Breaking the cycle of domestic violence - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Breaking the cycle of domestic violence

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse and often its roots can be traced back to childhood.

It's behavior that can be treated but not always cured.

For one man, like many others, family violence he witnessed when he was young carried on into adulthood. Now, he's breaking the cycle of violence.

27 News is not identifying the recovering abuser but he is letting us share his story.

In a poem 20 years ago he wrote, "They would hit me with a belt, but never knew the deep pain I felt. And every time the abuse would happen, a part of me would die, and I got angry... I felt alone all my life. So many frustrations I took out on my wife."

Those words still ring true for him after decades of therapy.

He says, "My parents would come home at night and get into a fight and stuff would start, the screaming, the yelling the hitting and throwing things."

That is where the cycle of abuse began for him.

When he grew up, got married and had kids he took out his anger on his family.

"Cussing and swearing and calling them names constantly and putting them down."

It was years of abuse his family endured, until one day he was arrested for battery after he hurt his daughter in a fight.

That's when he realized he had become just like his own father, angry and violent.

"I never wanted to do this. I never wanted to be here."

His chance to take a step toward change was the first offenders program called Alternatives and Treatment for Abusive Men, or ATAM.

That's where he met Dr. Darald Hanusa, who's been helping men like him for more than 30 years.

"Most of the men we work with are abusive to their own family members, they too were abused as children. They all have their own story to tell," says Dr. Hanusa.

ATAM is a 14 month treatment program with group counseling and therapy. It's one of five for offenders throughout Dane County.

Dr. Hanusa says, "We're changing the entire mentality of what it takes to be a man in our culture. Real men aren't the men that are rough and tough and push people around."

Changing that mentality begins with younger generations.

Dr. Hanusa teaches a family violence course at UW-Madison. He asks recovering abusers come to the class to tell their stories.

"I would throw things, make threats, not allow her to do anything around the house. If you control yourself and you go out into the world, others will see how you control yourself and feed off that and others will learn," says Mark, a recovering abuser.

Most of the men in Darald's group are success stories of overcoming violent behavior. That's why the ATAM program is one of two recommended to abusers through Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Dane County, or DAIS.

Shannon Barry is the executive director of DAIS.

Berry says, "It's important to us that batterers get appropriate treatment and treatment that has been validated as being successful."

But it takes years of work to change, and the abuse doesn't always vanish.

"You can teach men the skills of how to change their behavior. But until you really help them understand the impact of their behavior and how their behavior hurts someone else, change doesn't last, it doesn't endure," says Dr. Hanusa.

Recovering abusers agree.

"Part of the problem has always been breaking that habit and breaking that cycle. I do have those tools to do that but I have to make that choice at that moment to use them. Put the ego aside and ask for some help. Because the end result of what your life could be like 20 some years later is a lot different."

He also has a message for victims that are stuck in a pattern of abuse and their partners aren't willing to get help.

"Try to get out of there. If they're not willing to do something about it, it's not gonna get any better, it could get worse."

The ATAM program helps about 100 men a year.

Officials at the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence say they're working to make sure all batterers' programs across the state can have similar results, by developing a system to keep the treatment consistent across the board.

Click on the attached links for more information on the ATAM program and other resources for domestic violence victims.

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