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Man Alive promotes violence-free partnerships

SHERRY MAYS, Sierra Sun

After 15 years of marriage and two children, Pete Giannini’s wife told him to get out of the house.

“I wasn’t willing to stop being controlling,” he said. “I was a batterer. It was a shock, but it forced me to do something.”

That was 19 years ago, today Giannini is director of Man Alive, a program focused on re-educating men who are batterers.

The 51-year-old said he tore one family apart and swore he would never do it again. This is the philosophy he uses to introduce men to the program.

“This isn’t an easy program,” he said. “There are two things men have to admit before entering Man Alive. The first is that he is a batterer. And the second is that he wants to stop the violence.”

Batterer is often a misunderstood term. Giannini’s definition lists a batterer as any person who uses emotional, verbal or physical violence to control others.

“Batterers don’t think that because they haven’t hit someone, they’re not batterers,” he said. “That’s not true. As soon as someone attempts to control someone verbally or emotionally, it’s battering. I never hit my children, I just scared them half to death. I would scream so loudly I would shoot blood out of my mouth. I ruptured my blood vessels.”

Yelling got Giannini where he wanted to be. No one would say anything to him out of fear. He didn’t need to hit.

After 17 years of teaching with Man Alive, Giannini said he knows the signs and can see violence coming.

“I’ve heard all of the excuses,” he said. “We’ve heard all of the denial. It’s not part of our program.”

After hearing the stories, he and others put together the six steps of violence, which Giannini said is mainly driven by society’s expectation of men and their masculine roles.

“Our six steps of violence is based on the what every boy is taught to be – a man,” he said.

The six steps are:

Men are expected to be the authority. Men feel that they have to be the head of household and need to enforce it.

Men expect service. When men are batterers, they demand it. There is no choice to be made by their partners.

When men have their authority tested and they don’t get the service they demanded, Giannini said they face “fatal peril.” Their identity as men fails.

Next, men begin making quick decisions. The first is to objectify their partners. If a partner is no longer a human, a man no longer has to feel like he is hurting that partner.

A chase then ensues. This can be verbal by arguing until the batterer has the last word, physical if the batterer controls the violence by closing the space or reversed if the woman is forced to use violence. Then the batterer justifies his battering.

The next choice is to hit or coerce the partner to give up.

“There is one final step a man can take to win his battle,” Giannini said. “It would be to kill. But 90 percent of the time the batterer kills himself when he kills his partner. He can’t justify anything then.”

He explained that during the steps, men tend to blow things out of proportion while minimizing the effects their violence is having on their partners.

“I didn’t make much sense,” he said. “I would say, ‘I didn’t ask you to perform brain surgery, I just asked you to shut up.’ At the time, having my wife shut up was the most important thing I was thinking about. Stupid, huh?”

Since Giannini has been with the program, he said he has seen a lot of changes in legislation mandating that men convicted of family violence go to programs similar to Man Alive. It requires them to relearn behavior that has taken a long time to learn.

Men can face up to two years of classes with Man Alive, depending on how serious their violent behavior is.

“It takes time to change belief systems,” Giannini said. “If women are seen as equal, then there are no arguments. There are no apologies. We want men to be accountable for their actions, not apologetic. Apologies go nowhere. I know because apologies got me nowhere with my wife and family.”

Through his years with the program, he has also thrown out any notions of who stereotypical batterers are.

“I have professors and professionals in the program right now,” he said. “Not to mention the 11-, 12-, 14- and 81-year-olds that are here. There is no stereotype. Anyone can begin the controlling behaviors.”

The majority of Man Alive’s enrollment is self-referred, which means it is one step easier to keep men in the program, Giannini said. Last month, almost 500 men went through at least one phase of the program.

The program has classes in Roseville, Grass Valley and Sacramento, but Giannini is hopeful the program will reach the Truckee area in the near future.

For information, call Tahoe Women’s Services at 546-7804 or Man Alive at 478-8085.

“No one deserves to be battered,” he said. “And if a man tells me that he’s been battered by a woman, I usually ask them what they’ve done to force the woman to retaliate. They are fighting back.”

SIDEBAR

October is packed with events sponsored by the Tahoe Women’s Services in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Ongoing – Purple Ribbon Campaign. Wear purple ribbons as a sign of support for the end of domestic violence.

Ongoing – Everybody Deserves to Feel Safe Campaign. A kick-off for the campaign is a poster contest where district children will draw posters of where they feel safest.

Beginning today – Volunteer training begins for people interested in working on the crisis line, in the Safe House or on other TWS projects.

Oct. 17 – 11th annual Chocolate Festival. Major fund-raiser at Northstar-at-Tahoe.

Beginning Oct. 22 – Hands Are Not For Hitting Campaign. TWS focuses on elementary school students with activities aimed at teaching positive hand uses.

Oct. 28 – Healing the Wounds of Violence Against Women. TWS honors victims of domestic violence with a candlelight ceremony.

For information, call 546-7804 or the Truckee office at 582-9117.

STATISTIC: An estimated 52 percent of women murdered in this country are killed by their husbands, lovers or former partners, usually after having been battered by those men for years.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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