Men Creating Peace works to reduce domestic violence in Alameda County
on February 18, 2016
Each week, a large group of men meet Wednesdays and Saturdays at Berkeley’s Veterans Building and Oakland’s Laney College to discuss gender roles, anger management and domestic violence prevention.
Men Creating Peace (MCP) is one of the few domestic violence organizations in Alameda County specifically geared towards men. Founded in 2009, the organization aims to help men who’ve been involved in violent acts adopt coping mechanisms so that they can develop healthier relationships with partners, family and their community.
“We’re not a parenting class, we’re not an AA class. We’re a violence prevention class, and the men that we’re working with have agreed that they’re violent, and they want to stop,” said founder Devon Gaster.
Prior to launching MCP, Gaster worked in jails teaching the same methods in Sacramento, San Francisco and Marin County. Through years of experience practicing the 30-year-old Manalive Violence Prevention Program, founded by interventionist Hamish Sinclair, Gaster established the curriculum for Men Creating Peace.
“Every class starts with accountability,” said Gaster. “In the beginning of the first class, we ask the men to tell us why they’re here, and we ask them to be as specific as they can about what happened. How did they start their violence? How did their violence escalate? And how did they end their violence? ”
The program is made up of three stages that altogether last 52 weeks. Men who are 16 years or older and have issues with anger are referred to Men Creating Peace by the courts, agencies, clergies, therapists and even school counselors.
Gaster says he based the organization in Alameda County due to the economic downturn. Men who lived in the East Bay, couldn’t afford to travel to domestic violence classes in San Francisco or Marin County. “People were moving to Alameda County where it was less expensive to live, but they didn’t want to lose credits for the classes they had already gone to in San Francisco, so they just transferred into our program,” he said.
The organization differs from other programs due its focus on teaching men how not to fall victim to their egos or what they call the “male-role belief system,” which is the idea that men are superior to women and other men.
“There is always this competitiveness around men, and when that belief system gets challenged, when you get disrespected, when someone outdoes you, makes fun of you, or cuts you off on the freeway, it’s a challenge to the belief system. What are you going to do as a man? Are you going to stand up for yourself or are you going to let someone disrespect you? That’s a big challenge,” says Gaster.
When asked what is the most significant challenge men face upon entering the program, Gaster said “accountability.” It’s difficult for his students to accept responsibility for their actions without blaming their victim, he said. Once men accept accountability and graduate to later stages in the program, victims of domestic violence are brought to speak to the class. “We have stories of rape, we have stories of kidnapping … stories that victims tell when they come talk to the class,” said Gaster.
“Once students graduate to that second and third stage of the program, the resistance level has gone down. Their buy-in to the work has gone up. The awareness of their violence has gone up. The awareness of the impact of their violence has gone up and they’re more receptive to that kind of a story,” added Gaster.
Though Gaster said the program’s success rate is lower than he’d like, the men who do graduate often end up returning to teach or sit in on classes. Gaster hopes to expand his business even further, one day establishing a headquarters and even creating classes for couples and women.
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