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62en_vio ... Violence


EG - Calvin Bell
September 1999

An Introduction

Extensive research by social scientists suggests that chronic spousal abuse ('battery') is primarily a male preserve and whilst it is clear that many women are also violent, just as there is evidence of same-sex domestic violence, the numbers inflicting severe injury seem small in comparison with heterosexual men.  One of a small but growing number of U.K. projects set up to address men’s violence against known women is Ahimsa (formerly the EVERYMAN Centre), established in 1989, one of the oldest service-providers in Europe.

Ahimsa's pioneering work has been the subject of several T.V. documentaries and numerous newspaper and magazine features.  In 1996, the Charity moved from its Brixton and North London premises to Plymouth where it continues to offer a focused psycho-social counselling programme informed by feminist perspectives and drawing on a wide range of theoretical and clinical disciplines. Though some men participate as a condition of their probation orders, the majority attend on a voluntary basis, having referred themselves or been recommended by other voluntary or statutory agencies. Most clients enter our 13-month-long core programme (free to Plymouth men over the age of 18) though a more flexible bespoke service is offered to meet the particular needs of gay and young adult men, those who are psychologically ‘fragile’ and others who do not fit our standard acceptance criteria.

The Centre provides a reciprocal Women’s Service for partners of men referred to the programme (delivered jointly with staff from Plymouth Women's Refuge).  Both services share the same building in order to take advantage of economies of scale, to minimise splitting and to maximise liaison.  We recognise that the very offer of a service to her partner is likely to be the most significant factor in a woman’s decision to stay in a violent relationship or to return when she might have otherwise stayed away.  We also know that male clients repeatedly deny, understate and justify their violent actions and many have abused the service by making false claims to their partners about attendance or about their counsellor’s recommendations.  Apart from providing information about legal and support services, regular contact with partners also enables us to gauge the man’s minimisation, assess risk, emphasise that the man’s violence is entirely his responsibility (many of the women have been convinced that they are wholly or partly to blame) and dispel any expectations she may have about the prospects of him changing being rapid or guaranteed.  It also allows a woman to verify her partner’s attendance and his level of commitment to the programme.  A partner is offered supportive counselling to help her consider her options and to develop a personal safety strategy should she decide to remain in the relationship for the time being or feel that to leave at this time would be too dangerous.  We also offer psychotherapy and/or groupwork for women to address the psychological consequences resulting from being degraded and brutalised.  In selected cases we provide ‘couples counselling’, though only when we are convinced that the man’s physical violence has ended.

After initial screening, male clients undergo individual assessment and safety planning sessions (typically over 3 weeks).  Here, we are concerned with establishing:  motive (many clients have ulterior ones),  lethality (how dangerous is he?),  amenability (are the chances of change realistic at this time?),  responsibility (who does he blame for his behaviour?), and  risk (what is the likelihood of his violence continuing?).  We also seek to determine the identity of his various victims, to identify what measures might be contracted for to maximise her (their) safety, what other victim needs must be addressed (access to support, finance, housing etc.), to eliminate high risk factors (weapons, high alcohol use etc.), to prepare individual violence-avoidance strategies and to mobilise sanctions for recidivism.   Assuming successful completion of this phase we then undertake a functional analysis:  what does he aim to achieve or avoid by being violent?  Men’s violence to women is an abuse of power and generally instrumental, an exertion of control with one or more of five common underlying factors: 1. Jealousy, possessiveness, separation or abandonment anxiety,  2.  Cutural imperative of self-control and fear of vulnerability (exposure of dependency, feelings of powerlessness, threat, loss of face etc.)  3. Expectations of entitlement to gratification and to sexual, domestic or emotional services,  4.  Expectations of entitlement to authority and 5.  Licence to punish for perceived wrong-doing.

Male clients are then allocated to an individual counsellor who will set and review individual homework assignments and whose role for some 12 weeks is to monitor clients’ safety plans, to erode denial, to reframe clients' explanations for their violence more connected to their own personal and cultural histories and to introduce a vocabulary for their own (undifferentiated) emotions.  Semi-structured groupwork of 32 weeks follows.  Intervention at this level is multi-dimensional drawing upon pro-feminist cognitive-behavioural principles but also including psychodynamic perspectives alongside educational approaches where victim empathy and women’s experiences are explored through role plays, videos and various exercises with individual, paired and group work.  The men are also familiarised with the broader aspects of other coercive behaviours (psychological, sexual, financial abuse).  Cognitive restructuring continues within an environment designed to impart accountability as well as emotional literacy and the management of feelings.  Some clients ask to repeat this groupwork (some stay with us for over two years), others are recommended to.

Those clients who complete the core programme to our satisfaction are invited to join an open weekly support group which seeks to underpin the gains made earlier, to continue the process of consciousness-raising and to promote the final stage in Kohlberg’s model of moral development which prescribes social action.  We encourage suitable clients to take their new perspectives into their communities to challenge the socio-cultural norms which support and institutionalise sexism, foster violence and dehumanise men.  Some ex-clients act as volunteer workers, undergo counselling training and participate at management committee level. The Centre's work is currently being evaluated by the Centre for Social Policy in Dartington.

In recognition of the social as well as bio-psychological origins of men’s violence, Centre staff actively participate in domestic violence forums and other multi-agency initiatives to raise public and professional awareness, dispel myths and develop policy.  We also provide consultantcy and training on domestic violence awareness and on working with violent men for Probation Services and various other organisations both in the U.K. and abroad.  Last year, for example, we were commissioned by the United Nations’ European Institute of Crime Prevention and Control to design and deliver a training project on domestic violence to the Ministry of the Interior and Members of Parliament in Lithuania.  Centre staff have also recently completed a commission to design and supervise a domestic violence training programme for the social work and police personnel in Suriname, South America.   We also provide placements for Community and Youth, Social Work and Psychology students.  Among Ahimsa's other services are domestic violence risk assessments for child protection and family law proceedings.

6, Victoria Place,
Millbay Road,
Plymouth PL1 3LP
Tel: 01752  213535

The Everyman Centre was established to provide medical and counselling services for men in the area of sexual and reproductive health.



The Domestic Violence Data Source (dvds) is an information co-ordinating system. It collects, collates and monitors data on all projects relating to domestic violence within England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

By complementing and supplementing existing initiative, we look to:

  • build on good practice

  • assess unmet needs

  • inform innovative work by researchers and practitioners in the field.

The site aims to include up to date information on the following areas, acting either as a source or a signpost:

  • medical, legal, social and other relevant research

  • support services

  • voluntary and statutory agencies

  • legal initiatives

  • available expertise and skills bases.

The project targets practitioners, researchers and other academics. However, we also hope to be sensitive to the needs of those who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence. The fundamental incentive behind the dvds is to work towards the well-being of those affected by this type of abuse.


The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Data Resource Center provides information on how data are collected and used in the states. Funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the purpose of the Center is to provide information to researchers, practitioners and members of the public interested in finding, using, or understanding domestic and sexual violence and stalking data. Please note that JRSA does not collect data, but is a resource for assisting you to find the information that you need.


AHIMSA project (Plymouth)

Calvin Bell is a Director of AHIMSA in Plymouth. Ahimsa is a domestic violence project that grew out of Plymouth’s cutting-edge Everyman Project – giving the staff an experience base of more than 12 years in this field, and in this district. ‘Ahimsa’ refers to the Hindu ethic of non-violence – the concern to explore ‘’non-injury’ as a way of achieving harmony on many levels: with the environment; and between peoples; as well as compassion within the self.


Ahimsa is a ‘new breed’ of domestic violence projects (others include ‘A Man’s Place’ in New Zealand and the Men’s Resource Centre in Lismore, Australia) that offer more than simple ‘correctional’ programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse. Not only are their programmes long-term (often more than a year), they also provide ongoing support, advice and guidance to victims and survivors. This strategy not only facilitates transformation, but also enables the project to evaluate its impact on the perpetrators effectively. Ahimsa also carries out ‘risk assessments’ in contact cases, and provides domestic violence awareness training for professionals.

In accordance with its name, Ahimsa seeks change in more than physically violent behaviours: the concern is for the perpetrators to give up any and all the tactics they use to intimidate their partner or ex-partner in order to control their behaviour. These can include sexual, emotional, verbal and psychological intimidation and stalking, as well as monopolising airtime, being the centre of attention, having the last word, being able to determine how the family income is spent.

Ahimsa, like the other new-breed projects, has found physical violence can be relatively easy to eliminate, at least in the short-term. ‘Most practitioners would say that’ says Bell, and Stuart Anderson of the Men’s Resource Centre agrees: ‘a lot of the guys give up on that the minute they walk through the door’. ‘Most of these men are deeply ashamed of their violence’ explains Bell ‘it doesn’t accord with their notions of ‘good masculinity’. It’s the other behaviours that prove much more difficult to eliminate: they’re personality-based.’

What’s the link with fatherhood? ‘Men’s fatherhood can be one of the most powerful motivators for change’ says Bell. ‘A lot of the men can’t empathise with their partners, but they can empathise with their children, and are deeply appalled when they come to recognise the impact their behaviour is having on them’. Anderson also finds this: ‘Some of the most painful, the most profound moments are in the group sessions where we explore the impact of conflict and violence on children’. Ahimsa has noted that all the men who complete their programme are active fathers, or have an interest in being active fathers. From next year the organisation will be offering services only to men who are fathers, while at the same time building partnerships with other agencies in Plymouth that can offer high vigilance supervised contact.

AHIMSA has also developed positive approaches to working with men who are victims of violence.

AHIMSA can be contacted on 01752 213535 or (


Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term which translates roughly into non-injury to living beings or dynamic harmlessness.

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