A couple who survived domestic abuse in their own household has received $70,000 from the B.C. government to launch a one-on-one counselling program for aboriginal couples who want to work through issues of violence.

Joseph Fosella founded the Vancouver-based group, called Warriors Against Violence, which offers support for men seeking help for their violent behaviour at home. Fosella hit his wife, Joyce, for 25 years before she gave him an ultimatum — stop the abuse or leave.  

She didn't think abuse would ever be a problem in their marriage.

"When Joe asked me to marry him, my first question to him was, you're not going to beat me like my dad beats my mom are you?'"

Joyce is now the executive director of Warriors Against Violence, where the husband and wife team hope to help other couples overcome issues of domestic abuse like they once had.

The $70,000 in funding is part of a $1.5 million package from the provincial government to support culture-based domestic violence programs for aboriginal families and communities.

Aboriginal women are three times more likely to experience violence and be assaulted by their partner than non-aboriginal women, according to the B.C. government.

It began with a black eye

Three months into the marriage, Joyce says her husband hit her so hard he gave her a black eye.

"I don't recall what the fight was about, but that was sort of just the beginning," she said.

For the next 20 years, Joseph would turn to violence during arguments with his wife. He says personality and family differences between him and Joyce added fuel to the fire.

"Quite frequently, we would argue about her family doing this, my family doing that, so that was the fuel to get me going."

After 25 years, Joyce found the strength to confront her husband after realizing she could not endure any more abuse.

"It was a time in my life I felt I had the strength to do that. Because you know as a person that is victimized, your body and your mind and your whole spirit gets very tired, and you don't want that to continue," she said.

"So at that time I just said, you have to make a decision or you have to make changes. Get well, sort of thing. Or we're finished."


Warriors violence circle

In 2015, Warriors Against Violence saw over 400 clients attend its healing circles. New funding from the B.C. government means participants will be able to access one-on-one counselling. (CBC)

Joseph said the ultimatum gave him the kick he needed to do something about his behaviour.

"I was scared. Where did she get the courage to tell me that?"

He found a support group for men called Change of Seasons in North Vancouver, where he learned to reflect on his own issues as a source of his violence.

"I felt low-esteem about myself. I graduated from high school but I was illiterate. I had no job career ahead of me. I wasn't a very spiritual person at that time," he said.

Marrying Joyce at the age of 19 deepened his insecurities.

"I felt that she's constantly looking for somebody better than me, and that was what I was pumping into my head."  

But Joseph soon understood the hypocrisy of his actions and realized it stemmed from his own experience as a boy. He says his father would punish him and his brother with his belt.

"I made the promise I would never be like my father ... then I became like my father."

Joseph started Warriors Against Violence to help other aboriginal men because he realized one of the root causes of domestic abuse among aboriginal couples was a history of abuse in their family.

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Domestic violence counselling for aboriginal men.