"Across the parking lot from a YMCA in Des Moines, about a dozen men sit on black plastic chairs in the basement of a former Catholic high school.
...This 24-week course is called ACTV: Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behavior. It was created by domestic violence researcher Amie Zarling at Iowa State University. ACTV marks a big shift from the accountability-focused classes most states have used for decades.
The course teaches that when most people get violent, it's because they don't understand their own emotions. The hope is that by getting abusers to recognize and tolerate uncomfortable feelings - like a freezing cold ice cube in their palm - they can stop themselves before they explode into rage. Sampson calls it "situational awareness."
Most of the ACTV class time is spent on discussion, talking about the participants' values and how the decisions they make can get in the way of the lives they want. Sampson tells the class that thoughts and feelings are like the weather: temporary. But impulsive actions driven by emotion can have long-term ramifications.
...But not everyone is sold on the switch to ACTV. Some victims' advocates say they don't think emotional awareness alone will stop abuse if the batterer still feels contempt for their victim.
'Nothing ever is really going to change because the belief stays the same,' says survivor Tiffany Allison, who founded the Des Moines-based victims' advocacy organization Soaring Hearts.
Allison argues that recidivism data doesn't tell the whole story. Some victims may stop reporting assaults. And there are types of abuse that don't get you arrested, like controlling someone's money, preventing them from seeing their family, or calling them names.
She wants to see clear evidence that ACTV helps victims of abuse. Those studies haven't been done yet."
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