Rehabbing offenders is crucial to stopping domestic violence, but programs are rare

Unsafe at Home
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The following is part of a multi-week series on domestic violence in South Carolina.

FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) – Allen McBride tells the men in his Alternatives to Violence program that it is up to them to stop the cycle of multi-generational violence.

“It has come to you,” McBride, the program’s director, said. “Maybe it was your grandfather. Maybe it was your father. Now, it is your turn. It is your turn to stop the cycle, and I think for the most part, a great deal of clients, they recognize that, and they understand that, and that in itself is seen in these statistics we have, because our recidivism rate is very low.”

Out of every 20 students referred to the 26-week program – usually through the courts, an attorney or their pastor following an assault – only one will go on to reoffend. 

More than 210 people went through the program, run by the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault, last year. Although it’s seen tremendous success, there are only a couple of domestic violence rehabilitation programs in the state. 

There are about 32,563 cases of intimate partner violence in South Carolina each year, according to data from the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA). About 42.3% of South Carolina women and 29.2% of men will be physically or sexually abused, or stalked, by a romantic partner within their lifetimes. 

Those statistics have painted a bleak picture in the state, which has ranked among the worst in the nation for both its rate of domestic violence, and for how often women are killed by men.

An arrest could be what an abuser needs to turn things around.

“If there is no accountability for offenders, they are going to keep pushing those limits,” said Sara Barber, the executive director of  SCCADVASA.

She said men who have perpetrated domestic violence often say that they want to be good dads.

“For some people, remorse is very real,” she said. 

Consistency in programs and enforcement is key, Barber said, but shaming people isn’t an effective way to rehabilitate offenders.

A program used to exist in the Myrtle Beach area, but disappeared a few years ago, according to Kim Parsons, the executive director of the Family Justice Center, which aids domestic violence survivors in Horry and Georgetown counties. She thinks it’s a crucial program to revive.

“There is a continuum of violence, and we need to have services in place for everyone who is on that continuum, whether it’s the perpetrator, the victim or the children who are witnessing the violence,” Parsons said. 

She wants to work with community agencies to identify what types of services will be useful to help break the cycle of violence.

“We can continue to arrest and release, arrest and release, and it’s not working,” she said. 

Accessing existing programs is difficult. The first struggle is finding one. The second is affording it. 

The Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault’s Alternatives to Violence program costs $690. Clients on probation usually qualify for fee assistance, which brings that price down to $400.

There is not state government funding to help create and pay for offender rehabilitation programs.

McBride said the organization can work with clients on a sliding scale to potentially reduce costs if they’re not able to afford the entire price. However, students still will have to pay something.

The program teaches about power and control, and stresses that a marriage license is not a certificate of ownership. Other sessions teach about how to have healthy conversations and understand the historical and cultural issues that have normalized male domination.

“They get to understand that violence is not the answer,” McBride said. 

Some clients come in ashamed. Others don’t want to admit what they did, but after the fifth or tenth sessions, McBride said that starts to shift.

“They begin to own up to what has been written down [in a police report], and they begin to own up to their own violence, and that, in itself, is a sign that they are coming to grips with the fact that ‘I’ve done something wrong,’” he said. 

He’s seen numerous successes through the program. McBride, a former parole officer, said one man started talking to his cousin and got him out of a gang. Another said that he didn’t respect women, but decided to get married. 

A lot of the program includes unlearning behavior they saw in childhood, and learning not to pass that legacy onto their children. 

Studies have shown that breaking those generational cycles is crucial to stopping future violence. 

Adverse Child Experiences, also referred to as ACEs, can have “a tremendous impact” on future victimization and perpetration, along with potentially damaging health and future opportunities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Child abuse, child neglect, witnessing violence in the home or having a parent who abuses substances or is incarcerated all quickly add up an ACE score. Adults who have a high number of ACEs have a greater chance of developing a chronic health problem, mental illness, or abusing substances, and the CDC states that “Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships.”

Lashonda Vereen, who landed in the hospital multiple times after being abused by a romantic partner, wants to see more rehabilitation programs so that abusers don’t move on to another relationship and victimize more people.

“They need to see what they’ve done to these women and face it, and the only way to do that is through therapy,” Vereen said. 

Other services, she said, could help abusers overcome challenges like substance abuse. 

Barber said that for those who grew up in abusive homes, programs can help them learn that things can be different in their own. 

What communities need to do, she said, is have hope.

“If you say people can’t change, then you’re giving them an excuse for their behavior, because if this is a choice, then people can change,” Barber said. “I think that not holding that hope is giving people an excuse.”

To enroll in the Alternatives to Violence Program, call (843) 673-2008.

Domestic Violence Resources
If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence, the following resources are available.
Family Justice Center
Crisis line: 844-208-0161
Website
Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault
Crisis line: 800-273-1820
Website

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