You’re an 18-35 year old male. Your job is physical in nature. Maybe you work construction. You’ve got a wife. Kids. You work hard. You make okay money but the bills aren’t getting any cheaper and the wife and kids sometimes seem to spend it faster than you can make it.
The combination of trying to be a good Dad, trying to be a good husband, and trying to make ends meet is daunting in the best of circumstances. It only makes sense that you might have a drink or two at the end of your day. Maybe you smoke cigarettes or pot. Maybe on the weekend you try some harder drugs.
You tell yourself you deserve it. You tell yourself it’s just how you cope with day to day life. One day things do not go your way. Your boss is being an asshole. Some coworker fails to do his job which messes up your job. You go to the bar and have a few after work. You get home. Your wife is mad that you got drunk. She’s mad at the money you’re spending which reminds you how much money she’s spending. The argument gets loud. Maybe you hit her. Maybe you don’t. Either way, some neighbors call the police. In the state of Washington police responding to a domestic dispute arrest whoever they determine to be the aggressor. More often than not, it will be the male. So the next thing you know you’ve been arrested. The charge is Assault 4 Domestic Violence. If you managed to break anything in your house you’ll probably be charged with Malicious Mischief. Your bail is $1,000 no bond. That means you’ve got to come up with $1,000 cash to get out. You don’t have $1,000 laying around and neither do your friends. One day a prosecutor shows up to your cell and tells you that you can leave jail and not only will you be free, but the prosecutor says he won’t even seek any more jail time. All you have to do is plead guilty.
So you plead guilty. You figure that will be the end of it. You’ll get out. The prosecutor gets another conviction. Everyone’s happy. But then they tell you you’ll have to go for a Domestic Violence Evaluation. You don’t think much of it because it’s gotta be better than jail. You get out of jail. You might find that while you were in jail you discover that there is now a no contact order that does not allow you any contact with your wife. You literally can’t go home. You also can’t talk to, call, email, or text your wife. You can’t tell someone to tell her something. Any of that would be considering a violation of the no contact order which would result in more charges, possibly more jail time, and worst of all, it will establish a pattern which increases the chances of significant penalties for your actions. If you’re unlucky and sent a bunch of texts to her, an overzealous prosecutor may make each text a separate charge. If you want any of your stuff from the house, you’re going to have to have the police there with you.
With luck, maybe your wife wants to have the no contact order lowered or removed. If not, then you need to find a place of your own and that’s not going to be easy because when a prospective landlord does a background check on you they’re going to see an assault charge and probably have no idea that it might have simply been a loud argument. There’s also the part where if you spent any length of time in jail before getting out, you may or may not have a job to come back to making it even more difficult.
You get yourself squared away. Maybe your friend has a spare bedroom. Maybe your wife wants the No Contact Order lifted but it can’t happen until you get that Domestic Violence Evaluation.
So you go to the evaluation. You learn it’s not free and that you have to pay out of pocket for just about everything that happens at this agency. A counselor asks you what happened. You tell your story. You try to remain calm. You try to explain how everything you did was entirely reasonable given the circumstances. You tell the counselor how you are not a violent person. When you hear that the counselor is going to talk to your wife (who the counselor calls ‘the victim’), you aren’t sure what she might say and so you mention that she likes to make stuff up.
You find out that when this is done, you will at the very least end up with an 8-hour anger management class or at the very most a full year of attending domestic violence group therapy. There will be random drug tests. Each of these things is going to cost between $30-$60 depending on where you’re going and how much money you make.
You also find out that while you are in the program you are to remain alcohol and drug free. You learn that any random drug test that comes back positive will mean three additional months of the program. You learn that failure to show up to the required classes can result in unfavorable reports going to the court which may or may not result in you going back to jail. You may also learn that successful completion of the course is required before any lifting of the No Contact Order can be implemented no matter what you or your wife want.
If you are incredibly unlucky and have managed to lose your home and your job during the course of this, you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to come up with money for your weekly classes simply to avoid going back to jail all while trying to find housing and a job with a background check that says you assault people.
I have been working for an agency that treats domestic violence perpetrators for eight months. I’m an anger management counselor. If you lack a pattern of criminal activity, did not have charges that were all that serious, or did something that was reasonable but illegal, you may find yourself in a class like I run. The scenario I described above is the most common sort of client I encounter. The details change, but the overall story often remains much the same. Knowing that I do my best to treat my clients with a level or respect and care that most of this system lacks. I do not do this because the clients deserve it. I do it because no one learns much from someone who does not respect them and I would like to help. But I also cannot pretend the system is not broken.
I tell clients that I got into this field to help people and that I will do the absolute best I can to help them get through this uncomfortable and sometimes outright horrifying stage of their life. I also tell them that if I fail to help I will at the very least make this portion of the process as painless as possible because treatment and training should never be punishment. My job is not to punish. It’s to help.
I can see how what I have written may be considered taking the attacker’s side. It’s not. I am showing the attacker’s perspective. Domestic violence is a serious, dangerous, and all too often life-endangering occurrence. Reporting domestic violence can literally be the difference between life and death. It is for this reason that I feel so strongly that we need to provide ongoing support and help for domestic violence victims and perpetrators. I feel we can do much better than what we do now. Hopefully I can be a small part of making those necessary changes.
– Jack Cameron