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Many people erroneously believe that alcohol, drugs, and substance abuse are causes of domestic violence; or perhaps, an individual grew up in a home where domestic violence as used, and that is the reason for their violence. "These are common misconceptions, with respect to the actual cause of domestic violence," says Susan Canon, executive director of P.E.A.C.E., or the Project to End Abuse through Counseling and Education.
"There are definitely correlation. We know that substance abuse does exacerbate the problem of domestic violence; and certainly, it is learned behavior that is passed on from one generation to the next."
Canon made a distinction between family violence and domestic violence. "When we talk about family violence, we are talking about all of the possible Violence* that occur within the home, whether it be spousal or intimate relationship abuse or, of course, child abuse." Domestic violence is the abuse of an intimate loved one, a spouse or otherwise.
Canon has an undergraduate degree in social work and a Master's of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, with a specialty in Ethics. She has worked with PEACE for the list six years. While she is not an ordained minister, she feels that her work in the community is a form of ministry. After undergraduate school she worked with a rehabilitation program that assisted persons coming out of prison to reestablish themselves in the community.
"I have always felt a need to work with the most needy. Indeed, I think the victims of domestic violence, and trying to rehabilitate perpetrators of domestic violence, fits into that category."
The bottom line for all of those who are batterers, says Canon, "is their uncontrollable need to control and exercise power over the life of another individual." This is the issue that PEACE focuses upon when dealing with perpetrators of domestic violence. Often the public will ask, "Why don't the battered women leave the batterer?" says Canon. "There are those economic reasons that keep women from leaving their husbands."
There are children. They have a family. She might not have the education to be independent. It could be, in some cases, the batterer is a good father and the spouse does not wish to give that up. Too, he has promised that it will never happen again. "These men are Dr. Jackals and Mr. Hydes." Some have religious commitments to their marriage.
The PEACE program focuses on the area of intimate relationship abuse. "We are working with men who have a problem of being violent toward their intimate loved ones. Often this is male violence perpetrated against females. This type of violence constitutes 95 percent of the problem. We know that in over 50 percent of the cases where there is violence against the loved one, there is also violence against the children. So the two are very related. And although different agencies work with different aspects of the problem, they are very related."
"Many of the men we work with," continues Canon, "are probably not conscious of this desire to control another individual's life ... I am not sure that they are aware that pushing and shoving, and tripping, and kicking, are forms of violence. In some cases, this is such a part of their family system and the milieu in which they are in, that these things are taken for granted in interpersonal relationships. So one of the first things we do is to raise their level of awareness about what this particular problem is."
There is also a societal aspect of domestic violence, says Canon. "This problem occurs because men have been allowed to get away with violence against females, if indeed, not encouraged to do so. So much of the male identity is based upon the idea of the real man being in control in
intimate relationships. If you are not in control anywhere else," Canon continues, "you better be in control of your home. All in all, it is a message of what it means to be a male in a family situation."
Canon applauds the establishment of the Metro Domestic Violence United by Mayor Phil Bredesen and Chief Robert Kirchner. "To PEACE, their efforts means that victims who might have been reluctant to protect themselves, will now feel that assurance and will be able to use the system to its fullest extent to protect themselves and their children."
In addition, this effort will give PEACE more force in dealing with batterers who might not be serious about their own rehabilitation. "This will allow our program to work in a positive way that it really has not been able to work before," concludes Canon.