In this episode of In Practice, Rob Wolf discusses the history, trends, and current innovations in the abusive partner intervention field with Juan Carlos Areán, program director of Children and Youth Programs at Futures Without Violence. They highlight the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Training and Technical Assistance Project, a collaboration between the Center for Court Innovation and Futures Without Violence to help communities enhance their responses to people who cause harm through intimate partner violence.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
We talk about that intergenerational cycle of violence but there's such thing as the intergenerational cycle of love and we don't talk about that so much. To change that, to change that legacy is not only to change it on your children, but it's changing it in many generations to come.
Rob Wolf: I'm Rob Wolf at the Center for Court Innovation with a new episode of In Practice, our podcast that tells the stories of practitioners -- people who work in or closely with the justice system, who are trying to make the system live up to its name, that is, make justice, more just. Today we're going to talk with a national leader in efforts to respond to domestic and intimate partner violence. Juan Carlos Areán, is a program director in Children and Youth Programs at Futures Without Violence. For the past two years, Juan Carlos has been working with the Center for Court Innovation and other organizations to enhance intervention programs for abusive partners.
As part of this project the Center and Futures have developed guiding principles for this kind of programming and Juan Carlos has also hosted a series of podcasts, looking at abusive partner intervention programs from various angles. As a leader in the field, he has numerous areas of expertise, including the intersection of fatherhood and DV, cultural approaches to end violence, and curriculum writing. He was previously the director of the National Latino Network at Casa de Esperanza and the Sexual Assault Prevention Specialist at Harvard University. He has led hundreds of workshops and presentations throughout the United States and around the world, and he is also an ordained interfaith minister and holds a master's degree in music composition. Hey, Juan Carlos. Welcome to In Practice.
Juan Carlos Areán: Thank you so much Rob. Thanks for the introduction and thanks for having me.
Wolf: Well, it is a pleasure and an honor to have you here. So, why don't we just dive in, and for people who may not be familiar with some of the terminology, if you could just define what is abusive partner intervention programming and maybe you can reflect a little bit too on how it has evolved over the years and the factors that have fed its evolution.
Areán: Well, so what we call abusive partner intervention programs is basically working with people who use violence in their intimate relationships and that cause harm in those relationships. We are at a period in history for this field that we're changing language around it and different people use different names for this kind of work. It traditionally has been called batterer’s intervention, although some people prefer to call it battering intervention. And I think some of us are trying to talk more about intervention of the behavior, rather than the person. But whatever you want to call them, these programs work with people who use violence -- originally men, but in the last few years, more people across the gender spectrum.
These programs started in the 1970s pretty soon after the battered women's movement started with the second wave of feminism. I think there were men who were allies to the women in this movement, and, as I hear from people who are originators of this kind of programming, these women basically told the men, go do something with the abusers, help them change. So, it's a relatively new field in some ways, but somewhat established now after 40 years. I have been doing the work for 30 years now, this is my 30th anniversary year. And one of the things of having been doing it for a while, one of the advantages is that you do see evolution. Sometimes evolution that you may agree with. And sometimes that you might not agree with, but in general I think this field has evolved in ways that I do agree with. Well, at the very beginning, people really didn't know what they were doing. There were no laws against domestic violence in the mid 70s and people were just trying to figure out how to do this work. As the domestic violence movement became more and more aligned with the criminal and legal systems, the programs did that, too.
So, we are now in a situation in which most of these programs are very connected with the criminal justice system, some of them with also the civil system and with child welfare, but not so much. And I think historically, there was a lot of emphasis on what a traditional definition of accountability. And what I mean a traditional definition is like mainly focusing on consequences, legal and sometimes also outside the legal system, and not so much focusing on the process of change, if you will. That's something that has been changing in the last few years. And even though not everybody is in the same boat with this, this is by no means a monolithic field. In fact, there's a lot of disagreement in many things, but more and more people are starting to realize that in addition to having very strong limits and consequences, what some people would call accountability or traditionally, you also have to be thinking about support for positive change and for barriers that might be on the way for people to make choices that are more healthy for their families. So that's one way in which I have seen the field change and it's a significant change, by the way.
Wolf: That's so interesting and before I ask, and move on, move the conversation forward. I thought maybe just to make sure so I understood correctly, it sounds like when these programs first emerged in the 70s because there wasn't a lot of legal leverage or it wasn't even recognized necessarily as a crime everywhere, domestic violence, that the effort was on, just do something. And it sounds a little more like, get them to change. And then it became more punitive as the justice system got involved. And now we're at a place where both have a role to play if there's change and there's also the accountability that comes with having laws in place. If I summarize that correctly, I'm wondering if I did.
Areán: I think that's a great way to put it. I myself had not thought about it that way. One thing I do want to add is that I think at the beginning, even when there were no mandates for people to go to these programs. A lot of people approach the work from, kind of like a righteous perspective, if I might use that word. There was either purposefully or not, there was a lot of shaming happening. And a lot of kind of separation between practitioners, some people that participated in the program. And I think there's now plenty of research to show not only in this field, but in general and when you are trying to invite someone to change that shame might not be the best way to do it. It might work for some people and guilt might work, which is different from shame. Guilt is more about feeling bad about what you've done and shame for me is more about who you are.
So even though at the beginning, there was no that legal mandate, I think the approaches and again, I totally understand that back then people were trying to figure out okay, how do we do this, how does this work? But I think through the years we have to realize that to invite people to change from a more compassionate way without colluding. And that's where people get tripped up with this issue is that sometimes they feel like, okay, what we are saying, that if we support that change, if we see more of the humanity in people who use violence to help them change, we are colluding with them, and we're making things worse.
But I believe that as you said at the end of your statement that you can do both things. You can keep a strong accountability, both from a legal and outside of the legal system like natural consequences of life. But at the same time, you can be supportive in that process of change and empathize in that way with the person. And again, it's interesting because I think more and more research is showing that that combination, that balance between those two things are probably the way to go.
Wolf: Let's jump forward in time, that is from the 1970s to now where Futures Without Violence, and the Center for Court Innovation have been collaborating. I know the goal of the collaboration has been really to advance understanding of abusive partner intervention programming and the latest research and best practices. So, how have you approached this work and what's your vision for it?
Areán: Center for Court Innovation and Futures Without Violence, in my view, are maybe the only two national organizations, and I hope that I'm not leaving anyone out, but they're at least from my knowledge the two national organizations that historically decided to include looking at abusive partner intervention as part of our work. There's many other organizations that focus on supporting victims, as we do too, and CCI does too, and bystanders and also prevention, and so on. So, there's a lot of aspects to approach this work, but I think it was in some way natural that eventually CCI and Futures would connect around this thing, this topic. Because we both have been approaching it from somewhat different perspectives, at least from the beginning. And we have been more coming from a community kind of approach, obviously CCI, a lot of their works is in the courts.
And of course there's over-lap there but as we started talking about this, even before we started this particular project, we saw that there was some interesting synergy between the two organizations and that we both had a vision that this field was ready to incorporate some innovative practices. [The field] had had more than 40 years of doing certain things that work and some things that didn't work so well, and that there was the opportunity to start introducing some new elements for the field -- not completely new because these elements were based in the work of many amazing people that have been pioneers in this field, many of whom have been working locally in a little bit of isolation.
So, part of what we have been able to do is bring out some of these people that have been doing this amazing work around the country, inviting them to be part of our advisory committee, and then together create that vision that ended up being a series of principles, which are a work progress, but important principle of how we think this work could be moved forward. And it's important to recognize that this is one perspective and that there are other perspectives on this work. But our perspective is not only actually CCI’s and Futures’, but it's also these other organizations and individuals that most of them have been doing the work for decades.
Wolf: Since you mentioned the principles, why don't we talk a little bit about them. What are some of those principles? When I think of principles, I mean, I think of something that really shapes a field becomes the core the backbone of the practice. Is that your intention, is that your hope that these principles will guide this kind of work, abusive partner intervention programming, going forward?
Areán: For me, the importance of having principles is that they are the North Star, for anything. We have principles that we sometimes verbalize and sometimes we don't in everything in our own lives and our own work and so on. I do think that it's our hope that the field at large would consider that this. I don't feel that it will be the only way in which this work is done because, again this is evolving work, we are all learning from it. But I think it could be an interesting point of departure. And I think that principles are also important because anyone who is doing the work, and there's literally thousands of programs in the US. We don't even know how many because there's no centralized way to know of that. But my hope is that when they come to our clearing house, and I hope everybody does, that they see where we're coming from. And that's what the principles for me are -- this is how we propose that the work is being done.
This is how some people in the field have been doing the work, and we are considering this to be best practices and there's some emerging evidence that some of the things that we are proposing are important. So just to quickly go through some of this principles. The first principle is that the survivor voices are centered. And for us this is so important because it is easy to do this work and forget about survivors, and some people do that. And I think that's extremely problematic and dangerous. So, we believe very strongly, as many people in the field do, that the survivors voices have to be centered.
And at the same time, we believe that accountability as I mentioned before has to be expanded from just this conception of being punitive, that accountability is more than consequences. It is that. It's important that we emphasize that, but we also, we have been talking about accountability being relational and being active. And that is what I was saying before that we connect with people at a human level, not to condone what they are doing, but to actually more easily say, you know what, what you're doing is not okay and I'm here to help you change. So, creating those relationships and again there's interesting research showing that in some cases people who go to this programs, one of the things that is the most powerful is that connection with other group members, with facilitators. Some of them even talk about being seen as human beings for the first time, and we believe that that is conducive in some cases to change.
One of the things that I think that CCI has contributed to the field that excites me a lot is the idea of bringing hope to the table, the science of hope. So, one of our principles is about hope and dignity being restored, and there's a lot of interesting emerging research showing that if you focus on hope and that you operationalize it by creating goals and creating the means to achieve those goals, that's one way to getting to change, and a wonderful way. So, both for survivors and for people who use violence.
Another very important principle is around culture and community being reflected and valued in the work. And I will be totally honest with you here Rob, that this is, after 30 years, this is one that I have struggles with a lot in the field myself. I feel the field has moved in many ways. I think the understanding that culture and things like race, ethnicity, and other kinds of identity have to be addressed significantly. I think that's one place where the field has not moved, at least as much as I would like it to move. In fact, we're having conversations with some of the colleagues at CCI but also at Futures that we have to push this even more to talk about what does it mean to have an anti-racist intervention with people who use violence. So, that's something that I'm passionate about and that I would like to explore more as we move along.
And finally, we have a principle about interventions and engagement strategies responding to the needs and strengths of abusive partners. So not only focusing on the problem, which, again, not leaving that behind, this is not either or, but both and. But looking at how can we see some of the issues that sometimes we think are justification for violence, and that might be including for instance culture and that could include things like religion, but also things like socioeconomic status, employment, education, and so on. And instead of only seeing them as justifications for violence to see them as barriers to change. And then kind of like flipping in that way. If we start seeing them as barriers then, what is our role in helping people overcome those barriers to get where we want them to be. I hope that makes sense.
Wolf: Well, it does make a lot of sense and it's consistent with what you were saying before about how the field has evolved because those principles really incorporate both the traditional notion of accountability on some level, and in different ways, but also there's a therapeutic or deeper understanding about how people actually work in the real world and if you really want to produce change you have to think about things like culture and you have to offer hope. So, it sounds like it is a fully realized version of what you described at the beginning of our conversation about how the field has in fact evolved.
Areán: And if I may add one more thing around that, is not in the title of the principles but going back to this idea of trauma-informed interventions that almost in any other field, people have incorporated some way. In this particular field of abusive intervention, some people have been doing it and more people are starting to talk about that. We know that people who use violence is a highly traumatized population, but at the same time, there's a lot of fear that if we focus on trauma, people who use violence will use it as an excuse. And that's a valid fear because one dynamic that clearly we know about is that people who use violence will use almost anything as an excuse and a justification for their violence. Even if you teach them some kind of tool to self-regulate, sometimes they use that against their partners or as their excuse. That has to be part of what you know will happen, but that, in my opinion, doesn't mean that you don't talk about things like trauma, that you don't talk about things like culture or religion, or whatever else. You can do, if you're a good facilitator, you can do both of those things, avoiding the person using it as an excuse and really giving it the weight that it deserves. And again, if people feel heard that you see them fully, not only as, quote unquote, batterer, but as a full person with both flaws and strengths, I think that opens the door to change in a different way.
Wolf: You had said the principles are aspirational and you even pointed out, particularly when you were talking about the principle around culture, that there is a way to go still in how that is incorporated into the programming. So, I wonder how you can bring about this change, how can you move this from just aspirational to actually getting programs to get closer to the vision that's expressed in these principles?
Areán: That's a great question. In some way, I think that's what this project is about. So, we are at a national level, conducting trainings and right now of course everything is virtual. So, there's the webinars you mentioned the series of podcasts, but in my mind, the way that we're doing is not just talking about it in the abstract, but bringing practitioner. So, the podcast that we have been doing is our interviews with practitioners, kind of what you're doing here, you turn the tables on me here. But that's what I've been doing, asking questions about what does this look like and why is it important. So, there are fabulous programs that work from a cultural point of view with people who use violence, and that have been doing it for decades and that have not put survivors at greater risk really, which is one of the concerns.
So, we bring people as part of, in our trainings too not only the podcast, into trainings and the webinars to talk about, how are you doing this in Atlanta, Georgia or in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or in other parts of the country, and what can people learn about this. So, our hope is that a combination of practice wisdom because, I mean some of the people that work in this field, Rob, are the most committed people I've ever seen. That's true. Certainly, with people that have work with victims of domestic violence, but also with people that work with folks who use violence. Right now, at the beginning of COVID people were facing extraordinary obstacles, including almost total loss of funding, because these programs have barely any funding outside the fee for service.
And still finding ways to deliver their services through online groups, through telephone lines, through all kinds of different things. So, there's so many inspiring examples of people that have been doing every one of these principles, putting them in practice from, certainly, putting the survivors at the center, from using the science of hope, from being relational, using culture, looking at how can we support people from other aspects in their lives like employment and other things that can help them.
So, bringing those people, amplifying their message, that's one way that we're doing it. The other, you mentioned before, is looking at what research is out there, and the research is evolving. It's been a point of great controversy in this field, even to the point of whether these programs work or not. But in the last decade or two, the research has become more sophisticated and people have been really started looking at what aspects of these programs might work or not and for whom. So, this is not a cookie-cutter kind of intervention. So yes, our hope, I think with this project is to lift those voices of people that have been doing the work, in a way that we feel is interesting and effective, and also to bring some of the research behind it.
Wolf: And maybe now's the time I'll just share the web address for where the abusive partner accountability and engagement national clearinghouse is, which has the combined work that this collaboration between Futures Without Violence and the Center for Court Innovation has produced including the podcasts that you just referenced and the principles. So, I'll mention it again at the end, but I'll do it now. It's www.courtinnovation.org/abusive-partner-resources.
Let me ask you about one area that I know you're particularly interested in and that's the intersection of fatherhood and domestic violence. And I just wondered why that particular area has drawn your interest, and maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the best practices or what we know about effective ways to respond to fathers who harm.
Areán: Sure, happy to talk about that, and it's one of my passions. So, it's interesting because I started doing this work, as I said, about 30 years ago, and my older son is 31. So, I became a father at the time where I was starting this work. And I always say that my number one job in this life, as I see it, has been raising two sons who now are our men. We at Futures have this prevention program called Coaching Boys Into Men, and I had a personal lab, if you will, about coaching boys into men. It's not always easy, but now I'm proud to say that there are two wonderful grown men. So, fatherhood has always been close to my heart and in the 10 years that I ran the groups, as many people who run groups, I realized that, sometimes, and again, none of this works for everybody, we need as many solutions as possible to this issue. But for people who were fathers, a lot of us noticed that when you start focusing on the children, for instance, on the effects of domestic violence on children. Not necessarily child abuse, although that could be too but how children's exposed to intimate partner violence are affected by it. And as you probably know there's tons of research about that. When you start talking about that people start listening, some fathers start listening differently about this issue. I realized early on that it was so much easier to develop empathy for these men towards their children than towards their partner, for better or for worse. I'm looking at points of entry here. So, after many years of doing this work, I had the opportunity when I started working with Futures in 2002, to really dig into this. And we had some funding to look at how we could use fatherhood to motivate men to make a change and we created this program called Fathering After Violence.
And what I discovered is that even though every abusive partner intervention program dealt with this issue of fatherhood and most practitioners knew that fatherhood could be an important point of entry, there were very few materials, didactic materials, curricular materials that dealt with this issue. So that was the beginning of an interesting journey because one of the things that we do at Futures, in addition to training and these kinds of things, is to develop materials for the field. So, we started developing a series of materials, starting with these exercises for abusive partner intervention programs. Then we eventually produce a video called Something My Father Would Do. All of this is in the clearing house by the way, we help people that come and visit. Then eventually we kind of expanded this approach and started working with supervised visitation centers and courts and child welfare and so on.
And have continued to expand that framework and have noticed and documented that this, again for some fathers this approach, no matter what the context is, if they are in a supervisory situation, or if they're involved with the child welfare, that this approach of talking to them about the effects of violence and children. Showing them in ways like for instance with children's drawings and those kinds of things, is a window that opens for some of these fathers to change and to want to change. So that has been a lot of the focus of the work and I'm happy to say that right now, in partnership with our colleagues here at CCI, I'm really in the second draft of a workbook for fathers that fathers directly could pick up. This is people who want to change and want to start that process of change and go through some self-reflecting exercises about the process of change from that perspectives, from raising awareness of the effects of violence and children and also giving them tools on how the process of change can happen.
And one more thing about this, that is very exciting for me is that when we first started working on this topic in 2002, there was virtually no research on this particular approach. And now there's quite a bit of research, of course there could always be more, but now there's a lot of documentation so that this is an approach that can work for some fathers. And recently I was excited to discover one study that came out of Australia that actually brings the voices of children. They interviewed a series of children that have been exposed to violence and how they talk about, what they want from their fathers in the process of change.
So, I'm passionate about this. I'm passionate about in general about abusive intervention. And one of the things that really excites me about it is that there's so much that we still don't know. There's so much that we still are discovering. So, there's so much room for creativity in the field, cautious creativity. Because, again, safety of survivors has to be always at the center. But sometimes, I'm getting to an age in which some of my friends are starting to think about retirement. And I'm so far from that I'm like, no, I want another 20 years in the field because I cannot wait to see what will be happening 20 years from now.
Wolf: Well, that's really inspiring and as you were talking about fatherhood, I can definitely relate as a father caring for your kid motivates you to change and to do things. Makes a lot of sense to me that that can be a motivator for a lot of people. But I also was thinking that, by intervening, trying to be aware, make the people who harm become aware of the impact that their behavior has on their children, you're hopefully reducing the likelihood that this will be perpetuated too. Because intimate partner violence, domestic violence can be intergenerational as well and be passed on from parent to child.
Areán: Absolutely, and that's a very keen observation because for some men to realize that they can break that intergenerational cycle of violence that might come from, literally, many, many generations, that they have that power to change that story for their children, and it's never too late to change. I mean, obviously the process of healing is a different story and it looks different for different people. But I sometimes talk to, especially directly to men about that we talk about that intergenerational cycle of violence. But there's such thing as the intergenerational cycle of love and we don't talk about that so much. And if you're a father, as you just said you know what I'm talking about. So, to change that, to change that legacy is not only to change it on your children, but it's changing it in many generations to come potentially. And that, again, can be a very powerful motivator for change for some people.
Wolf: You've also been a program facilitator and I know that's been an important part of your work. You have conducted, lots and lots of trainings, and you have helped facilitators bring their whole selves into the room. I know that that's something you talk about in your trainings and you encourage participants to bring their whole selves as well. I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about how you do that. How do you bring your whole self to this work?
Areán: For me bringing my whole self has to do with my own process of self-reflection. I think I mentioned earlier that early on many of the people that did this work, did it from kind of a detached place of, okay, there's the people, in particular the men who use violence, and there's the men that who do not use violence. I mean you could say the good guys and the bad guys. And I think it's more complex than that. If we have an analysis that at least partly the gender-based violence in our society comes from socialization from what we learn from society and from a patriarchal sexist society. As boys, that means that we all have some of that. So, I think some of the programs that I admire the most are programs, in which they don't make a clear distinction between, again, I will use this language of good guys and bad guys, good people or bad people.
But that invites the facilitators to a process of ongoing self-reflection. There's programs like Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta, where facilitators have to go through the program as participants first. Not necessarily because they identify themselves as abusive partners, but because it's important that we learn how to look into ourselves. It's by modeling and by understanding that process that we will be able to invite other participants to do it. And again, as I said before, there's some research that shows that when participants feel that there's less of a separation between facilitators and group members, you might have better outcomes. I mean, you still obviously have a separation, you have different power, you have some professional limits that you have to establish. But I think, to bring your own self is to demonstrate that you can also be vulnerable, that you can also make mistakes, that you have made mistakes in your life. That you know how to apologize to your partner if you have done something wrong. It doesn't have to be a terribly abusive thing. So, again, it's so important that facilitators model in their lives. In fact, I feel very problematic if they don't model how to live a healthy, good relationship. Not perfect because there's no such thing. So, for me that's bringing your whole self, it's in some way being real with each other and demonstrating what that means. And for me, when I teach facilitation as you mentioned, I've done quite a bit it, both in the context of abusive intervention and in the other contexts. I always say that the energy that you bring as a facilitator is as important as what you say as a facilitator, or as a trainer.
We all often focus on the words, what is the message that we're sending, but the energy that you bring is as important, and some people might argue even more important. Was it Maya Angelou that said that people remember more how you made them feel than what you told them. I think that's an interesting lesson here, and again some of the research shows what people might remember is, yeah he, the facilitator, he or she made me feel seen or made me feel that I wasn't as much of a monster as I thought I was, and that helped me in the process of accountability. So, in some ways about not only humanizing the people we work with, but humanizing ourselves too and recognizing that that means that we all have, as I said before, both strengths and also flaws.
Wolf: Well, thank you so much. I can definitely get a sense of how you facilitate because you have been very human here today and I feel heard, I guess, you answered my question. So, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It's really been a pleasure.
Areán: Thank you so much for inviting me. It was such a pleasure for me too, Rob.
Wolf: My guest today has been Juan Carlos Areán, a program director in Children and Youth Programs at Futures Without Violence. And I'm Rob Wolf, of the Center for Court Innovation. And one more time, I will tell you about the web address if you want to find out more about the collaboration and the work that the Center for Court Innovation has done with Futures Without Violence. You can visit the busive partner accountability and engagement national clearinghouse. That's where you can also hear Juan Carlos's podcast where he is in fact the host asking the questions. And there's also a lot of useful resources there too. So, that's at www.courtinnovation.org/abusive-partner-resources. You can also subscribe to In Practice on almost any podcast app, and you can sign up for the Center for Court Innovations newsletter just by going to our homepage at www.courtinnovation.org. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen today.