Saturday, August 01, 2009

Are Anger and Abuse the Same Thing?

View Julie Christiansen's profile on LinkedInMom's estranged husband charged with murder in infant's fatal fall: Was it Anger or Abuse?
This just in from the Chicago Tribune:,0,1433871.story

An estranged husband was charged Thursday with first-degree murder for allegedly kicking his wife atop a third-floor porch during a fight, causing her to lose hold of her newborn son, who then fell over a railing to his death, authorities said.

Jason Range, 20, was arrested Wednesday by Chicago police at an office as he was picking up a certificate for taking an anger-management class, several law-enforcement sources said.

Range had been charged with criminal damage to property in an unrelated case and needed the certificate to take to a court hearing, according to court records and one of the sources.

He allegedly smashed his aunt's car with a tire iron and slashed the car tires last February, the court records show.

Range, who lives in the 8200 block of South Maryland Avenue, was charged with murder in the death Sunday of 5-week-old Jeremiah, according to the Cook County state's attorney's office. Jeremiah's mother had gone to Range's home to pick up the baby, and she and Range got into a fight inside the apartment. Range allegedly wielded a knife and then kicked his wife in the back as she was walking onto the porch, police said.

Jeremiah was being carried by his mother in a car seat -- unsecured -- when Range allegedly kicked her, police said. The baby slipped from the car seat and dropped from the third floor to the ground, they said.

Range was charged with misdemeanor domestic battery in 2008 for allegedly threatening his wife with a knife and dragging her by her hair, court records show. The charge was later dropped.

This is truly a horrible story - and a sickening testament to what can happen when beliefs and choices go unchecked. The underlying question that seems to be implied in this article is – “What good was anger management for Mr. Range? He took the course, and then attacked this woman, killing her baby in the process. Surely anger management doesn’t work!”

While I have some genuine concerns about the long term effectiveness of anger management programs, I feel I need to stand up in defense of anger management and similar treatment programs. First, there seems to be a growing misconception in society that abuse is an “anger issue”, and that by teaching someone how to “manage” anger, we can in effect, reduce abusive behavior. This is not at all the case – in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Abuse is about power and control – not about anger.

Men who batter do so because it makes them feel powerful. They believe they have the right to dominate another individual or group of individuals in order to get what they need. They do it because they have LEARNED that abusive behavior gets results. Anger typically has nothing to do with it. Sure, there are people who hit, bite, scratch, punch walls, etc., when they are angry; however, these kinds of behaviours are used to demonstrate the intensity of their emotions because they have no words or no known alternative for expressing their feelings.

People who engage in abusive behaviours are fully conscious of their choices – and they choose to be abusive. They use their voices, aggressive gestures, “angry faces”, and violence as TOOLS to force the other party into submission.

This brings us back to the case here with Mr. Range. He was previously arrested and charged for vandalizing a family member’s property and ordered to undergo anger management treatment. The question is – was the vandalism an act of anger, or was it an act of abuse? The root of the word abuse is this: “ab” means to take away from… and “use” means power. It sounds to me like Mr. Range’s intentions were more than just to express an emotion he couldn’t put to words – he knew what he was doing, and likely hit his aunt where he thought it would hurt most. He took away her sense of safety and security, as well as impeding her ability to travel independently.

Range's history of abusive behavior is detailed in the above article – threatening his wife with a knife, dragging her by her hair, smashing his aunt’s vehicle with a tire iron and slashing her tires; this is more than an anger management issue. Range should have been mandated to enroll in a program for men who batter; not anger management classes.

Many people who are mandated to anger management classes only go so they can get the certificate to present to the judge; they are not personally motivated to change or improve their attitudes, beliefs, or choices. If the courts end up mistaking abuse for anger, then they are setting up everyone involved in the case for failure. The victims lose out – as did young Jeremiah and his mother. The abusive person loses out because he will continue to blame his behaviours on his anger rather than take responsibility for his choices. The courts lose out because they will inevitably see the abusive perpetrator re-offend, and the taxpayers lose out because it is their tax dollars that keep the criminal justice system in operation. Last but not least, the folks genuinely trying to help people with anger management and similar programs also lose – because stories like this do nothing but undermine the credibility of honest people trying to do honest work.

So what can be done? The answer lies in education. Lawyers and judges must pay attention to behavioural patterns and look at the intent behind the actions of those being charged. Anger management classes should not be perceived as a “cure-all” for people who engage in violent or other criminal activity. Perhaps a psychological evaluation should be mandatory for anyone charged with a violent crime or act of vandalism. Appropriate referrals must be made either to restorative justice programs, groups for men who batter, anger management or Anger Solutions programs – the key word here is “appropriate”.

It isn’t enough to say, “Prove you participated in this class, and that will be enough.” Listen – just because you learned it doesn’t mean you KNOW it. This is obviously the case with Mr. Range, who went to class and learned something, but chose not to apply it to his own situation. Instead he opted for doing what would bring him feelings of power and control – so much so that it cost his own son his life. What a horrible price to pay.