the Latino culture, and the Latino culture is certainly not the only one, family has always been very central. We really felt that in order to have sustainable change, it made more sense to offer family violence intervention and prevention in a way that made sense for our culture. What that meant was having programming, not only for survivors and their children, but also working with the individuals who use violence themselves.
For a lot of the men, it also helped to increase their accountability. I say, men, even though we also work with women who have also used violence. Here in Atlanta, as Lee mentioned, the idea is about the racism that the Latinos are experiencing – the stressors, lack of jobs – really helps to centralize and take away the excuse of, “I did this and you don’t understand because you’re not experiencing the same situation and I had no choice.” But when our participants are within a group of individuals that have had similar experiences, it makes a big difference in terms of their willingness to really listen and start taking accountability when they see their own peers going through similar situations and accepting accountability for their own use of violence.
AREÁN: Thank you. And to give a little context to listeners, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and also right after the George Floyd assassination and other well-known cases, including there in Atlanta. It’s interesting because we’re at a time right now when some people are not only talking about culture, but the need to work in an antiracist way and to talk about white supremacy. I know that that’s new for many APIPs, so I would like to hear more about how you talk to folks about those particular issues. Let’s start with Lee.
GIORDANO: I think right now is a great time to have conversations about how we see accountability operating in our communities, with the broader conversation about the criminal justice system and its relevancy to accountability, the injustices and the disproportionate policing that happens. For us, that question relates not just to the practices within our classroom but also how we see our program operating within the community. We’ve always operated from a model of community accountability and see it as problematic that most instances of abusive behavior are not reported to the police and our communities have really only envisioned accountability as happening through the criminal justice system. Through a process of community accountability, we see the importance of setting up networks in our community that can address abusive behavior that don’t just rely on the criminal justice system.
Now we’re not saying that there shouldn’t be a criminal justice response to abusive behavior, but we really build strength in our communities when they feel equipped and empowered to intervene. We see APIP programs as central to helping set those systems up, as well as a central part of the process of accountability when someone is identified as being abusive. In our program about half of our referrals come through the criminal justice system, but the other half come through community referrals. We get a lot of referrals from the faith communities in our area. We get referrals from therapists and we get referrals from workplaces and word of mouth. What that translates to is we have a much more diverse program because we’re capturing some men with privilege who wouldn’t normally be arrested or no one would call the police on them for using abusive behavior, so they wouldn’t find themselves in an intervention program. Also, through community accountability, we’re able to reach men before their abuse escalates to someone calling the police. We’re engaging with men of color outside of the criminal justice system in, my opinion, a much more just process.
AREÁN: Thank you. So, Jessica, what about Caminar Latino, what are the conversations among Latino folk about antiracism and white supremacy?
NUNAN: For Caminar Latino, we have done it in several ways – and this is not just within our APIP programs, but also within our support groups and sharing groups for the children – that is not only talking about the racism our participants may be experiencing, but also the participant families’ own implicit bias sometimes. For instance, while our participants have experienced racism and there have been multiple incidents at the same time, that does not give them a pass in terms of being racist or prejudice against other groups. Within any of the groups, anytime anything derogatory or racist has been said, and the majority of the time unfortunately it’s about the Black community, we will use that as a time to discuss the idea of social justice and the idea that if we are asking not to have people be racist or prejudice against our own community, we need to be making sure that we are doing the same ourselves.
We also at Caminar Latino strive hard to really utilize the privileges that especially the team at Caminar Latino has. One of the primary privileges is the fact all of our team members are documented and all our team members are bilingual. We are able to advocate and address the systematic racism that we see in a way in which our community may not feel as comfortable and not have as much access to. For instance, one of the requirements in Georgia is that when somebody has been arrested for domestic violence, they are required to turn in any firearms. This obviously is a very important policy and we need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to get arms out of the house.
At the same time, it’s also asking individuals who may not be documented, who may not have had positive experiences with law enforcement, either here in the US or in their native country, to walk into a police station and surrender a firearm and not quite know what exactly may happen. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee. What we did at Caminar Latino was to use our own power and privilege that we had amongst ourselves and the connections that we have with different law enforcement, different government officials, to figure out a way that we could make sure that our APIP participants respected this law and got the firearm out of the house, but that we weren’t causing additional harm to the families.
For Caminar Latino, it is not only addressing the issue of racism and white supremacy and how that can negatively impact us with our own participants, but also using our own power and privilege that the individuals who work at Caminar Latino have, either as volunteers or staff members, in a way to help to improve the policies and protocols that have been implemented to help increase the safety and wellbeing of the families.
AREÁN: Thank you so much, Jessica. Lee, one of my big frustrations in decades doing this work has been that many programs have been slow or resistant to really look at issues around culture. What do you think happens when you ignore these issues when you're doing this kind of work?
GIORDANO: I’ll start with saying a little bit about how Men Stopping Violence has ignored those issues in the past. We were started by two white men, and, in line with the broader movement at the time in the early eighties, our approach was to centralize the experiences of women without a racial analysis and focus our program on addressing men’s belief system around women, their gender prejudice. It wasn’t until many years, 10 plus years into our practice, that we were called to account by women in our community – primarily women of color in our community – who said this approach is not meeting the needs of women of color in the community. If you’re not reaching men of color well, if they’re not engaged in your programs, then the change process isn’t benefiting and creating safer communities for all women in communities. That’s where we really made a change and started to centralize those experiences of women of color.
Leading up to that moment and even now, many places and many programs in our work and in our movement are framing a conversation about racism as a distraction to the real work that needs to happen in the classroom. When there isn’t an understanding that the work of addressing racism is one and the same as the work of addressing gender prejudice and sexism, then it’s easy to marginalize some voices, marginalize some experiences. We’ve found that the conversations that we have about racism, and I think Jessica said this earlier, there are many conversations where men bring their experience to the conversation of dealing with racism and that enhances their understanding of how their behavior has imposed sexism on others. That has been a great learning opportunity for men in class. It really shows how looking at racism and white supremacy in our programs enhances the work that we do.
AREÁN: That’s really interesting to hear that evolution. Caminar Latino, of course, started from the beginning as a Latino culturally-centered program. I think that the APIP field at large sometimes marginalize approaches like yours, Jessica, by assuming that they only work for certain populations. My question is, what do you think mainstream programs can learn from your approaches to working with abusive partners even if they don’t work with Latinos?
NUNAN: I think for us, and, similar to what Lee had discussed in terms of the evolution of Men Stopping Violence, even when Caminar Latino first began in 1990, at that time the idea was that the way to address the issue of domestic violence within the Latino community was that we just need to offer support groups in Spanish. If we did that, then basically at that time we would convince the survivors to leave their partners and then everything would be solved. What we quickly learned, thanks to the voices of survivors, was that this was not going to be effective and that the role of culture was really and truly much deeper than that.
Over Caminar Latino’s 30 year history, we have found that really and truly seeing the family as a unit, and offering prevention and intervention services at the same time for each part allows you to be a lot more effective because you have a better idea about what’s going on. So, while Men Stopping Violence does not have support groups for survivors, they have a very close relationship with Women’s Resource Center, which is a local domestic violence program here in Atlanta – they don’t work in a silo approach.
Dismissing Caminar Latino, which has happened before where people were like, "Ah, that only happens with Latinos," can do a lot of danger. Because the other thing is that we saw the survivors as experts. It’s not Latina survivors, it’s survivors regardless of where they come from. It was the survivors themselves who told us that we need to work with their children and that we need to work with their partners. Pigeonholing an organization like ours and saying, "No, sorry, that’s only effective for the Latino community," could be very dangerous because there are certain values and recognizing that culture is a lot more than just language. Seeing the survivors not as victims but instead the experts in their own lives can be addressed really in any program.
The last thing, our co-founder Dr. Julia Perilla, who passed away a couple years ago, had a PhD. But despite her credentials, she was a fierce advocate about not basing who could facilitate the APIP programs based on the letters behind the name. Instead, she really focused on the importance of the APIP participants being able to really connect with whoever was facilitating. Again, I think that using values and principles from culturally-specific organizations doesn’t mean that you have to have the same approach, but take into account different things that may not have been considered in the past.
GIORDANO: We often get pigeonholed in similar ways where people will see our program as a program that works best with African American communities. I said earlier, only about half of our participants are African American. The other half are white or other racial category. I think what’s lost in that is the benefit to specifically white men to be in a program that centralizes race and ending white supremacy. Many APIPs around the country are multiracial programs and to have conversations about race in multiracial programs does a lot to enhance group process and group dynamics. It does a lot to enhance trust among men. But it also is a really important education that we provide for white men who may not have ever acknowledged the impact of racism.
There are very few places in our society where men of color and white men are coming together to have conversations about the impacts of racism. Specifically it allows us, and you mentioned that in this moment there’s a lot of conversation and uprising around the murder of George Floyd, at moments like this and this isn’t the only moment we’ve been in, it’s really important to have the language already set up around racism and acknowledgement that it exists and it manifests in our communities so that we can also provide a supportive environment to deal with these moments and these instances in our community that, if not dealt with, the men in our programs wouldn’t be able to do the work that they’re in our classes to do. They wouldn’t be able to be accountable for their abusive behavior when they’re dealing with all that’s happening in their communities around racism or whatever other issues are impacting them.
AREÁN: That makes a lot of sense to me. Lee, why do you think then the majority of mainstream programs, this is my opinion but I think it’s an informed one, why do they resist looking at culture as part of an approach to working with men who use violence?
GIORDANO: I think we’ve moved away from a movement perspective or a social change perspective and we’re adopting other models that don’t value culture. There are explanations for why men are engaged in abusive and controlling behaviors that seek to minimize culture and to apply a one-size-fits-all explanation. Even acknowledging that gender prejudice is the root of interpersonal violence is becoming less and less popular. There’s much more resource for ideas that sort of neutralize the social change components of our work.
AREÁN: Thank you. What about you, Jessica? You have anything to add to that?
NUNAN: It reminds me of the statement that I have heard, especially over the past couple months, “I see no color.” It sounds great, but it takes away people’s reality and their own individual traits and experiences. I think that what gets people into trouble sometimes is the idea that violence is violence. And while people from all different communities may use physical violence, the reasons, the responses, the experiences, what led them to their use of violence can be very different. When you look at who created the different APIP curricula, a lot of times what you’re going to see is that it’s mainly mainstream people who may have the best of intentions, but at the same time may not realize what an impact culture can make. If culture has not been something you’ve addressed and you’ve just been focusing on domestic violence, it can easily lead you down the road of thinking that violence is violence and we just need to address the violence, and it’s going to be the same across the board. I think that that can be very dangerous, basically saying I see no color can be a dangerous statement.
AREÁN: Thank you for that. I know that programs are struggling, right, because I think you can ignore culture until you cannot ignore it, and it’s just so in your face right now. It’s wonderful to have programs like both of you which have decades of experience dealing with these issues and can provide some leadership here. So, I’m very grateful for your work. I have one more question. I’ll start with Jessica. How do you train and support your staff engaging culturally-specific and antiracist approaches?
NUNAN: The majority of the time, it’s through uncomfortable conversations. At Caminar Latino, 88% is Latino, but we are very different in terms of our experiences. While I may be Latina, I look and sound white and so my experiences have been very different versus some of my other team members who have dealt with racism, who have been pulled over because of being brown. What we have tried to do is create an atmosphere where we can really discuss our own implicit bias that we may not recognize at times. While we may have done a very good job and have really looked to make sure that we’re incorporating the realities of all Latinos and not just kind of the stereotypical immigrant Latino. At the same time, a few years ago when we purposely focused on bettering the needs of the LGBTQ community, it led to some very uncomfortable conversations because of the fact that our own team members were dealing with their own beliefs and values that they had been raised with.
Providing a safe space where you can say, “this is a value and this is Caminar Latino’s principle and we are going to be working with anybody regardless of their background, their culture, their sexuality.” At the same time, it can do huge disservice if you simply send out a mandate to your team versus allowing a space where they can really discuss their own implicit biases in a safe way without fear of being punished. I think for us, it’s making the concerted and ongoing effort to really and truly not only ask our participants to look deep within themselves, but also consistently doing the same thing with ourselves.
AREÁN: Thank you, Jessica. What about Men Stopping Violence, Lee?
GIORDANO: At Men Stopping Violence we work hard to have the facilitators of our program represent who’s in our classes. What that often means is our classes are co-facilitated either by two Black facilitators or a Black facilitator and a white facilitator. Because we know that white supremacy is internalized by all of us regardless of race, we put a high priority on our personal work. One of our core principles is we are the work. We should be looking at ourselves and our own internalization and socialization of racial prejudice and white supremacy. Sometimes that happens in multiracial groups at Men Stopping Violence and sometimes it happens where the white people do that work on their own. In this moment it has, as you said earlier, it brings up a lot to the forefront, and we have decided at Men Stopping Violence to restart our white accountability or affinity groups, where the white facilitators on our staff and the white staff people get together and have the conversations that we need to have and hold each other accountable as we need to hold each other accountable.
I think our mindset is everyone needs training. We need to create an atmosphere where we’re always learning, and we need spaces where we can prioritize the accountability for the conversations that need to be happening.
AREÁN: Hmm. I love that, we are the work. I can see that already there’s a common denominator in this series of podcasts we’re doing. All the programs that we have had here have that kind of approach, that we are not necessarily different than the people we work with. Well, this has been so rich, wonderful conversation. I want to thank you both for your work. I don’t know what's in the water there in the Atlanta area, but you have two of the most amazing programs. I have always admired your work so thank you for joining us today.
Over the course of our podcast series, we are touching on several other topics, including trauma- centered 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 DVAccountability@courtinnovation.org. You can also learn more about these wonderful programs: Caminar Latino at caminarlatino.org and Men Stopping Violence at menstoppingviolence.org. And you can visit us at futureswithoutviolence.org, and courtinnovation.org. Thank you so much for listening, bye-bye.