As I walk up the stairs and turn the corner, loud applause immediately occurs. A room full of 70-some men welcomes me with not only applause, but also with a standing ovation. Why, you are likely wondering? Because every 12 seconds a woman in the United States is assaulted. That is 5 women a minute, 300 women an hour, and 7,200 women a day. So, how do the two connect? These men, residents of the Richmond City Jail, are being re-trained to respect women and every time a woman comes to their housing unit, they greet her in this manner.
Colonel Alonzo Pruitt oversees the Men in Recovery (MIR) Program in the Richmond City Jail. A substance abuse program that combines behavioral modification with the 12-steps, MIR is working to curb not only the statistics of recidivism and lead the men toward a life of sobriety, but also in redirecting and retraining their learned behaviors of the street – frequently this means horrible disrespect toward women.
According to a recent article released by CBS news, a study conducted by the Avon Foundation found that approximately 22% of Americans report being a victim of domestic violence; 13% classify the assault as sexual in nature.
A survey of thousands of teens and adults revealed that approximately 1 in 3 women, which equates to about 54 million Americans, stated they had been a victim of domestic violence. Of this cohort, an estimated 1 in 5, or 32 million, revealed they had been a victim of sexual assault.
Other similar studies over recent years have revealed similar results, yet the problem continues to occur and most often escalate. Why is this?
While domestic violence is certainly widespread, it is frequently found in the low-income and incarcerated population. Those who engage in domestic violence frequently learn these behaviors from their family, people on the streets that they associate with, and other societal influences. Many are raised in single parent houses without their father and not taught how to treat women. Some saw the abusive relationship their mother was in and accept this behavior as the norm. They may have been victims of violence themselves. Often when growing up around violence, it is the learned way to resolve conflict. In fact, research has shown half of abusive men grew up in homes where the man in the house was also an abuser.
Adding drugs and/or alcohol to the mix, a problem that affects millions, often intensifies the problem. Someone who is drunk or high does not control their emotions and violence well. They act in moments of rage and often do not think about what they are doing or the associated consequences. Stress is also frequently blamed for domestic violence, as is being in a bad relationship.
However, drugs, alcohol, stress, and bad relationships, do not cause domestic violence. Anger causes this violence. Learned abusive behavior causes violence. To turn this around, the learned behaviors must be turned around. Re-training the brain and learning to respect women is critical. Because our jails are full of men who disrespect and take advantage of women, this is a good place to start. After all, 93% of offenders will get released from jail or prison; I would prefer them coming back into my community after being trained on how to respect women rather than coming out the same or worse than when they first became incarcerated.