Abusive Men on the Journey to Nonviolence

Sara  Elinoff  Acker

This book features eleven first-person stories of men from diverse class and racial backgrounds who have made a long-term commitment to end their physical and emotional abuse and controlling behaviors. These men speak frankly about the abuse they inflicted on their families, what it took to get them to face themselves, and how they feel about the damage they have caused.

All participated in violence intervention programs, some for as long as ten years. To put a face on violence and to encourage activism for reform, most of the eleven have allowed their photos and real names to be used in the book.

Sara Elinoff Acker has been an activist in the battered women’s movement since 1985. She worked in shelter programs in Northern Vermont and Western Massachusetts and in 1992 started the partner contact program at Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE) in Amherst. Acker became a certified batterer intervention group leader in 1996 and ran groups for abusive men for over ten years. She now works as a psychotherapist in private practice.

Surrounding this material are chapters that provide context about the disputes among researchers about whether batterer intervention programs work (only a small number of batterers renounce their abuse) and chapters that address the reactions of partners to these stories. “When the Man You Love Is Abusive” is designed to caution women not to be manipulated by accounts of change and to outline the stages men need to pass through in the long process of becoming accountable. “The Last Word: Voices of Survivors” ends the book with a focus group discussion in which former abuse victims and advocates respond candidly to the men’s stories.


WBKM_Sara-Elinoff-Acker-InterviewListen to the interview with author Sara Elinoff Acker on Paradigms, the current affairs program of WBKM, Burlington VT

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Excerpt from one man’s tale:

Steve J.I got out of the hospital and got the name of the batterer program’s director, a man named Steven. I called him for an intake, but I never made the appointment. I kept procrastinating. Steven kept calling and asking me about the intake. He called me every week until I finally got myself in there.

I had a lot of fear about going into the program. No guy wants to be seen as a batterer. No man worth his salt wants to be seen as someone who beats up on women. Although we know men do that, this has always been “behind closed doors” stuff. It’s hard to make what was private now public and to know that you’re going to be in a group with men who are all batterers. And I know that if I’m in that room, it means I’m one too. This was not something that I found easy to accept.

To be really honest about it, there was some crazy self- deception in my head. I was thinking, “If I do this program, maybe Leticia will stay.” So the program was something I was doing to keep the relationship—it wasn’t for me. . . .

The first day of group, I measured myself against the other men. I told myself, “These guys are worse than me.”

I didn’t want to see myself like them. I wanted to think I was different. I was still in denial. . . .                                                                                                                                                                                               

—Steve Jefferson

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