‘Yes, I Am a Batterer’: The First Step to Stopping Domestic Violence

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For Native men who batter, it can take relearning their cultural role as a partner in their relationship to stop.

It isn’t only non-Natives who violate Native women, though those numbers are sky high. For youth on some reservations, domestic violence in the home is becoming all too familiar. A Rosebud Reservation based organization, Wica Agli, is beginning to address the problem.

Wica Agli was co-founded by Greg Grey Cloud, Crow Creek Sioux, and Aldo Seone, Sanpesco Yaqui. They have developed a series of classes to encourage men to break this cycle of violence by teaching batterers, incarcerated men, and youth the traditional roles of the Lakota man.

The non-profit’s mission is, “To rekindle an alliance of Lakota Men to reclaim their responsibilities as providers for the Lakota nation’s women and children by resuming their roles as traditional leaders.” According to leaders in the movement to stop violence against women, the breakdown of traditional values in the communities is to blame for the violence, making Wica Agli an important step in halting these crimes.

Domestic abuse and sexual violence affects too many women, teens and children on the reservations of South Dakota, from incest, prostitution (which is never a choice, but the results of dire poverty or force), rape, or exploitation. Sarah Johnson, the shelter coordinator at Mita Maske Ti Ki, said the problem even goes beyond women. “We have elders who say that sex trafficking is not just women and children, it’s also men, it’s all generations. How do you break that cycle?”

A similar thought was the inspiration behind the two-year-old program, Wica Agli. “The idea came from our aunties, our Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains. They’ve been doing this work for 40-50 years and violence has not disappeared. They told us, ‘We need you to reclaim your warrior status, your status as a Lakota man, and encourage other men, and teach them to be non-violent,’” Grey Cloud said.

Wica Agli offers a variety of classes to keep young men on the right track and bring offenders back into the circle. “Healthy Masculinity Classes” is geared to young men in grades 6-12 in four schools in and around the Rosebud Reservation, but the class is also taught to incarcerated men. “We are trying to rehabilitate the men before they go back into the community,” Grey Cloud said.

A “Bystander Violence Intervention Class” teaches school aged students how to react and intervene in violent situations without making the situation worse or causing more harm, Grey Cloud said.

The most intense class is a six-month program for men who batter. There men learn how to have a healthy, balanced sexual relationship, and that violence is wrong. Traditional Lakota practices are reinforced to instill a cultural connection. “They leave with a sense of honor, an understanding of what their ancestors did for thousands of years; that a man is supposed to protect his partner, his children, and his home. They leave the program feeling honored and they honor their partner in return,” Grey Cloud said.

Classes teach the traditional values of protecting women and children, reeducate men that women are sacred, and incorporate traditional Lakota values. “Lakota men are to be allies with women. We reeducate them about their roles as men; not to boss women around or tell them what to do. It was to protect and provide for them — in the family and the home.”

So far the classes for batters has been successful. “We have graduated eight men and they haven’t reoffended,” Grey Cloud said, noting that two of the men were incarcerated several times before they took the class.

Grey Cloud believes at least some of the classes’ success is based on the information coming from a man, rather than women. Hearing from a man that hitting a woman isn’t right has a different impact, Grey Cloud said.

Taking responsibility for their actions is a major goal of the program. Grey Cloud said, “He’ll justify his actions and say, ‘I’m sorry I called you names and hit you in the face. I wouldn’t have hit you if I hadn’t been drunk.’ It is not because you were drunk, it was because of your negative feelings and actions. As a man you have to say, ‘Yes. I am a batterer. Yes, this is what I have been doing,’ and if you don’t want to do that, if you don’t want to take my class, then you can sit in jail for a year and a half.”

Charon Assetoyer, CEO of the Native American Community Board in Lake Andes, on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, believes, “If the young men don’t learn (rape and domestic violence) is wrong, then it’s going to continue. We as women have worked very hard to develop services like shelters, advocates, self help groups and women’s groups, but it is very, very difficult to get funding to do men’s reeducation groups and that’s where we are really missing the boat. We often times are leaving our young men behind and we have to bring them with us on this journey of healing, or its not going to be a complete circle.”

“I absolutely cherish the work our men are doing by standing up and saying No More. We need to speak the truth,” Johnson said.

Grey Cloud said, “We work on why we are violent, why we use violence with anger. Often something happened to him as a child, so he lashes out in anger to protect that little boy inside of him. The majority of the time it will come from being afraid, feeling lost, alone, having detachment issues. Many things make a man angry but because of unhealthy masculinity, he doesn’t want to cry. He would rather get angry,” Grey Cloud said. “In the smaller communities, change is one by one. In the collective, they can help the world change.”

Read more about Wica Agli or call toll free number (855) 942-2669, ext. 701.

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