Tracey had anger issues all her life.
As an adult, that aggression got her in trouble with the law and landed her in the Batterer’s Intervention Program — a 26-week, state Department of Social Services certified course for men and women who are perpetrators of domestic violence. Tracey’s full name is being withheld to protect her identity.
“God sent the YWCA and my pastor to me,” the 31-year-old said. “The staff and pastor were tag-teaming my spirit. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this program. It helped me look at my anger issues and myself. It helped me become the woman I really am.”
Offered by YWCA of the Upper Lowlands Inc. — which serves Sumter, Clarendon and Lee counties — the program aims to help the participants see their role in the situation and learn better ways to communicate.
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The first problem to overcome is the under-reporting of battery.
“Men don’t want to report their wife or girlfriend beat them up,” said Bernice Montgomery, domestic violence facilitator for the YWCA. “Women are afraid to report because of what might happen to their status. They may be kicked out of the house or lose money. They don’t want to lose their children, or the system has failed them before.”
Sometimes, a person who has been a longtime victim snaps and acts out violently, she said. Then that individual is the one who is arrested.
“They feel victimized all over again,” Montgomery said.
Battery is not limited to physical assaults.
“Emotional and verbal abuse is worse,” Montgomery said. “I can punch you in the arm, and you’ll bruise, but you will heal. With emotional and verbal, you think about it over and over. ‘I’m nothing. I’m nobody. I’ve never been anybody.’”
Men and women meet separately once a week. Montgomery has worked with men ages 21 to 71 and women ages 23 to 55, she said.
She’s seen Hispanic, white and black as well as people living in various socioeconomic conditions. They may be referred through legal channels or volunteer to take the program.
In small groups, the participants examine what led them there.
“I didn’t realize I was the aggressor, the abuser,” Tracey said. “My mom and dad did it, (but) I didn’t know it was generational. Rage was the norm. I didn’t realize when I’m angry and yelling, my children are learning my tone and how to treat their spouse. What if it was an emergency? They are so used to me yelling, they could be like, ‘Aw. That’s just mom.’ The idea of putting my children in harm’s way really touched me.”
She has an 11-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.
“I was in denial,” Tracey said. “It hurt so bad, (but) it was worth it to admit my faults. We all make mistakes. Now I know who I am and who I want to be.”
The program also has participants examine triggers.
“I’ll ask the men, ‘What about her sets you off?,’” Montgomery said. “Is it what she says, the way she says it or how she acts? It has to be something. What was it?”
“Anger is OK. It’s how you handle it. You have to recognize you are becoming angry. Are your eyes twitching? Do your palms get sweaty?”
They then learn better ways to communicate such as speaking respectfully and using I-statements instead of blaming the other person, she said.
“If you’re not taught, you don’t do better,” Montgomery said. “It’s like taking them from their childhood up.”
Exercises include role playing, videos and worksheets. Tracey said she learned about walking away from arguments and not wasting energy getting angry. She also learned about the releasing power of forgiveness, Tracey said.
A lot of knowledge is gained from sharing within the group, too.
“In the beginning, they may be angry, but by the middle of the term, they unwind,” Montgomery said. “The girls become best friends and support each other.”
“We became one big family,” she said. “We cried. We laughed a lot, too. There were a lot of emotions.”
The men can get emotional, too, Montgomery said. A few cried after she shared videos of South Carolina females who died as a result of dating violence.
“It showed them how quickly and how easily this can happen,” Montgomery said. “I asked them what if this was their mother, sister or child. It surprised them.”
The initial assessment cost is $25, and it’s $20 for each following session for a total cost of $545 for the six-month program.
After completing the program, participants can come back for free at any time, Montgomery said.