Nfld. & Labrador

Counselling programs for men could help lower rates of gender-based violence, advocates say

To lower Labrador’s rates of gender-based violence, advocates want community programming that gets to the root of the issue — and that includes better support for men.

Compassionate approach seen as 'the only true way' towards healing

Erin Broomfield, the Nunatsiavut government's regional justice services manager, says counselling for men likely to harm someone would be an additional support to address gender-based violence. (Sascha Davis)

To lower Labrador's rates of gender-based violence, advocates want community programming that gets to the root of the issue — and that includes better support for men.

Gender-based violence was recently thrust into the spotlight after The Canadian Press reported Labrador's rates of sexual assault are four times the national average, according to data from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP.

Advocates have since called for a number of supports, including better access to housing and nurses who have completed a specialized program that provides training for caring for someone who has experienced sexual assault. There are currently no such nurses in Labrador.

But they also want supports that could prevent violence from happening in the first place, including programming for the men most likely to harm someone.

Erin Broomfield, the Nunatsiavut government's regional justice services manager, has already started developing such programming. Broomfield, who worked for the supportive housing program in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for years, has seen the impact of gender-based violence on Labrador communities.

The Nunatsiavut government is working on counselling programs in the region. (Holly Andersen/CBC)

She also understands what causes men to perpetrate violence in the first place.

Dealing with trauma

"A lot of times a lot of these males have different kinds of experiences that they've had in their younger life, whether they were in the foster-care system or maybe they've been a victim of violence themselves," she said in an interview. "And this has led to different kinds of issues in their adult life, whether it's mental health issues, or issues with addictions and substance abuse."

With men statistically more likely than women to be perpetrators of gender-based violence, Broomfield said she wants to see programming that takes an empathetic look at what causes male offenders to act violently.

"There seems to always have been some supports in place for the ones who are victims of the abuse and the violence," she said. "But from what I see there is a lack of support and resources particularly for men who are struggling with mental health issues, criminal issues, legal issues and addictions."

Broomfield noted the programming wouldn't replace counselling for women but could be added as another measure to address gender-based violence.

The Nunatsiavut government has been working on counselling programs in the region, Broomfield said, and she's hoping to offer some at the Labrador Correctional Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay as well. The programs would incorporate cultural values, practices and traditions that reflect the communities they're offered in.

Asking for help

To develop these programs, Broomfield and other members of the Nunatsiavut government got some advice through virtual training led by Rick Goodwin, a social worker and founder of Ottawa-based clinic Men and Healing.

Not all people who have been hurt in their past go on to abusing others. However, there's certainly a significant correlation between the two.- Rick Goodwin

Men and Healing provides individual and group therapy for men on a variety of mental health issues. Often, Goodwin treats men who've shown abusive behaviours, working with them to break cycles of violence. A large part of that process, he said, is working through any trauma the men have experienced in their lives.

"Not all people who have been hurt in their past go on to abusing others. However, there's certainly a significant correlation between the two," Goodwin said in an interview. 

"The approach that we use is to work with men around their wounds, knowing that if we can help those men find resolution of those past traumas, then there's going to be much less impetus to carry out behaviours that would be abusive or assaultive."

Rick Goodwin, social worker and founder of Ottawa-based counselling clinic Men & Healing, says working through trauma someone has experienced can help break the cycle of violence. (David Lisak)

When asked what programming could look like in Labrador, Goodwin said there would be a lot of factors to consider. 

"There's the cultural identity of the men that would access this program. It would also be dealing with aspects of the legacy of trauma, which could include the residential school system," he said. 

But, Goodwin said, he'd like to see the programs adopt some of Men and Healing's core principals. The work would be done in a private circle of men with an experienced facilitator, and participants would work through their old wounds step by step.

"Ultimately, it's a very compassionate and engaging and respectful process," Goodwin said. "And we believe that's the only true way to encourage men to be on the healing path."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leslie Amminson is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and reports for Labrador Morning.

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