A pilot program in Sudbury aimed at lowering the increasing rates of domestic assault is the first of its kind in Ontario, organizers say.

A collaboration among police and multiple support groups in the city, the program provides support and counselling to men who are at risk of being abusive or have been charged with domestic assault.

Sudbury police, Victim Services, the John Howard Society, the Sudbury Women's Centre, and Sudbury Counselling Centre will all be a part of the pilot run, which will last for a year.

Lynne Lamontagne

Lynne Lamontagne of the Sudbury Counseling Centre says most men who are abusive have been victims themselves. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

During a press conference held Wednesday in Sudbury, organizers said the program — unlike any other offered in the province — offers a new and cohesive way to deal with the men who engage in domestic violence.

Most men who are abusive have been victims themselves, said the Sudbury Counselling Centre’s Lynne Lamontagne, and this program aims to stop the cycle.

“It's important that we work together, because this problem is so overwhelming,” she said. “Nothing has changed in the past 20 years, doing the things that we used to do."

'There was nothing for them'

Sudbury police officer Marc Guerin got the idea for the program while counselling men who had been charged with domestic assault.

"They felt that there was nothing for them. There was nothing in the community for them to turn to, to prevent the violence themselves."

Instead of focusing only on the victim, the treatment gives support and counselling to abusers, Guerin said.

The voluntary program can start before a man is even charged with assault, and can continue after he's served his sentence.

John Rimore

John Rimore of Sudbury's John Howard Society says locking men up doesn't end the cycle of domestic abuse. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The Sudbury John Howard Society’s John Rimore said it’s a good approach, as locking men up doesn't end the cycle of domestic abuse.

Many of them will return to their partners and, “if they don't return to the family household, they may be involved in another relationship, and another relationship. And now you have whole strings of partners who are being abused by the same person because nothing was ever done,” he said.

Rimore said the program gives the men who want to change the tools to do so.

"For the first time in our community, a continuum of service, ranging from pre-charge to after care will be offered to male domestic violence abusers," he continued.

"Additionally, service to the female victims will be offered — ranging from initial contact, follow-up support and ongoing assistance — through community programs."

Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pederson said the program brings a new approach to dealing with an age-old problem.

"We can't arrest our way out of a problem,” he said. “It's a recipe that has been shown over and over and over to actually increase the problems in our community."

The $75,000 in funding for the pilot program was provided by the Trillium Foundation. Funds will be used to hire staff, operate and evaluate the program.