Twenty men sit in a room in the Adult Probation Services building on Tucson’s south side at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, all required by conditions of their probation to attend the domestic violence orientation.
The 3½-hour session is an overview of what the men will learn in their 26 to 52 weeks of batterers’ counseling, depending on what the court has sentenced each man to take.
Ed Mercurio-Sakwa of Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse and Chris Guerrero from the Veterans Administration lead the class, which aims to engage men in conversations about violence against women.
When Guerrero asks how many men have had a conversation like that, only three raise their hands.
“We as men aren’t used to having conversations like these, because we’re taught to be certain things,” Guerrero said. “All those messages about what it means to be a man impacts how we show up in a relationship, and it impacts the safety of women and children.”
Mercurio-Sakwa tells the men they’re each required to participate in a meaningful way at least once, in order to get credit for attending. He tells the group there won’t be any blame-shifting.
“Probably the hardest thing we’re going to ask you to do is focus on you,” he said.
The group is shown a clip from a movie about domestic violence and asked to talk about how particular parts made them feel or what they could relate to.
When the men were asked how many of them witnessed as a child their mother being abused, five men raised their hands, with a few more raised shortly after.
“For me to be an offender,” one man started, then paused. “I grew up being a victim, and now I’m on the other side.”
Another man talked about how he used to watch his stepfather beat his mother.
He takes a deep breath before he said that his daughter had seen the fight he’d had with his wife that landed him in the class. He wondered out loud if she would think that was OK. He turns to address the group.
“None of us wants our kids to end up with a man like us, right?”