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Behaviour-change program helps men mend their ways

Rod and Julieanne Beckham are at ease with each other. They often finish each other's sentences. Sometimes she leans in and pats his broad arm as she makes a point.

It was not always like this. Mr Beckham was abusive towards his wife for years. He wanted to control everything their family did, and would sabotage anything that she enjoyed.

He did not hit her - although he threatened to - but he used other, ugly, forms of violence to keep her cowed. There were fights, lots of shouting and he would punch holes in the walls.

''I was always begging for help with the housework or the kids, but when it was finally given to you it was really horrible. It was just crumbs that you had to be grateful for,'' Mrs Beckham said.

Eventually, she gave her husband an ultimatum: change or leave. Mr Beckham, who had been a bully throughout school and beyond, realised he did not know how to change.

He rang a men's referral service and signed up to a 12-week behaviour-change program.


''I wasn't going to lose everyone I had professed to love and care about. I'd got caught up in macho bullshit, what I saw as being a man,'' he said.

Throughout Victoria there are about 40 men's behaviour-change programs, which work with men to change their attempts to control and dominate women.

Most of the men are ordered to attend by a court, although a small number, such as Mr Beckham, undertake the course voluntarily.

Abused partners and ex-partners are also offered help, said No to Violence head Rodney Vlais, whose male violence prevention program oversees the courses. Like other family violence advocates, Mr Vlais is clear: men's behaviour-change programs are not a magical ''answer'' to a complex problem. Many men resist any change. But once men are ordered to sign up, it is easier to keep track of what they are doing and share concerns if their violent behaviour gets worse, he said.

The men are encouraged to discuss their violence and take responsibility for their actions.

Distorted thinking often makes men claim they are the real victims, Mr Vlais said.

While participants are treated as ordinary people who have the potential to change, facilitators assess which men pose a high level of risk. These men often show little empathy with their partners and need additional monitoring.

Mr Beckham attended the programs for two years, and his wife said the atmosphere in their home is now markedly different. She can have an open discussion with her husband and he is no longer resentful.

For Mr Beckham the most profound group activity was when he had to imagine switching roles and assuming his partner's position. It made him feel deep remorse.

State Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge last week promised an extra $4.5 million to protect women most at risk. But family violence advocates say at least $16 million is needed.

Men who wish to talk about their behaviour towards family members can contact the Men's Referral Service on 1300 766 491.