Abuse program fails to track men ordered to class

Tuesday, November 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:00 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boone County victims’ advocate Mark Koch says men haven’t been the primary focus of domestic violence programs. “It wasn’t men calling hotlines saying ‘Help me stop being an abusive bastard.’ It was women saying ‘I’m going to die if I don’t get out of here.’ What we’ve been dealing with is the ways in which women can change. Men have to change, too.”

Most domestic violence offenders in Boone County are ordered by the court to supervised probation for two years and counseling, according to Boone County probation and parole officer Julie Florence.

“We see people come back again and again,” Florence said.

Ted Solomon, outpatient program coordinator at the Family Counseling Center which offers groups for batterers, said each group starts with 15 to 20 people, but as many as half drop out. The participants are court-ordered, but the center rarely deals with the court directly.

“They (participants) have to deal with whatever that means,” Solomon said. The consequences of probation violation are not spelled out for the program’s counselors.

According to Florence, if offenders failed to attend because of sickness or work, they go back on the waiting list for another session.

“If it’s because of a new arrest, generally that’s subject to court action,” she said.

The offenders may be ordered back to counseling, or they may serve time in jail.

Florence said about 30 men are waiting to get into Boone County’s one program for batterers at the Family Counseling Center. Some on the list will wait months before starting.

There are more successful intervention programs elsewhere. According to Edward Gondolf, a nationally known expert in the assessment of batterer intervention programs, those programs don’t focus on the cause of behavior but on ways to change it. They also are part of a coordinated system.

“In Pittsburgh, for instance, they have a highly computerized system that’s integrated with the court,” Gondolf said. “All 30 (counseling) sites in the city have laptop computers that take attendance and payments. Those are downloaded into a mainframe that processes them each night. If a guy misses two sessions, there’s a faxed list to the court the next day, warrants are issued and the guy’s got his butt in front of the court. So there’s no gap of time. The guy’s put in jail or he may be additionally fined or he may be sent back to the program conditionally.”

Members of Boone County’s DOVE unit would like to see such a program in Columbia.

Progress is being made in other states that Missouri could look at as well. Florida, for example, has six statutes that regulate batterers’ intervention programs. Missouri has none.

Missouri also does not have a statewide standard for batterers’ programs, although a group is currently working to create one, according to Coble

New York along with several other states has legal provisions for unlimited renewal of restraining orders. Missouri has a two-year maximum.

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