Changing the conversation on intimate partner violence
As a social work student, Tod Augusta-Scott (MSW ’00) volunteered at an agency offering counselling for men with a history of intimate partner violence. He was motivated by “a social justice ethic around wanting to attend to men’s violence against women,” he says. “I just did it as a volunteer… I didn’t even know there would be jobs available.”
It turns out there were.
Today, he is executive director of Bridges—a Truro-based non-profit that does counselling, research and training in the area of domestic violence—where he has worked for 25 years. He is also a therapist in the Canadian Armed Forces, and co-founder of the biennial Canadian Domestic Violence Conference. (The next one is in Halifax in March 2020.)
Augusta-Scott takes a restorative approach rooted in narrative therapy. Men may have grown up seeing themselves as bad and being violent fits in with that self-image. “As a narrative therapist, I’m looking to see what other stories can be told about this person,” he says. “If a guy leaves my office with more of a sense of the kind of man, father or partner he wants to be… [that’s more effective] than coming in thinking he’s a batterer, getting stamped as a batterer and leaving thinking he’s bad.”
Over the last 25 years, Augusta-Scott has seen the power of repairing relationships damaged by violence. That requires working with (usually) men to understand what they’ve done and how they can change, and with their partners or exes to find out what they need. Augusta-Scott says, “If the process is helpful, the men feel bad about having perpetrated abuse but feel good about stopping it and repairing the harm.”
Asked how forgiveness fits into all this, he says, “I’m nervous about the word ‘forgiveness’… Often it gets pretty thinly defined as an obligation on behalf of the victim to forgive the person who harmed them.”
The narrative approach goes deeper than that. “I like staying more clearly focused on taking responsibility to stop abuse and repair the harm—and that is driven by the person who’s been harmed. What, practically, does she want him to do? Maybe renouncing violence in front of the kids, for example, and telling them that it’s wrong.”
When he started out, Augusta-Scott says some advocates for survivors of domestic violence were skeptical. But he says that’s changing.
Others are listening too. Augusta-Scott spoke at an international military forum on sexual misconduct in December 2018, and he is a member of the federal Minister of the Status of Women’s Advisory Council on the Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.
Ultimately, individual change requires social change. “There are a lot of unhelpful ideas around masculinity,” he says. “There is a kind of trauma-influenced masculinity we all recognize: the guy who’s closed down, can’t share his feelings, tough, strong, violent.”