GREEN BAY -- Justine Koschkee says she has her "dream job." As a therapist serving the mental health needs of clients coming to Catholic Charities, one of the most challenging - and rewarding - parts of her job is the oversight she provides to the Alternatives to Violence Program in Marinette.
She and Debra Mullen, a licensed clinical social worker, provide an array of counseling services to the area.
With domestic abuse services more readily available in Green Bay and the Fox Valley, Marinette is a northern hub for services in this rural region of Wisconsin. "We treat people from Oconto County all the way up. We've got Michigan people," said Koschkee.
The Diocese of Green Bay, through Catholic Charities - which receives 18 percent of its funding from the annual Bishop's Appeal - fills an important niche here. Koschkee said they learned that in Crandon last fall when the community was left to deal with the aftermath of the shootings there in October. "We responded to the tragedy up there."
The diocese is part of the revival of a coalition in the Marinette region which has prepared itself to meet many needs. That coalition is called the Community Coordinated Response Team, with a variety of agencies working together to form a response plan so that police and the courts can tap into the resources they need to respond to situations like domestic violence.
Koschkee said her number one goal for the domestic abuser is to get the person into treatment after he's been through the court system.
"It's a very intensive program," she said of the diocese's Alternatives to Violence Program, explaining the perspective she uses in her work: "I don't look at them as bad people. It's a behavior."
She more fully describes domestic abuse as "a learned behavior," often passing through the generations. "Almost all of them are coming with some kind of (domestic abuse) history in their past," Koschkee said. They've either witnessed it or it happened to them. "Domestic violence is a continuum," she said.
"A lot of them will come in and say I only did it because I was drunk," said Koschkee. But alcohol and drug abuse issues, or even mental health issues, are not the root causes of domestic abuse, she said. Rather, it's control.
Can abusive behavior go away without any help?
That's the question asked on the Alternatives to Violence Web page at www.gbdioc.org and here's the answer Catholic Charities offers: "You can make the choice to stop hurting the people you love. Intervention and support is necessary to change beliefs and abusive behaviors.
Battering tends to escalate over time, leading many times to homicide or suicide. Forty percent of female homicide victims are killed by family members or boyfriends."
The Alternatives to Violence Program consists of intakes, individual assessments, educational groups for abusers and/or referrals to individual counseling when appropriate.
The program serves a five-fold purpose:
Participants are almost always referred by the court system, though occasionally someone will recognize their problem and come on their own, said Koschkee.
The program begins with four individual assessment sessions that include a personality profile before beginning the intensive group process that features 24 weekly two-hour group sessions.
At first they don't want to be there, said Koschkee. She runs this 10 to 15 member group every Wednesday evening in Marinette, and at any given time there's someone graduating from the group and someone joining the group.
"It's not just us teaching," continued Koschkee, explaining the importance of a group dynamic during the sessions. "The older members are teaching the new ones," she said, confronting them on their abuse. In those new members, "They see themselves," she said. And when a group member does make excuses, "We call them on it," she said.
Throughout the process the diocese also remains in contact with the victims and puts them in touch with the services they need. The abuse they experience is a wide variety of power and control tactics, from intimidation and isolation to dirty looks and screaming to physical violence.
Within the abusers group they are not allowed to talk about their partner's behavior. A partner's actions may not be appropriate at times, said Koschkee, but within the group the goal is to unlearn old behaviors and accept accountability.
And within the group, abusers learn the impact their actions have had on their partners and children. The reality can hit them when they talk about their own daughters and learn, "They're going to find someone just like you," she said.
It's about 10 weeks into the group when "they start to realize they get it," said Koschkee. "If they can do the behavior in the group, we know they can do it."
People are always welcome to come back to the group.
"It's something they'll always have to live with and remember," she Koschkee, who is always careful about using the word "success."
"The risk of reoffending is always there."
For more information see the diocesan Web site at www.gbdioc.org and click on Catholic Charities and its Community Services link or call (920) 437-7531, extension 8234.
Besides the offices in Green Bay at 1825 Riverside Drive, branch offices are located in Manitowoc, Marinette, Menasha, Oshkosh, Antigo, Niagara and Sturgeon Bay.
© Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
1825 Riverside Drive | P.O. Box 23825 | Green Bay, WI 54305-3825
Phone: 920-437-7531 | Fax: 920-437-0694 | E-Mail: [email protected]