The first intervention programs for men in Canada was established in 1979. Nova Scotia began to develop programs in 1986. Bridges was established in 1990 by volunteer members of the local women’s shelter, probation office, child protection workers, clergy, mental health workers and members of the broader community concerned with men’s violence against women.

Staff was trained in Duluth, Minnesota with Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar in the “Duluth Model”.  The approached was used exclusively for number of years, which, in part, meant only conducting gender specific groups. In 1998, Bridges began to incorporate the invitational and narrative therapy approach of Alan Jenkins and Michael White. This work led us toward continuing group work, while also offering individual, conjoint and family work. After presenting work nationally for years, Bridges began publishing internationally in 2001. Bridges officially established itself as an international training and research institute on narrative approaches to domestic violence in 2002.  Since that time, there have been numerous publications and presentations.

Moving from punishment to restoration

Bridges has more recently found that a restorative justice sensibility has allowed the Institute to articulate with greater clarity a feminist vision of justice in the context of intimate partner violence.  There is currently a hugely valuable examination of the way the current legal system deals with women who have been assaulted. Unfortunately, the public discussion doesn’t seem to offer a solution beyond the legal players needing to change their attitudes toward women who are assaulted.  We have been changing attitudes in the legal system for thirty years.  This work is important and it is not enough.  We need a more robust critique of and an alternative to the current legal system to deal effectively with these cases.

The fundamental problem with the current legal system is that it defines justice as prosecution and punishment. This doesn’t take into account what women want to address the harm done to them.  After a woman gives her evidence and an impact statement, she is no longer needed or consulted in the administration of punitive justice. The crown prosecutor represents the state – not her.

Even if a woman never wants to see the man again, she often wants him to take responsibility, to acknowledge what he did, to heal the harms he has created, and to take steps to ensure this will not happen again to her or anyone else.

A punitive legal system encourages men not to take responsibility for the damage they have done. Criminal lawyers seek to mitigate a man’s responsibility so he can avoid punishment.  Lawyers do this, in part, by trying to annihilate the credibility and integrity of the woman he has already harmed.  Further, if a man is convicted, he may still not take responsibility and simply begrudge having to attend counseling as part of his punishment, an outcome that seldom leaves anyone better off.

Restorative justice offers a helpful feminist critique of and an alternative to the current legal system.  Restorative justice defines justice as healing and repairing the harm done to those who have been hurt. Restorative justice does not mean restoring intimate relationships, nor does it mean pressuring women to talk with the person who has hurt them.  This approach advocates listening to what a woman wants to address the harm. At the same time, men are empowered to take responsibility so they can help repair this harm.

By redefining justice in a feminist, restorative manner, the potential is created to move the field of violence against women closer toward the values many of us have been committed to for a long time.


Recommended Reading List

Downie, Jocelyn & Llewellyn, Jennifer (2011). Being Relational: Reflections on Relational Theory and Health Law and Policy. UBC Press.

Goodmark, Leigh (2013).  A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System. NYU Press.

Herman, Judith Lewis. (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. Basic Books.

Jenkins, Alan (2009). Becoming Ethical: A Parallel, Political Journey with Men Who Have Abused. Russell House Publishing.

Jenkins, Alan (1990).  Invitations to Responsibility: The Therapeutic Engagement of Men Who are Violent and Abusive. Dulwich Centre Publications.

Johnson, Michael P. (2008). A Typology of Domestic Violence: Intimate Terrorism, Violent Resistance, and Situational Couple Violence. Northeastern Press.

Lehmann, Peter & Simmons, Catherine, eds. (2009). Strength-Based Batterer Intervention: A new paradigm in ending family violence. Springer Publishing Company.

Mills, Linda (2009). Violent Partners: A Breakthrough Plan for Ending the Cycle of Abuse.  Basic Books.

Pence, Ellen & Paymar, Michael (1993). Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model. Springer Publishing Company.

Pennell, Joan & Anderson, Gary, eds. (2005). Widening the Circle: The Practice And Evaluation of Family Group Conferencing With Children, Youths, and Their Families.                National Association of Social Workers Press.

Ptacek, James, ed. (2009) Restorative Justice and Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press.

Strang, Heather and Braithwaite, John (2002). Restorative Justice and Family Violence. Cambridge University Press.

White, Michael (2007). Maps of Narrative Practice. W. W. Norton & Company.