I recently travelled to Dallas Texas to learn about a revolutionary program and a Judge dealing with Domestic Violence. That story will be on Sunday Night on 7 tonight (30/8/2015). Below are my thoughts after seeing the program first hand...
I sat in the corner of the room as each man took his turn confessing to how he had beaten his wife or girlfriend.
White, black, young, mature, heavily tattooed or conservatively dressed – the only thing they had in common was a history of violence towards the women in their lives.
I was intimidated and repulsed.
One man had strangled his wife in a drunken rage, another had hit his former partner in front of their children.
All were forced to admit what they had done, own their behaviour and most importantly learn how to prevent it happening again.
Six months of intensive therapy – honesty, accountability and practical ways to deal with their anger.
At times they would banter between each other … the brotherhood bitching about how tough their ex was making life, how she kept him from the kids, or flew into a crazy rage to pick a fight.
But depending on how far into the course they were, they would soon pull themselves up, or the therapist would.
They were only here because if they didn’t learn to control their anger they would go straight to jail.
Dallas, Texas is a city of swaggering cowboys in giant hats carrying guns.
I’m sure there’s actually a lot more to it, but let’s be honest, our images are pretty macho.
Tough men; tough country.
Dallas includes one of the wealthiest communities in the USA.
At the same time at least 17 per cent of the population lives in poverty.
But it’s here that one judge is making a stunning difference to the rates of domestic violence.
Of course the worst offenders go to jail, but if he thinks there is a chance the man can be rehabilitated and avoid turning into a harder criminal behind bars, then Judge Roberto Canas offers them an olive branch.
In his court they must first admit their guilt - being accountable is the most important step - they hand in their weapons and embark on a six month ‘Batterer Intervention Program’ that involves therapy, anger management classes, regular welfare checks and learning how to change what is often a lifetime of behaviour.
Most of these men grew up in violent homes.
I spoke to one who was born in prison … his mother jailed for killing the partner who had beaten her.
Judge Canas is trying to stop the cycle.
Fail to comply with the program and it’s straight to jail.
Ironically a few of the men I spoke to admit jail would have been the easy option.
The cops are also treating domestic violence differently.
Gone are the days when they would just break up the fight and tell them to cool down.
Some of the most senior officers now work in the Domestic Violence unit.
They keep detailed logs of all complaints and take the reporting system away from (in most cases) the woman.
Police lodge the file to prevent a partner intimidating her into withdrawing a complaint.
In the six years Judge Canas has been running his courtroom this way, 94 per cent of the men who have stood before him have no reoffended.
But most importantly he is saving lives.
Three years ago 31 women were killed by their partners in Dallas county, this year there have been three.
Here in Australia, official figures show one woman is killed every week in a domestic dispute, and this number is growing.
It's shocking and frightening and the repercussions are enormous.
One in four children are exposed to domestic violence and it's costing the Australian economy $15.6 billion a year.
Domestic violence courts like the one in Dallas are now being trialled here in Australia.
There is one underway in Dandenong and another starting next month on the Gold Coast.
I walked away from that Dallas courtroom optimistic that maybe Judge Canas has found a way, a blueprint that could be adopted around the world.
Certainly an option in many cases.
Anything to keep women safe.