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Battery Row

Pam Butler
Patriarch Games: Victim Advocate Pam Butler, who has personal experience with abuse, says men inflict violence upon women because, in a patriarchal society, they can get away with it.

Photo by Christopher Gardner

As domestic violence hits epidemic levels, treatment of offenders has taken a radical feminist turn that some say favors ideology over results

By Ami Chen Mills

Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.
-- Margaret Mead

JUST A FEW ROWS from where she sat in a diner in Shreveport, Louisiana, Janet Lynd could see the state troopers. Two of them were drinking coffee, attempting to escape a muggy Shreveport summer day. Lynd wondered if she should make a break and try to get to them, throw herself on their starched blue mercy. Mike was still out in the car, furious, glaring at her through the window. Would they be able to force him to leave? And what would happen when she got home to California?

The possibilities weighed heavily, and she let her head sink. She'd been living in terror ever since she and Mike had embarked on this road trip. Driving in silence for days--him in a dismal funk, then angry and screaming, throwing things at her, then not wanting to talk to anybody--she had had to deal with rangers and hotel clerks while he sat brooding in the car.

She thought twice about the police.

Three weeks later, as Lynd tells it, on July 2, 1996, back in the Campbell home she owns and shared with him, James Michael Nichter, a Silicon Valley accountant, slugged her with so much force she crumbled to the floor in a heap. Then, she says, Nichter picked Lynd up and threw her into her sunken living room. On the floor, with her eyes shut, Lynd felt Nichter yelling into her face. She said two words to her assailant, "Oh, Mike."

It was a sigh, a resignation.

She then, according to her statements to police, crawled up the stairs to the master bedroom, locking the door behind her. There she treated the alleged blow to her face, hoping Nichter would go away. A couple hours later, there were three taps on her door. Mike wanted to talk; he was calm now. Lynd told him to wait downstairs, and she followed a few minutes later, holding a towel to her face. He promptly started screaming, calling her a cunt, a bitch and a whore. "It was pure fury," Lynd says. She reached for the telephone to call 911. Nichter grabbed the phone and hung it up, still screaming.

The phone rang.

When Nichter answered, his demeanor shifted abruptly. Suddenly he was charming, gentile Mike Nichter, the man Janet Lynd had fallen in love with a year ago.

Terrified, Lynd yelled, "He's attacked me. Call the police!"

"When he got off the phone, he had this predatory look," Lynd says. "His face turned gray, and I knew he was coming for me and I just started to run."

According to Lynd, Nichter heaved a lamp after her. The lamp shattered on the floor as Lynd ran out the front door and sought shelter among oleander bushes edging a vacant building nearby. When police arrived 15 minutes later, Mike had cleaned up the breakage and tidied the house. Once again, he was welcoming, gracious, almost jovial.

Campbell police shone a flashlight on Lynd, trembling in the dark. "Doesn't look like any damage," one officer said. They took Nichter, who denied any wrongdoing, to a local hotel.


Who's manipulating the statistics in their favor?


'WHAT IF HE WERE caught drunk driving? He would have gone to jail. Instead, he got escorted to a hotel and told he could come back to my house!" Lynd tells this story in the sunlit employee cafeteria at Santa Clara County Social Services almost a year later. She hasn't eaten or slept much. Her attacker is still on the loose, and Lynd says he has violated an emergency protective order eight times.

Lynd found out about the existence of Emergency Protective Orders not from police but from Next Door, a domestic violence agency in San Jose she contacted on her own. For two days before the EPO was served, Nichter still had keys to Lynd's house and car. The next morning, Nichter entered the house and posted "keep out" notes on his stuff. That afternoon, Nichter came in with a friend, she says, and chanted, "Kill, kill, kill," outside her locked bedroom door.

Lynd's case was dropped by the DA's office on July 11 before photos of her bruises and wounds were even developed. The police department, she says, destroyed the roll of film. She claims her dealings with Campbell police and the county judicial system have been "bewildering, insensitive and in some cases blatantly hostile."

According to Lynd, Nichter--who owns a house on the same block--has since surprised her, screaming obscenities when she stepped outside to empty her garbage. Lynd sleeps in her bedroom with the door locked.

Charges were finally filed, and a warrant for Nichter's arrest was issued Dec. 17, half a year after the incident. The warrant was lost, she says, in the municipal court and was not signed by a judge until the end of January. Despite Nichter's threatening behavior, a requested bail of $25,000 was lowered to $5,000--and Nichter is back on the street.

"Are you starting to get the picture?" she says, sipping coffee, too nervous to eat even a piece of fruit. Lynd's delicate blonde hair has been falling out. She bears the countenance of a woman hounded. She has already changed her telephone number and now she thinks she might have to move. "He's right where I live, and it's been one thing after another," she says. "But why should I have to move? I didn't do anything wrong."

THESE DAYS, LYND spends much of her time with Pam Butler, Santa Clara County's recently hired Victim Advocate. Like Lynd, Butler was the victim of an abusive relationship, which lasted 18 months. With the help of a persistent DA, Butler was able to get her ex-husband indicted on 12 felony charges and one misdemeanor. Michael Braga is now serving almost seven years in prison, but he'll be free in a year, and, Butler says, "I know this guy. He's hell-bent on revenge. The guards are telling me to be scared. When he gets out, I'll be looking over my shoulder until one of us is dead."

In the meantime, Butler, an energetic straight-talker with an upbeat, gallows humor, spends nearly 14 hours a day attempting to help women like Janet Lynd navigate a system she claims is often indifferent to the plight of battered women.

According to Butler, Lynd is the victim "that doesn't exist" because Lynd was battered only once. Butler--who has become a victims' advocate of national stature--tells stories of women who live in terror every day, unsure of what to do or say to their batterers, unable to do anything "right," afraid to leave and petrified to stay.

Women who are victims of domestic violence describe being punched, kicked, beaten and thrown to the floor into puddles of gravy husbands thought unfit to eat; women have been urinated on, strangled, smeared with food. They have also been killed, especially when they attempt to leave their batterers. Survivors describe living under the reign of men who use physical strength to punish and control them.

The experiences of these victims have given birth to the development of a new paradigm for looking at domestic violence. "Domestic violence is a man's issue," Butler explains. "It's all about power and control. Men do domestic violence because it works, because they can. We are a patriarchal society, and we always will be. ... Five million women are battered by their husbands or boyfriends every year. That's a woman battered every nine seconds. We need to hold men accountable for what they're doing."

BUTLER'S VIEW, while reflecting her own experience, also reflects a national, if under-reported, revolution in the treatment and ideology of domestic violence, a revolution which has gained a solid foothold in California and has emerged as sharply defined policy in Santa Clara County. Across the country, batterers' treatment programs are shifting to embrace a feminist-informed, gender-based analysis of battery--one in which men (or mostly men) batter because they are the beneficiaries of "male privilege" and because they sit on top of a patriarchal "power pyramid."

While almost completely abandoning traditional approaches to domestic violence, such as examining relationship and family dynamics and doing couples counseling and anger management, the male-patriarchy view of domestic violence focuses instead on "reeducating" men about their "privileged" position until they relent and admit that they are responsible for their own violence--and any violence in the relationship. This model pays little attention to women as batterers, and less to gay and lesbian domestic violence.

Although some experts say there are no studies showing batterers' intervention programs are effective at all, legislators have heeded the call of battered women's advocates and are enforcing this newly emerging model on a public which knows little, if anything, about it.

California is one of the first states in the nation to dictate themes for batterers' programs along these lines, and Santa Clara County has been perhaps the most zealous in pursuing its enforcement. But in the eyes of at least one critic of the new model, San Jose­ based psychotherapist Eric Towle, county officials have "used their positions to further their own radical political agenda. ... They have instituted a set of standards for treatment which ... [force] any individual entering these programs to pledge allegiance to radical feminist social philosophy."

POLICE OFFICERS in San Jose estimate that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their calls are in response to domestic violence incidents. In the last year, roughly 3,000 charges were filed by the DA's office against alleged batterers, 127 of them women. Santa Clara County has been relatively proactive in dealing with what, after war, may be the most widespread form of violence. Law enforcement officials, judges, probation officers, volunteers, victims and women's shelter advocates here have organized a multitentacled attempt to protect women like Butler and Lynd. A countywide Domestic Violence Council formed to coordinate agency efforts now oversees more than 10 committees. "Domestic violence has been ignored for so long," says Superior Court Judge and council founder Len Edwards. "At least now we're giving the issue some focus."

For years, the treatment of batterers in the state was left to a hodgepodge of agencies and therapy groups whose techniques varied widely. Some organizations existed only on paper; some convened meetings in airport lobbies. In an attempt to achieve consistency, an early county certification committee led by Rolanda Pierre-Dixon of the DA's office drafted initial guidelines for batterers' intervention programs in 1994.

Later that year, the state intervened with state bill AB226 and adjunct bills which mandated 52-week batterers' programs, rigorous tracking of batterers in the system, victim contact and alerts and some thematic content for intervention programs. Drafted in part by L.A.'s Special Assistant to the City Attorney Alana Bowman and Hamish Sinclair, founder of the ManAlive! program, the new law--introduced by Assemblyman John Burton--gave county probation departments the power to "certify" batterers' programs and mandated that "gender roles" and "the dynamics of power and control" be included as topics.

Bowman, with the California Alliance Against Domestic Violence, wrote a more rigorous document called "Model Guidelines for Batterers Programs" in 1994. Santa Clara County probation officers Karen Berlin and Mary Pat Panighetti volunteered to draft new county standards following the Alliance model. The new standards cover a wide range of issues, but Towle says the underlying philosophy is "pure feminist theory."

Group themes for discussion include "misogyny," "the connections and similarities between domestic violence and racist oppression imposed by the dominant culture" and "superiority and privilege based on gender."

The standards imply that batterers are not insecure, pathologically jealous or perhaps deeply damaged individuals, but calculating and controlling men, for the most part, who believe in their superiority over women and who take advantage of their greater strength to exercise "male privilege" and keep women and children in thrall to their whims. "Batterers do not 'lose control,' but carefully select the targets of their abuse," the standards state. Abuse is "deliberate behavior," used to "control and restrict the behavior ... of another."

The standards discourage efforts to teach batterers stress management, listening skills and communication skills, or to explore past experience or examine "distorted thinking" and its effect on emotions. Analysis of psychopathology and individual sessions are discouraged because they might serve to "support the defendant's [false] belief of uniquely different reasons for employing violence." While all batterers are seen as similar and employing violence for the same reasons, victims' experiences, on the other hand, "are not universal; ... the program must respect the rights and individual differences of the victims at all times."

Group leaders need not be licensed, but are required to go through a training series that includes a "gender analysis of domestic violence," "gender role socialization," "diversity issues" and "unlearning oppressions." Facilitators must also "confront heterosexism and homophobia within group sessions."

The standards' purpose, as expressed by their authors, is to protect victims and to recognize a real feeling of powerlessness experienced by many women who are the victims of terroristic men. But growing numbers of therapists here and nationwide are dismayed by what they see as a trend to villainize all batterers--specifically, male batterers--and turn a blind eye to the often messy reality of relationship dynamics and individual psychology.

Eric Towle
Not Certifiable: Therapist Eric Towle says the county's new domestic violence treatment standards have created the equivalent of a "radical feminist re-education camp," where battery is equated with masculinity.

Photo by Christopher Gardner

ERIC TOWLE IS a therapist with Family Violence Counseling Associates, a San Jose agency which was decertified last year along with nine other programs. Some professionals see him as a man who has read too many men's-movement books, but Towle contends that what's happening in Santa Clara County is very real. He has mounted a campaign to confront what he sees as the creation of a "radical feminist re-education camp." He is seeking the help of the ACLU, which has agreed to review his complaints.

According to Towle, objections raised by local therapists to the developing standards last year led to charges that therapists were "colluding with batterers." Towle says he was silent at first because "any information, no matter how truthful, that leads anyone to believe that women are involved in the violence can confirm old notions that women who are beaten are asking for it in some way and are, therefore, unworthy of attention and help." However, Towle contends, "the 'battery is masculinity' argument is akin to saying that selling crack is not the outgrowth of poverty and desperation, but a natural feature of African American culture. Male abuse should be understood as a pathological deviation, an act not of the strong male, but of the morally impoverished, emotionally weak and insecure male."

Other therapists echo Towle's sentiments. Those whose programs are still being considered for certification are generally skittish about expressing opinions to the press. Court referrals are the bread and butter of their programs. But others, whose programs have been irreversibly decertified, now have nothing to lose. They accuse the county of falling in lockstep behind the lead of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, a batterers' program headquartered in Duluth, Minn., known as the Duluth model. The Duluth model is perhaps the most widespread of the male-patriarchy batterers' programs, with trainings in hundreds of cities across the country and a recent series of Marine Corps contracts.

Therapists claim that only programs conforming to the Duluth model pass muster with probation. "We feel they are very much oriented to Duluth," says Pat Cibart, whose San Jose­based program, "A Men's Group," was decertified by probation last July.

Cibart says that after failed attempts to conform, she has given up talking to officers Berlin or Panighetti. "It's just far too political for me. ... I will not support male bashing." Cibart says her group will shut down this month. "I believe we need to address the issue of family violence," she says, "and that's not something probation seems to have an interest in. They are very sincere and want what's best, but their perspective is narrow."

According to Cibart, the certification process was confusing and ideological. She says she attempted to utilize Duluth materials, including the ubiquitous "power and control wheel," which identifies eight areas in which men use power and control to abuse women. Cibart had attached the wheel to its complementary "equality" wheel in a figure-eight and was teaching men that at various times they behave either from a point of control or from partnership.

"Man, when [probation] saw that, they got so mad," she says. "They saw equality as the woman's tools and said I couldn't link them. ... I made it into a continuum because sometimes we're all abusive. If we just hammer away at the men, we're taking away all their possible behaviors. We're not giving them anything."

In his on-site review, certification committee member Bruce Doneux noted the figure-eight. He also wrote, more generally: "Not much acknowledgment of gender role conditioning nor of male dominance. ... The talk on power seemed much more gender-neutral. Facilitator stated that women bring their own, different power/hierarchy or equal power over men based on gender. Also mentioned that power shifted back and forth between men and women rather than men holding constant power over their partners. ... Facilitators laughing and joking ... seemed to collude with lessening the seriousness of some of the discussion." Cibart was found noncompliant in 26 areas.

Therapists like Cibart are concerned that a desire to hold batterers accountable for their actions has pre-empted attempts to understand why batterers batter--except because they are men and can batter. Many think that batterers can be both held accountable and understood.

"There are some men that are deliberate and intentionally controlling their wives, and those are the guys you've got to watch out for. They are dangerous," Cibart says. "But the majority are men who are terribly insecure and dependent. They have been violent and abusive--even when a woman hits first, there's no justification for hitting her. But if you have perpetrators, you have victims. They both have roles."

CIBART AND COUNTY social workers like Daniel Vo, who works with children, are also concerned that the intense focus on gender neglects a larger picture of family violence. Even trainers from Duluth admit that in many cases of abuse by men, women are also abusing children. Vo claims at least 30 percent of the children he works with tell him that " 'Mom did it also,' or that 'Mom hit Dad, too.' Some kids say: 'Mom hit Dad, and he wouldn't do anything about it.' We must face the whole issue, but the political bandwagon right now is to punish the man. And they are forcing everyone to sing their tune. It's uncomfortable to be in meetings as a man. My morale has been very low."

Officer Berlin, who with Panighetti wrote the county standards, contends that in drafting them she attempted to conform to the spirit of the law. "The previous county standards did not reflect the intent of the law. If therapists have difficulties with it, they ought to go to Sacramento and have the law changed."

Further, Berlin says the standards were a culmination of a year's worth of "meetings and communications," during which the certification committee sought community input. If batterers wish to seek therapies beyond the scope of court-mandated programs, or if therapists wish to recommend such therapies, Berlin points out, both parties are free to do so. "They can still get their needs met."

State bill AB226 mandates that "gender roles" and "the dynamics of power and control" be subjects for group discussion. But the California Alliance Against Domestic Violence model guidelines for batterers' programs--drafted by Bowman--get to the nitty-gritty, defining abuse as an attempt "to undermine the will of the victim and to substitute the will of the perpetrator for the will of the victim." The guidelines are based on gender-role models and encourage a "challenge of attitudes which promote the use of abusive behavior," including "rigid sex role stereotypes" and "gender superiority."

County standards, however, seem to have taken Bowman's guidelines a few steps further. While the guidelines describe traditional approaches as "inappropriate if they stand alone," the county standards state that those approaches "shall not be the focus of intervention" [original emphasis]. Berlin and Panighetti also added topics like "misogyny" and "heterosexism" to their themes for discussion.

Bowman, a star player in state and national domestic violence legislation who was appointed by Janet Reno to the National Council on Violence Against Women, believes that Santa Clara County probation standards "most closely reflect the intent of the law. Santa Clara is the model I present statewide and nationally. I looked at the standards as they were being drafted, and frankly, I was impressed."

Bowman says the Alliance guidelines are not state-mandated, but they are the culmination of years of research into batterers' intervention programs across the country and were drawn from effective programs. "As work has been done nationally, the classic description of domestic violence [by battered women] is what has been described by Duluth as power and control. Very little of it has to do with what traditional counselors want to focus on. Overall, there is an intentional use of violence. A man thinks he's allowed to beat up his wife."

But according to such researchers as Richard Gelles, director of the Family Violence Research Program, attempts to legislate any batterers' treatment programs at the current time are misguided. "Legislating standards is inappropriate and wrong-headed. The bottom line as we speak is that there are no scientific evaluations that can tell us what works for what men and under what conditions. Anybody who claims they have the secret categorically does not know what they're talking about. Any attempt to impose standards is based on marketing and not science. It's happening all across the country, and legislators are buying it."

GELLES IS ONE of a few researchers who work within a swirling storm of controversy over what works and what doesn't, and whether men or women batter each other more. [See "Stat Wars" sidebar, page 17.] While advocates like Bowman have fought hard to make domestic violence "a violence against women issue," as she puts it, stats that belie this perspective are sometimes ill-received. Gelles claims he's received death threats from feminists upset with his results.

According to Gelles' research and Bureau of Justice Statistics figures, women are injured by men in intimate relationships in a ratio of roughly 6-to-1. In criminal cases, women comprise nearly 90 percent of the victims of domestic abuse. Although some advocates say there is no profile of a battered woman, statistics show that poor women are more likely to be attacked.

Gelles maintains, however, that in violent relationships, roughly 25 percent of the violence involves a woman as the sole batterer, 25 percent involves men as sole batterers and 50 percent of the violence is "mutually combative." Women are also more likely to strike first, he says. He adds that men "seem to be less willing to seek treatment for injury at the hands of female partners. So males are injured at lower rates, but males are hit at higher rates. You can't wish that away."

Another researcher cited by Bowman, Jeffrey Edleson, a professor of social work at the University of Minnesota, claims that intervention can help. Rigorously structured educational programs and "psycho-educational" programs that combine education with therapy have been shown to be effective for some men, he says. Still, Edleson cautions, "I don't think we know exactly what works for different men. It is probably a good idea to provide guidelines, but guidelines can be overly restrictive and hamper innovation."

Edleson also asks, "Once batterers have stopped being violent, is it fair to seek their total transformation? Where do batterers' interventions end and 'men's-change' projects start?"

According to Richard Gelles, only one treatment for domestic violence appears to be a "very effective" intervention: couples counseling in which both parties are voluntary, not court-mandated, participants--a difficult model to legislate.

THE GROWTH OF feminist-informed treatment programs has roots in a natural concern for women's safety and well-being, along with a generalized distrust of men. A man is usually stronger than a woman, and a woman in an abusive relationship is often trapped by threats of violence and murder, and also by economics. But some therapists contend that their cases mostly are not life-and-death and are often mutually combative. The question is: How many men in court-mandated programs fit the current treatment model? How many women are truly scared stiff?

Opinions vary and are linked to the observer's own beliefs. A men-are-villains perspective creates awkward Catch-22s. A woman who claims that she was also violent, that she is also to blame, or who comes to the DA seeking to dismiss charges against a man, is seen as either "in denial" about the violence or coerced. Cases are brought to trial without victims' support, and sometimes women testify for the defense.

Roughly 90 percent of women who call police with complaints of abuse recant--or "go sideways"--when charges are pressed. "I spend half my day talking to victims who are telling me, 'I slipped on a banana peel,' or 'I hit him, too,' or 'I had an epileptic attack,' " says Pierre-Dixon, leader of the DA's Domestic Violence Unit. But Pierre-Dixon says that by the time a woman has called police, violence has usually happened more than once. "I believe the majority of misdemeanor cases have to do with power and control. This kind of therapy will, I think, work for them. I see too many cases where the guy comes in screaming, 'I'm the king!' "

Judge Jerome Brock, on the other hand, who sits on one of two municipal domestic violence courts, says that while there's "a component of control, certainly with some personalities, frequently the violence is not calculated at all. It's often isolated, and an inappropriate reaction to some stress that's going on. You get people who aren't educated and have poor relationship skills. I'd feel better if they were in a program about anger management or communication skills."

Joanne Harwick
Christopher Gardner

Model Citizen: Joanne Harwick of the Community Psychotherapy Institute in San Jose successfully introduced the Duluth model to Santa Clara County. She sees violence as an extension of male power and privilege.

THE COMMUNITY Psychotherapy Institute on Saratoga Avenue, co-founded by therapist Joanne Harwick, was one of the first agencies to introduce the Duluth model. At a recent batterers' group there, one man admitted, "I do put myself at the top of the pyramid," and another revealed his "lack of respect toward women in general. That's my belief system. That's me."

But when traditional gender roles were written on an ink board, with women doing housework and serving men, some of the men balked. "This is more sort of '40s or '50s," one man said.

Harwick, a grandmotherly facilitator with a stern and capable demeanor, rebutted, "It's easier to make that point if you're male. A woman's clavicle got broken today--in 1997," she added, referring to one batterer's assault.

Another man pointed out that "a woman's not mentally handicapped. She's not stupid." Someone else mentioned that now women can vote. "It took longer for women to get the vote than blacks," Harwick retorted. There was a general silence.

Finally, someone referred to Hillary Clinton as a woman with power, and Harwick made a comparison to peasants in Brazil that seemed to go over the men's heads. Eventually, one man mused that "society is kind of jumbled up."

By design, the group facilitator has the right to boot any man out of the program for unsatisfactory participation. If that happens, the man heads back to probation and may be forced to start all over and pay another fee, or wind up in jail. Again, an awkward Catch-22: There seems to be no way out for these men except to declare seemingly heartfelt mea culpas until they are released from the program. Does that mean they have changed?

There is a definite tendency for batterers to try to worm out of culpability and minimize the severity of their violence. But by this model, no batterer can ever be telling the truth if he claims his partner had some involvement in the violent dynamic.

Therapists constantly struggle with their inclination to empathize with men and their mandate to hold them accountable. Even therapists like Harwick, who is considered hard-line Duluth, admits there might be a need for couples therapy in some cases: "We may need to do more work on that," she says, but only if the woman feels safe and all violence has stopped. Victims of violence report that forced couples counseling often makes the violence worse.

For men who have been battered by women, the gender-based analysis of domestic violence is angering. "Mike" is a 29-year-old from Sonoma who says that in his eight-year relationship with his wife, he was beaten regularly for almost six years. He has told no one until now. According to Mike, a soft-spoken man who says he loves his family very much, his wife has broken furniture over his head and hit him repeatedly with household objects until they break. For three years, he says, he endured the beatings, which seemed to come in cycles. "I just absorbed the blows. But then I started to grab her and hold her down on the ground, and when I started having violent feelings toward her, I got scared and stopped fighting back. But I felt so stupid that I couldn't protect my children. ... There's an incredible amount of pain.

"I went into the bookstore recently and asked if they had any books on women as batterers, and the guy looked at me like it was some bizarre question. He said try the psychology section, so I went there and got this book called Women Who Kill, and the introduction is all about this male conspiracy against women. That's so stupid. I have every sympathy for women who have been battered, but I would not extrapolate my situation to all men who are battered."

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is a natural for feminist analysis. Here is where women are being beaten up, and, yes, oppressed, physically oppressed, by men. Some women, that is. But other women may be engaged in their own patterns of abuse and power and control. Mike says his wife seemed to need to control everything in the house, including him.

According to critics of the gender-role model, tracing the roots of the problem does not mean retracting blame or shifting blame to victims. It may be possible to understand violence while condemning violence--and attempting to keep victims safe at the same time.

In Terrace, B.C., a Native-based center for domestic violence has instituted a program that flies in the face of current gender-role models. "We don't really give a damn about what white people think," says Maurice Oates, a professor and former probation officer whose mother and sister were killed by his stepfather. Oates says the Circle of Harmony Healing Society's 12-week program is voluntary and accepts only couples who split up for six weeks in same-gender sessions and then come back together in group for six weeks. All participants are considered equal and "not adversaries. ... All our programs avoid sexual bias."

Oates founded the program with medicine woman and former domestic violence victim Joanne Peters--much to the dismay of local "gender feminists," Oates says, "who were telling us it would be a disaster. We call those people the 'wounded healers' because they try to help people, but they have not yet dealt with their own pain and agony."

Oates claims a fantastic--and unstudied--95 percent success rate, adding that the program, which reflects a Native Healing movement across Canada currently being studied by the Canadian attorney general, does "continuous follow-up" with its couples. He is happily indifferent to what he sees as the "current thing" in domestic violence treatment, in which "everybody's got to be a victim. People have got to get past that. We know on our Native reserves that domestic violence is a 50-50 proposition, and we don't want to get caught in your gender wars. It's always: She's got a reason for the violence, but he never has a reason for violence."

To that Oates bellows a hardy "Har! Har!," then says quietly, "Sometimes we lose contact with reality and get caught up in political beliefs. Here we focus everyone on themselves. A focus on self is the Native way, and it works out very well for us. We have a very positive view of human beings. Our creator created us to be good, and we don't label people or lock people into roles because that doesn't allow change. If you set up a positive environment for people to change, it's amazing what people can do."

Some names and circumstances were changed to protect privacy.

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro

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