British Columbia

Ending cycle of violence starts with helping abusive men, advocates say

Few services exist in B.C. for men who abuse their partners. Advocates say investing in programs to help abusers change their behaviour can keep families safer and equip men with the skills needed to manage past trauma, anger and stress.

Helping violent men manage emotions, trauma could keep families safer, says former abuser

Joseph Fossella co-founded Warriors Against Violence, a Vancouver group to help abusers learn to confront past trauma and manage emotions. (Dillon Hodgin)

Joseph Fossella isn't proud of the husband and father he used to be.

The Vancouver man experienced violence from a young age. He grew up watching his father abuse his mother and sister, a cycle of trauma that would continue when he started his own family. 

It culminated when he twice tried to kill his wife, Joyce.

"I put my wife and family through hell," he said.

"I didn't know how to communicate. I didn't know how to get in touch with my softer feelings and emotions. Instead of feeling those softer feelings and emotions, instantly those things changed to anger."

Fossella, a member of the Sechelt Nation, decided to work on becoming a better man almost 30 years ago. Since then, he co-founded Warriors Against Violence. The weekly meetup of primarily Indigenous men provides a space for abusers to discuss past trauma, ways to heal and manage their emotions in a healthy way.

Violence affects people from all backgrounds

Resources like this are necessary to end domestic violence, Fossella said, a societal issue affecting men, women and children from all demographics and backgrounds. But few resources exist to help the abusers themselves — something advocates say is needed to keep families safe.

Emergency shelters and transition houses exist for women, though they're often full. But Fossella said there's no place dedicated to men who need to escape their home, cool off and access immediate services like counselling before their violent behaviour escalates. 

"There's got to be someplace safe where a man can go and not run that risk of causing more harm, killing themselves or causing death to somebody else," he said. 

Women in B.C. are more often victims of domestic violence than men. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

'Not having services for men actually does not help'

Women in B.C. are more than four times more likely than men to be the primary victims of domestic violence. Fifty per cent of Canadian women have experienced sexual or physical violence and almost 30 per cent of women have been assaulted by a partner.

For men who abuse their partners, the wait lists can be long for the few services that are available to help them change.

MOSAIC, an immigrant services organization in Vancouver, offers a program for immigrant, refugee or visible minority men who want to stop their abusive behaviour. 

The 12-week program called Men in Change helps them learn to deal with conflict, identify personal triggers and manage aggression and stress.

It can be life-changing for participants, said senior program manager Zarghoona Wakil. But demand has increased and now there's a waiting list.

Wakil said the government needs to invest in more services for abusive men. She also believes a dedicated space for men who need to leave home to find help controlling their emotions could stop violence from escalating.

"Not having services for men actually does not help the situation."

Joseph and Joyce Fossella overcame their own abusive relationship. They now work together at Warriors Against Violence to help others break the cycle of abuse. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Joyce Fossella has seen the impact of these programs firsthand.

As executive director at Warriors Against Violence, she works with her husband to help others end the violence they overcame as a couple.

She no longer fears him and they've now been married more than 50 years.

She doesn't think society should give up on abusers.

"If they want to make change, they will change," she said. "I know it can be done."

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