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I recently attended the excellent Los Angeles domestic violence conference "From Ideology to Inclusion 2009: New Directions in Domestic Violence Research and Intervention." The conference featured many domestic violence dissidents--researchers and clinicians who do not believe that the mainstream domestic violence establishment and its "men as perpetrators/women as victims" conceptual framework is properly serving those involved in family violence. Carol Crabson is the Executive Director of the Valley Oasis domestic violence shelter, which has served male victims for 17 years. At the conference she discussed her experiences running a shelter which accepts male victims. She explained:

The way Valley Oasis is set up, we have four individual cottages. And the cottages over the years have been expanded and renovated, and so each cottage is in a unique little setup, depending. Some of the have two bedrooms, some three, some four. And they all have their own kitchens, their laundry facilities, a common area. So we utilize our setup to be able to provide services to all victims of domestic violence. We have a cottage for men, and men with children. We have rooms set up that we can bring in male children over the age of 13, and have them somewhat separated from female teenagers of the same age...

Our setup is conducive to being able to provide a wide variety of services to all victims of domestic violence. And more than that, it's the attitude of the staff. And for the past twelve-and-a-half years that I've been there, and previously to that, Patricia Overberg, the executive director, who 17 to 18 years ago, said, "Hey, all victims need services, nobody deserves to be hit," started bringing in male victims. So she set the stage, but also she set the climate, the culture, the attitude of that agency, that this is what we do.

We do have services specifically for male victims. They receive individual counseling, they receive men's support groups, they receive case management on an individual basis. But we also utilize transference and counter-transference in our groups. And we bring both genders in to do therapeutic groups. And what we find is that it's very effective to them.

Being able to talk to a male, for a female victim, who is not going to be abusive to her, who is not going to be condescending, or is not going to verbally attack her -- and vice versa -- really, it's part of the healing process. To be able to sit in a room with someone that will totally respect you, that can validate your feelings and your issues...

Many times what we get is that we will get a female sitting in a room with a male victim who will actually apologize to the male victim for what the spouse has done, and vice versa. The healing power of that is just -- you can almost watch it happen in a matter of seconds. That there's this change, this shift, this softness that comes over the faces of these two individuals. It's so powerful and rewarding.

So I know that it's very controversial, to put two genders into the same therapy, and to talk about that...We have not had an incident -- not one incident -- where anybody left the room, feeling that the individual of another gender in that room resulted in them feeling terrified, or resulted in them feeling unsafe or unable to talk...

All of our therapists have to be Masters level. In our child abuse treatment program, and a couple of our other programs, we have Ph.D. levels. And I do personally sit in on all group supervisions...I just want to make sure that the therapists coming in -- I want to know what their issues are. I do not want a therapist at that shelter that is coming in with their own garbage, their own baggage regarding male victims. That's very, very important to me.

[FYI, Carol got married a few years ago and changed her last name--readers might know of her from some of my previous newspaper columns as "Carol Ensign."--GS]

To read all reports from the Conference, please click here. From Ideology to Inclusion 2009 featured some of the world's leading experts on domestic violence, many of whom serve on the Editorial Board of the new peer-reviewed academic journal, Partner Abuse, published by Springer Publishing Company. The conference was presented by the California Alliance for Families & Children and co-sponsored by The Family Violence Treatment & Education Association. Some of you may remember that I also wrote extensively about the 2008 conference--to learn more, click here.

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