While he was detained after a violent incident with his wife, Ah Man (a pseudonym) resolved to seek help to end his violent behaviour.
Ah Gun’s new job is demanding, but with his wife’s support, the couple are rebuilding a harmonious relationship.
Social Work Officer Simon Si and Assistant Social Work Officer Iris Wong work with abusive spouses to help them find constructive ways to resolve conflict in the home.
Replacing harm with harmony
February 26, 2012
When Ah Man (a pseudonym) and his wife were still newly married, he started to become violent at home. He did not abuse his wife, but when facing conflict, he would lose control of his emotions and start throwing objects around.
“I lost my temper just because my wife trimmed my plants, and I threw a big bowl on the floor,” he said, adding he could not recall how many times he had had to replace telephones in their home.
One day, Ah Man returned home to find the sitting room in a mess. His daughter had lost her temper and knocked over all the chairs. In that instant, he realised the effect his violent acts had had on his little girl.
It was not enough to make him change, though. Last March, when he and his wife had another serious argument, she called police and Ah Man was detained for two days.
“I felt so helpless when I was detained, tears filled my eyes, and I kept wondering why I was there,” he said, adding he was filled with regret for not having sought help to stop his violent behaviour.
Like Ah Man, Ah Gun did not have a good relationship with his wife. He had been working in the Mainland for more than 20 years, and sometimes played mahjong with his colleagues. The couple would argue when Ah Gun lost money, and he would sometimes turn violent.
The situation worsened when Ah Gun was laid off four years ago. He returned to Hong Kong where he had more time to spend with his wife.
“I lost my job and we did not have much savings. She complained and we had more conflicts, and I pushed her away,” he said.
Later he would feel remorseful and ask himself why he could not control his violent behaviour.
Social workers intervened and referred the couple for counselling, so they could try to rebuild their relationship.
To identify and intervene in battered spouse cases early, the Social Welfare Department launched the Batterer Intervention Programme pilot project in 2006.
Social Work Officer Simon Si said the 13-session programme had four components. In the first three sessions, participants learned about the different forms of domestic violence.
Through the “violent house” activity, participants learn that domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. Using foul language, limiting access to money or even controlling where the spouse can go are also abusive behaviours.
They also learn how harmful these acts can be, and how to release their anger in other ways.
“They need to turn away from a high-stress situation. Maybe they can go to a restaurant to have tea, or stay at home in a quiet, calm corner, so that their emotions will not escalate, especially their anger,” Mr Si said.
The batterers also gain insight into their personal development, and analyse their marriages. They are taught how to resolve conflicts peacefully and enhance their relationship with their partners.
Some batterers were victims of childhood abuse, Mr Si said, adding they might model themselves on their parents and use violence in their own marriage.
To allow them to express their inner feelings, social workers arrange ceramics classes for the batterers. The artwork they produce provides another channel for social workers to understand them.
Male batterers may appear to be strong and tough, but they usually are not, Assistant Social Work Officer Iris Wong said.
She said batterers tend to deny their abusive behaviour or shift the responsibility onto their spouses.
“They use the wrong way to express their views and emotions, especially when they handled conflicts with their partners. They tend to use a loud voice or violent acts to control their partners, to cover their own weaknesses,” Miss Wong said.
Gender equality is also discussed in the programme and social workers will demonstrate it themselves, by having male and female social workers as co-leaders of each group.
This arrangement is the same as that inside a family, Miss Wong said. The husband co-operates with his wife to maintain the family, but it is not dominated by one side. She hoped participants could learn to have a peaceful and respectful family life.
Mr Si said the results of the two-year pilot project were remarkable and encouraging: 171 batterers joined the project and nearly 80% of them completed the programme.
It seems to have been effective as only 14% of participants turned to violence in the home again within a year of completing the programme - a low relapse rate compared with other places.
The department has since extended it citywide. From April 2008 to February this year, 35 similar groups have been held and 298 male batterers joined.
Mr Si said the programme is well structured, enabling participants to learn effectively and adopt better behaviour.
“They feel they are in the same boat and understand each other. Being understood, they can start to learn something new,” Mr Si said.
When they learn that another member of the group has managed to control their violent ways and sees a positive change in their spousal relationship, it gives them hope that they can change, too.
Ah Gun and Ah Man have changed for the better. Ah Gun no longer has direct conflicts with his wife when they argue, as he has learned to stay calm and find ways to resolve the problem peacefully.
“My wife asked me what I had learned in the group every time I returned home, so I told her and hoped she could understand and apply those skills in our life.”
Living in Tin Shui Wai, Ah Man now enjoys cycling and fishing in his spare time to release pressure, and no longer throws things at home. Although his marriage has not fully recovered, Ah Man says he really loves his family.
“I hope when we are old, I can hold hands with my wife and walk together in the park. It is simple, but adequate.”