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Labor of Love: New Sheboygan treatment center aims to help batterers change (with video)
When new clients come into Laurie Lawrenz’s new treatment center, Labor of Love, they’re often surprised when she offers them a beverage and asks them how they are.
After all, batterers aren’t accustomed to being treated kindly by authorities.
“My biggest thing is when they walk in my office I treat them like a person,” said Lawrenz, 51, who opened Labor of Love in March. “It’s not about what you did, it’s who you are. First, you’ve got to get to know who the person is and what’s going on.”
Labor of Love is Sheboygan County’s only treatment program for batterers certified by the Wisconsin Batterers Treatment Providers Association.
The center also provides other kinds of counseling services, including mental health counseling and other treatment programs for adults, teens and children.
The WBTPA is part of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, a statewide organization that promotes education and advocacy to end domestic violence.
“Batterers treatment itself is an important resource to have in communities so that criminal justice professionals, the criminal justice system, have resources to help perpetrators change their behavior and to facilitate perpetrators accepting responsibility and accountability for their actions so they can change their behavior,” said Tony Gibart, public policy coordinator at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin.
Gibart said programs like Lawrenz’s grew out of the the increasing awareness of how to effectively combat domestic violence.
“The first thought was, ‘How do we protect victims?’” Gibart said. “Not too long after that came the understanding that there should be programming for perpetrators, both because victims and survivors said they wanted that ... but also because there needs to be a tool of the criminal justice system to effectively respond to domestic violence.
“The lack of certified batterers treatment providers in Wisconsin communities is a gap, a hole in our resp to domestic violence,” he said. “It’s certainly an important step that those services are established in Sheboygan County.”
Dione Knop of Sheboygan County Victim/Witness Services, said her office makes referrals to Labor of Love, along with many other treatment programs and services.
“Ideally, if the perpetrator gets treatment, it’s going to stop some of the behaviors ... and lead to more safety for victims,” Knop said. “Sometimes victims will ask what resources are available. Certainly, we try to be aware of different services in the community and we make referrals based on what’s available.”
Lawrenz, who opened another Labor of Love center in Wausakee this summer, is a licensed social worker with an affinity for helping people who are in trouble.
“Once you start talking to people, once you figure out what they’re about, people are people,” she said. “Usually, there’s a story behind it. I really believe that you can always make positive out of a negative.”
Lawrenz’s passion for her work comes from a major trauma she suffered in February of 2012, when she had a massive heart attack just weeks after starting the job of her dreams with a state subcontractor.
“I died on the table and was brought back with paddles,” she said. “When I came back to work, I was still on probation with the job and they let me go.”
That led to a lot of soul searching.
“‘Why didn’t I just die, why am I here?’” she asked herself. “I was still working with the criminal population and sex offenders. What I see is that that population is really the ones that I can relate to the best.”
After researching what kind of care is available for that population, Lawrenz discovered that there was a gap in treatment options for batterers.
“Once you have a life-changing experience like that, you basically look at life differently,” she said. “I’m a certified domestic violence and sex offender treatment specialist. Those things were really important to me.”
Many of Lawrenz’s clients come to her through a court order, and about 65 percent of her total caseload is made of up batterers. She also gets referrals from attorneys as well as from the Sheboygan and Manitowoc county court systems.
“I think the population I deal with is so used to ‘suits:’ social workers, probation, things like that, especially if they’ve been in prison, they’re not treated like a human being,” she said. “There’s always some kind of trauma in the middle of things that happened in their life. There’s always something that’s at the center.”
Many batterers Lawrenz sees come from backgrounds where abuse goes back generations, where “They learned that from Dad — this is how a man treats a woman,” she said.
Still, Lawrenz said, most of the accused batterers she sees really want to break the pattern of violence.
“Even people who are court-ordered, I would say 90 percent really want to change,” she said. “Some of it is they don’t know how to change. Nobody’s really ever worked with them on how to change. I believe in them.”
—Reach Janet Ortegon at 920-453-5121.