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One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Psychologist David Adams has made it his life’s work to help abusers change their violent behavior.
In 1977, Adams and a group of friends founded Emerge, the first education program in the United States for perpetrators of domestic violence.
“What we had in common was that we were friends of women who had started the first battered women’s hotlines or shelters in the Boston area, and they had been getting calls in their hotlines from men asking for help for themselves, and the women who were working for these battered women’s programs did not feel it was their mission to really help the abuser,” Adams told Here & Now.
“Why shouldn’t we expect the person who is causing the problem to take responsibility?”
So these 10 men, ranging from social workers to cab drivers, decided to take on the task and created a program to help the men who were willing to admit they had a problem abusing the women in their lives.
“We loved the idea — the whole idea of, why should the burden of change be on the victim, to disrupt her life and her children’s lives? Why shouldn’t we expect the person who is causing the problem to take responsibility?”
Some men who attend Emerge’s 40-week program are court-ordered to be there. However, “some of them are coming on their own accord and so, fortunately, I think it’s a good sign there’s a higher proportion of those men now too,” Adams said.
The men attend eight different classes that includes lessons such as “what is violence?”
Adams says the lessons help the men understand that even if they are not physically harming their partners, they may still be committing some form of domestic violence.
“Our definition of violence is anything that places someone in fear,” he said.
Adams says the long-term goal of the program is to help the men develop a sense of empathy. They may not get the most desired result the first time they go through the program, he said, but the seeds of change and understanding are planted.