November 2018

Hombres de paz – voces libres

By: Paolo Scarrone
Projects Abroad Volunteer

Between 2013 and 2017, Bolivia saw over 400 cases of femicide, highlighting the internal crisis of the country's households. Despite the action taken by the government with Law 348, domestic violence keeps on being a serious issue in Bolivia.

The Fundación Voces Libres started a new project called Hombres de Paz in July 2017. The goal of Hombres de Paz is to help men with violent attitudes. In its first year, the project helped 318 men find the right path. The program includes two therapies: the psychological and the so-called alternative. As a matter of fact, Hombres de Paz is a breath of fresh air in the domestic violence world.

Most of the men of the Hombres de Paz project have to complete therapy as part of a judicial warrant rehabilitation program. These men have to attend an 18-session program, once per week, two and a half hours per session. 30% volunteer to complete the therapy are men who acknowledge their violent behaviors and want to deal with it before it's too late. The program slightly changes for them, being 12 sessions long.

There are two types of therapies that work complementary to each other. The psychological side of the treatment deals with one's intimacy, trying to listen about men's worries, fears, and most importantly, anger. On the other hand, the so-called alternative therapy is more about personal liberation that has to be reached through a better knowledge of oneself.

We had the chance to speak with the head of the project, Germán Siles, and Leila Mussre, who are currently working with the alternative therapy. Two psychologists manage the psychological therapy: Miguel Hurtado and Aldo Ceballos; while Leila and Marta Saéz Perez are the psychologists leading the alternative therapy. Both the psychological and the alternative treatments are group therapies. All the men taking part in the project are gathered to work together, trying to resolve their problems including by learning about the other patients' situations. The alternative therapy uses music and meditation to reach its goal.

"Men that need our help usually have anger issues," explains Germán. "They can't control their reactions." That's the first objective of the treatment, to understand where the anger comes from, and how men with a violent issue can better deal with it. What really caught our attention of this initiative was the alternative therapy, which was uncommon but apparently efficient.

Leila Mussre has explained to us how the alternative therapy works. It is based on a system of progressive and concentric achievements. The first step a violent man has to take on his path to improvement is the so-called Physical level. On this layer of self-consciousness, a man understands how to be at peace with his body, walking away from violent impulses.

After the first step, the Intellectual level follows as a natural consequence to the physical level. With a better understanding of his body, he can understand how to better control his instincts. Thanks to this step, a man learns how to detach the feeling of anger from the Physical need of being violent.

Moving on we reach the Emotional level. At this point of self-knowing, it is important to understand where the anger and consequently the violent attitudes come from. The Emotional step helps the patient dig into his emotions to find the origin of such an attitude.

Up to this point the path is almost over. However, as Leila explains, it lacks the most important step: "A man has to be able to forgive himself." Self-forgiveness is a crucial moment in the therapy. The patient has to understand his mistakes and now has to feel at peace with his consciousness. That is what happens in the last and most relevant step of the path, the so-called Astral level. This level does not end with self-forgiveness as the patient is asked to set himself an achievable objective for the future. It should be a goal he knows he can accomplish, such as behaving differently with his loved ones or a having a better attitude with everyday issues.

As mentioned previously, Hombres de Paz has helped 318 people with a domestic violence record. But how efficient really is this groundbreaking therapy? It's hard to say. "We hold a registry," says Germán, "where we record how a patient behaves before, during, and after the therapy that we then send to the prosecution. Some of them are so overwhelmed with the result of the therapy that they want to continue even if the mandatory sessions have reached their limit. Despite the positive feedback we get from our patients, there is no sure way to say whether a man will never turn to be violent again."

In order to understand where such a spread of violence could originate from, we asked Germán whether violent men had some sort of common background, "At first we thought about alcohol, but there is no uniform record of alcohol abuse between these men. The common denominator between these cases is a background of domestic violence." As we learned from Germán and Leila, violence creates a vicious circle that will be transmitted from generation to generation.

Domestic violence persists in being a serious issue in Bolivia. In many cases, women are afraid to report abuses because they're scared of finding themselves alone and threatened with abandonment at both a sentimental and economic level. Bolivian society is still tied to the macho culture and strongly patriarchal, seeing men as far superior to women. Regarding Law 348, that should have improved women's condition, Germán says, "The law is well written, the issue is that it is not being implemented as it should. Only few cases are rendered a court decision. The vast majority of violent men are only held in pre-trial detention."

Despite the action taken by the government with Law 348, domestic violence in Bolivia remains a serious topic. Between 2013 and 2017, the country reported over 400 cases of femicide.

In order to help fighting this phenomenon, the organization "Fundación Voces Libres" started a new project called "Hombres de Paz" in July 2017. The goal of "Hombres de Paz" is to help men with a violent attitude. In its first year, the project helped 318 men find the right path. The program includes two therapies: the psychological and the so-called alternative.

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