Counselors may joke, but abuse is no laughing matter

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 30, 2009



LAPLACE – When Wayne Barnes tells people he is an advocate for domestic violence, most people react with snickers and jokes.

“They look at me, and they say ‘Why, are you good at it or something?’” Barnes said. “They seem all surprised that a man like me, a big macho black man, could be volunteering at a shelter.”

Barnes is a counselor for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. He and the rest of the staff of the shelter gathered in LaPlace Thursday for a presentation on taking a stand against all forms of domestic violence.

Dale Standifer, executive director for Metro, said advocacy groups have made great strides since the 1970s to bring awareness of domestic violence and what can be done to prevent it.

“Before 1970, domestic violence had no real meaning,” Standifer said. “There was never any place to go to escape a situation involving spousal abuse. We have come a long way since then.”

The presentation provided a historical perspective of domestic violence and detailed some of the dynamics of the problem in the hopes of discounting some of what Barnes described as “inaccuracies of the problem.”

“People think the craziest stuff about domestic violence,” Barnes said. “Even the most well intentioned people may not understand all of the dynamics of it. We find that many people just don’t know what to do when an incident develops.”

Evelena Conerly, another counselor for Metro, said it is often difficult to identify an abuser. She said in many cases it is someone that everyone knows and respects.

“People don’t want to believe it is happening because this person is a pillar of the community,” Conerly said. “Sometimes it is just a good person with unhealthy traits.”

Conerly also said that in the past, women were brought up to believe that marriage requires ultimate respect of the husband.

“There was often little sympathy, even from other family members,” Conerly said. “We were taught to believe that we need to do what he says no matter what, and that is not the case.”

Barnes added it’s not just women who are abused. The shelter also deals with abused men and children.

“Abuse against women is much more prevalent, but we do get some men to come in,” Barnes said. “It’s sometimes hard for them to come forward because of the shame or embarrassment they may feel.”

Once a person comes into the shelter, Barnes said the counselors do not advise the next course of action. He said they instruct the client to examine all options they may have, and it is up to them to make the right move.

“If we tell them exactly what to do and they do it and it doesn’t work, they come back mad with me,” said Barnes. “We do what we can to empower their strengths to let them know they have more power than they think.”

Barnes said the results are rarely instantaneous. In many cases, the abused just goes right back into the situation and continues the cycle of violence. He said the abused are often blinded by a temporary change in attitude in the abuser.

“When our clients are sick and tired of being sick and tired, that is when we start to see some results,” said Barnes. “When they reach that limit we know we have made a breakthrough.”

Barnes said one of the main keys to prevention is reaching out to men and “re-socializing” them for today’s society.

“Men are taught to be strong, athletic, macho and aggressive in life,” Barnes said. “There is nothing wrong with those traits, but what we try to make clear is manhood is not exclusive to those traits. It is OK to be sensitive and understanding at the same time.”

Barnes also said men are often taught at a young age that it is never OK to hit women, but nothing is ever said about not hitting the one you are partnered with.

“Something gets lost along the way and we are doing what we can to rectify that issue.” Barnes said.