Tod Augusta-Scott is executive director of the Bridges Institute, a non-profit counselling and training centre in Truro with an innovative approach to not only stopping abuse, but also helping men heal and repair the harms they have caused.
“This is going to be a surprise to a lot of people in Truro,” said Augusta-Scott. “We have presented our work at conferences around the world; there is international interest in what we are doing here but not very many people in Truro know much about us.”
Toronto-based filmmaker Attiya Khan looked up Augusta-Scott when she was working on her documentary video, A Better Man. The doc is based on conversations Khan had with the man who had used violence against her.
In her late teens Khan lived with Steve who physically assaulted her daily for two years until she literally ran away.
Khan became a counsellor and advocate for women who survived domestic violence. One day 20, years later, she saw Steve on the streets of Toronto and asked him to let her video the two of them talking about the abuse for the first time.
“She had this raw footage of their first initial conversation in a coffee shop with her best friend behind the camera – and she didn’t know what to do with it, it was the first time she had ever talked to a man who used abuse,” says Augusta-Scott. “She heard about the work we do here and so she flew me down to Toronto a few times to do with them the work we’ve been doing here at Bridges; that is, develop a conversation where healing and repairing the harm can be possible.”
The Bridges Institute in Truro started counselling men who used violence in their intimate relationships in 1991. Originally they used traditional group meetings to get the men to talk about the violence with the hope of stopping the abuse.
Over time the counsellors evolved their approach to include individual private sessions to prepare the men to acknowledge and take responsibility for the harms they created.
Augusta-Scott says the first step is helping the men believe they can be helpful. Part of that is helping the men create a plan to make sure they never cause that kind of harm again.
Counsellors also work with the women to help them feel safe through the process.
The men hear – either directly or through letters or facilitators – from the women they assaulted; the women tell them about the abuse and how it affected them.
“The men acknowledge that and they put themselves in the other person’s place, and they share their plan,” says Augusta-Scott. “The women see the men acknowledging the pain they caused, the women see the remorse, the man really gets it, and the women see he has a plan – this all builds a sense of safety that it’s not going to happen again.”
For Augusta-Scott who has been doing this work quietly and privately for years, it is confusing to see it all laid out on the big screen, to be reading about in the newspaper.
“It is disorienting to see this private conversation being shown to the public,” he said. “Our work is always such a secret. But it’s exciting that the public gets to see what is possible – it does raise expectations about what is possible. When men like Steve step up and take responsibility, not only will the violence stop, but they can repair and heal the harms they have done.”
Augusta-Scott is flying to Toronto for the premiere of “A Better Man” this Sunday at Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Lawrence Jackman co-directed the documentary with Khan and Sarah Polley is the executive producer.
Augusta-Scott isn’t sure when or how people in Truro will be able to see the documentary but he says the producers have only just begun to talk about distribution and possible appearances at film festivals.
For sure it will be screened at the Canadian Domestic Violence Conference to held in Halifax next March.
And Khan has told CBC Radio she hopes to tour the country with the documentary to start conversations about domestic violence.
For more information about the documentary see www.abettermanfilm.com.
For more information about the Bridges Institute, see www.bridgesinstitute.org.