“All Women are Bitches”

4 diverse women

I was completing an initial assessment with a young man who had been referred to our battering intervention program. He clearly did not want to be there, but he was doing his best to show that he would cooperate.  His answers were short, to the point and he came across as angry in his general demeanor.  When I asked him for basic information about his partner, he called her a “bitch” and said that he did not really want to talk about her.  When I asked him questions about his mother, he again, used the term “bitch” and described qualities that he did not like about her, including the fact that she had left him when he was young. I decided to dig deeper, so I pointed out to him that I had only asked him about two women in his life and he had described both as “bitches”.  I asked him if he felt that way about women in general or was it only these two.  He jumped out of his chair startling me. He took off his shirt and turned to show me his back.  Tattooed in large bold letters across his shoulder blades was “All Women Are Bitches!”  He then turned back toward me and said, “Any more questions?”

Most people who come to battering intervention programs have certain beliefs that serve as the “motor” for their behavior. Rarely do those who come to battering intervention programs have their abusive beliefs tattooed on their backs.  Examples of beliefs that many program participants hold include, “Men are supposed to be in charge”, “Women are inferior”, and “If I am not in control something bad will happen to me”.  There are many others. Unfortunately, many people who facilitate programs focus solely on addressing these beliefs and miss the opportunity to pursue the trauma history that frequently serves as the birth place for this type of dominating and controlling thinking.

He spent years experiencing severe abuse at this woman’s hands, while his father turned a blind eye. He finally “escaped” from home when he was 17, vowing never again to allow anyone to treat him that way again.

During the assessment with my tattooed friend, I was able to learn a great deal about his literal hatred of women.  His mother leaving him was a very painful event, but it turned out that the step-mother who followed was the true horror in his life.  He spent years experiencing severe abuse at this woman’s hands, while his father turned a blind eye. He finally “escaped” from home when he was 17, vowing never again to allow anyone to treat him that way again.  He adopted the strategy of denigrating all women so that he could find psychological safety for himself.  Of course, that came with a cost.  His participation in a battering intervention program was just an example of the price he and others paid for this defensive strategy.

As facilitators, we need to expand our intervention philosophy. Understanding how to incorporate a trauma-focused element is critical for quality intervention.  Recognizing that trauma often the origin of many abusive beliefs provides a doorway for us to help them make lasting change, rather than them simply learning the right things to say to get through the class.

As the man with the tattoo was putting his shirt back on, I thanked him for showing it to me.  I let him know that he was in the right place, and that the tattoo was evidence of a great deal of work that needed to be done.  The tattoo served as a doorway into his trauma history, and the beginning steps of him healing as a man.

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