Victims of domestic violence in many cases need professional help, resources, sympathy and therapy. But what about the abusers?
It’s a potentially unpopular stance — both socially and while fighting for program funding — but it’s a major part of Dominican University instructor Charlie Stoops' big picture approach to curbing domestic violence.
Dawn Dalton, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, said the battle for funding has in the past split the two sides.
"[The sentiment was] 'that’s great that we need money for abuser services, but don’t take it away from victim services,'" she said.
Fast forward about 15 years and Stoops is being hailed as a visionary. Recently, he was honored during a Battered Women’s Network fundraiser at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel.
Stoops, 60 and an associate professor at Dominican’s graduate school of social work, helped found the West Side Domestic Abuse Project in 1997, later renamed the Center for Domestic Peace. The Chicago-based group encourages participants to think critically about healthy relationships and to build mutual respect between current and past partners.
The work is a natural extension for Stoops, who began his career in social work with an internship at Sarah’s Inn, the Oak Park-based nonprofit resource agency for victims of domestic abuse.
There, he said he learned key lessons that would shape his career.
“There’s a choice to use violence in the relationship. It’s not some psychopathology or caused by drug abuse, but it really is about men making a choice,” he said.
Essentially, that’s the message he tries to convey to his students in his Violence Across the Lifespan course at Dominican, which explores the topic at the individual (domestic violence, child abuse) and global (wars, genocide) levels.
Some of his students are surprised to learn the degree of empathy offered to the abusers.
“These our are neighbors, uncles, brothers, friends and co-workers. They carry on lives and relationships in appropriate ways,” he said. “It’s important for us to understand that if you’re going to work toward change with anyone, one of the things you have to do is approach them with respect.
“If you don’t, you’re really not going to reach them.”
His mission is hardly confined to classrooms and board rooms. Last year, he ran the Chicago Marathon to help raise awareness for local domestic violence resource agencies. (A university-produced YouTube video about his involvement in the race accompanies this story.)
He plans to run the marathon again this year.
Last month, Stoops stepped on stage at the Blackstone's swanky hotel ballroom, surrounded by the city’s celebrity chefs, social work and academic colleagues and hundreds of benefactors, and received the Battered Women's Network "Community Advocate Award."
"In some ways; it seems like a big payoff when I think back about it. It’s been a gradual process. I see it as maturing," Stoops said in a phone interview. "Initially, it was all about getting the victims safe, to protect the women and children. But the maturity of the movement and our growth says that we have to do both."
It may have taken awhile, but his colleagues seem to agree.
"I think we've all grown a bit," said Dalton, the network's director. "It really is the collaboration that makes all of this work."