Men who use violence get ‘Back on Track’

February 16, 2023

“I already feel safer and my husband is more willing to listen to me,” says one woman who’s partner has been attending CatholicCare’s Back on Track program this year. The program was launched in 2022 and is a 20-week group program for men who are using violence, abuse, or coercive control in their relationships and with their families. The program is delivered from sites in both Tuggerah and Waitara.

Domestic violence is rife on the Central Coast, with 100 domestic violence assaults reported on average per month. However, Cathy Zervos who works as a Practice Manager in the Men & Families program at CatholicCare says that we should not underestimate the prevalence of domestic violence in other parts of our Diocese. “In Northern Sydney the rates of Domestic Violence are still extremely high,” Cathy says, “but the cases are spread more broadly across a number of LGAs.” 

For decades, the domestic violence response systems in place were designed solely to keep women safe. “This, of course, is essential, but is more of a reactive response rather than a proactive one,” Cathy says. “Our aim is to make men’s behaviour more visible, so that we can learn better how to identify what patterns of behaviour are proving unsafe to the family. This equips us better to intervene.”  

Cathy explains that one of the goals of the Back on Track program is to provide men with alternatives to violence that will actually generate respect and love within the family, rather than aggression and fear. “In the program we give men an opportunity to have a close look at what’s working and what’s not working in the family so they can do a reset. Over time, they start to say, ‘This isn’t working for me so maybe I should do things differently.”  

The Back on Track Program examines a whole range of interpersonal, personal, and social contributors to violence. “Men have a look at the role that masculinity and male stereotypes play in their formation of identity,” Cathy says. “We look at men’s attitudes towards themselves and what experiences have contributed to them developing certain attitudes towards women, usually a strong sense of entitlement that gives them the green light to use violence.”  

An important and necessary part of the program is reaching out to all current and former partners of the men who attend. Partners are given information about the program so they can have realistic expectations about the change process and what not to expect. They are also offered safety planning and support for themselves and their children for the duration of the program. This process is completely transparent, and all men are willing participants.  “It’s not a miracle cure but rather the beginning of a process that men have to be willing to go through in order for it to have any hope of success,” Cathy says.  

Cathy refers to three men who have been attending for over 15 weeks and who say that the group has given them the tools to make real change in their lives. “They say that even though they are seeing a psychologist or a psychotherapist, this group is more helpful than anything they got from that,” Cathy says. “It’s given them the tools they need to respond differently in their relationships and to understand their partner’s perspective when there is conflict or difference of opinion. They keep saying that it has been a game changer and has been what they needed to start the process of turning their lives around.”  

For more information about CatholicCare’s Back on Track program please call 1800 324 924. 


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