Challenges for perpetrator work in traditional catholic societies
There are pros and cons of working in a Catholic society as regards to perpetrator programmes. The pros are that the idea of “giving sinners a chance” and “sustaining families” and supporting people facing difficulties find a very receptive ear. When working with Perpetrators it is often the case that traits of minimization and denial of violence are linked with shame and guilt. Again the ideas of “shame and guilt” are very richly described by the Catholic ethic and are quite familiar concepts for men working on violent behaviours in groups or individually.
The flip side is that there is a risk of not understanding the importance of shifting the responsibility on the abuser and putting the focus on “family” and recuperating relationships. This is probably one of the strongest risks of Perpetrator programs in Catholic countries. The “catholic” establishment may fully endorse Perpetrator programs because they respond to the “Catholic value” of mediation of conflicts and finding ways of keeping families together. This means there is the risk of programmes overlooking the safety of women and children and that women be considered responsible for the violence. In fact traditional stereotypes of women’s role as mothers and wives enhance the idea that women should be held responsible for the well being of the family so if there is violence she will be considered, at least partially, to blame. Also the “Catholic” idea of “forgiveness” might be used in convincing women to “give men another chance” and in forcing the idea of keeping up the relationship rather than separating. There are thus several very at risk areas that must be carefully understood when working on Perpetrator Programmes in Catholic Countries.
It is therefore necessary that a primary focus be made, at all times, on the assessment of safety for women and children and also Programmes must be clear on protecting women’s right to choose how they wish to deal with the violence, putting safety as a priority in all cases.
It is important that the issues of perpetrator accountability and victim safety be held steadily in place and the rhetoric of family be deconstructed and not endorsed.
President at Centro di Ascolto Uomini Maltrattanti
WWP Board Member