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Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006

Program aims to reform domestic abusers

Rehabilitation classes seek to halt surge in violence in Japanese homes


Staff writer

For years, Masaru Suzuki used threats and physical violence to control his wife. Whenever he did not get his way, he lashed out at her verbally or with hands that were all too ready to strike.

News photo
Noriko Yamaguchi, founder of Aware, poses in front of a certificate designating her as a facilitator for a domestic violence offenders' rehabilitation program.

Suzuki is one of the thousands of domestic-violence perpetrators in Japan.

Be it inside the home or in public, Suzuki said he screamed at his wife if she did not act according to his wishes. If she became hysterical, he grabbed her by her arms and shook her.

One time, when his wife was about six months pregnant with their first child, Suzuki beat her and later had to rush her to a hospital.

"I was the patriarch, using whatever method necessary to get my own way," Suzuki said. "Not once did I think I was doing anything wrong."

Finally, in August 2004, his wife took their two daughters and left him.

"That was when I knew I had to do something about (my problem)," Suzuki said.

Domestic violence is on the rise in Japan and Suzuki's case is only the tip of the iceberg.

According to data from the National Police Agency, there were 14,410 acknowledged cases of domestic violence in 2004, a 14.7 percent increase from 2003.

As a result of domestic violence, the 2004 NPA data show there were 1,094 arrests for murder, 75 for rape and 711 for injury.

Offenders can be punished by law, but experts on the issue say the government needs to create a legal framework to help rehabilitate the offenders.

If the experts are right about rehabilitation, Suzuki is one of the lucky ones.

In October 2004, he joined Aware, one of Japan's few rehabilitation facilities for abusive partners.

At weekly meetings, men gather from prefectures as far apart as Iwate, Nagano and Shizuoka. Together with facilitator and Aware founder Noriko Yamaguchi, they discuss their problem.

During the meetings, participants share opinions on topics such as what constitutes violence, the want and need for power and control over partners, stress management and other issues.

"The program (at Aware) is not medical treatment, it is education," Yamaguchi said. "Some specialists see domestic violence as an addiction to violence, but that is not true -- because (the offenders) choose violence to gain control."

Since its establishment in April 2002, Yamaguchi estimates that more than 100 abusers have sought help from Aware. At present, about 25 men are taking part in the program, including Suzuki. However, many don't finish the program.

Yamaguchi said there is nothing she can do about that because there is no law forcing abusers to participate in such programs.

The law against domestic violence was only enacted in 2001, and its first revision took effect in December 2004.

The revised law expanded the definition of domestic violence to include not just physical but also psychological abuse. It also calls on local governments to create guidelines to further prevent domestic abuse and to provide support for victims.

But experts point out Japan's legal system does not have any specific guidelines for forcing perpetrators of domestic violence to participate in a rehabilitation program.

"Only legal power, or public authorities, can give awareness to (offenders) who do not even realize they are being abusive," Yamaguchi said.

Japan can look for some examples to follow abroad.

In California, the penal code states that an arrested offender who has been released on probation will be monitored by a probation officer and must participate in a rehabilitation program for at least a year.

If the offender complies with all of the rules and does not break any other laws, the abuser's criminal record will be cleared.

"We have the same (law) for drugs, too," said Alyce LaViolette, cochair of the California Association of Batterers' Intervention Programs. "It is to give people a chance to get better, give people a chance to improve without ruining their record."

LaViolette was in Japan in October to talk to government officials about her program for offenders and to explain the law against them in California.

She stressed the need for a law in Japan to force perpetrators to participate in programs "because you need to create a law that doesn't do damage to the people you are trying to help . . . we need to look at the effect on the abused and the abuser," she said.

As one of the pioneers in establishing a program to rehabilitate domestic-violence offenders, LaViolette has also been active in training facilitators like Aware's Yamaguchi.

Throughout her 26-year career in the field, LaViolette has dealt with many perpetrators.

In the beginning, she said, not everyone working with survivors at shelters was supportive. Some of those who were helping victims were upset that she began working with the abusive males and asked her why she was devoting her energy to them.

"Women at a battered women's shelter generally have suffered some of the worst abuse," LaViolette explained, adding that their injuries and suffering were often beyond belief.

LaViolette worked with perpetrators "because one of them can batter many different women," she said. "And I wanted to see (the offenders) change."

It is true not everybody can be rehabilitated, LaViolette pointed out, but there are offenders like Suzuki who really do want to change.

Suzuki has been participating in the program at Aware for more than a year but said he will continue until he feels he is someone who will do good for his family, not harm.

"I am a perpetrator, a criminal offender," Suzuki said. "I just have not been arrested yet. But there are people out there who need to be arrested to truly understand that what they are doing is a criminal act of violence, before it's too late."



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