The Days After

Cathy Broussard is a survivor. For more than six years, she lived a double life. During the day, she was a successful businesswoman with a high-paying job in the oil and gas sector. At night, she lived in constant fear of her husband's next attack. In 1996, she finally called it quits.

She remembers bringing her husband to court after years of abuse. A judge made him send her a dozen roses and an apology note as part of his sentence, she said.

The batterers she now sees don't have it so easy.

As executive director of the Family Violence Intervention Program, Broussard, 40, has made counseling abusers to change their behavior her life's work.

In a small office tucked away inside a building off South College Road, Broussard and a staff of two women manage an average annual caseload of more than 400 batterers.

Every day, they come face-to-face with people from all walks of life.

There are men and women, black and white. Some have recognizable names and are people "you'd never expect," Broussard said.

They were all sent to FVIP because they either had been found guilty of their crimes or were offered a chance to have their charges dropped or reduced in exchange for participating in the 26-week program.

"I have the benefit of seeing them when they first get here in their bitterness and denial, and when you get to see that unravel through the course of the 26 weeks, there is nothing more powerful than that," she said.

Twelve part-time counselors help run the program. For two hours one day a week, abusers square off with two counselors, one male and one female.

"It's important to have that team because you complement one another and it lets the guys see how a healthy relationship is," Broussard said.

During the sessions, the two counselors teach the abusers about coercion, threats and intimidation, all common tactics in abusive relationships. Slowly, she said, the abusers learn to replace those negative behaviors with positive ones such as negotiating, respecting and sharing responsibility.

The principles used in the lessons were inspired by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project of Duluth, Minn., she said. That model program has been instrumental in bringing domestic violence awareness into the mainstream.

Broussard said she believes FVIP is a much better alternative than just throwing abusers in jail.

She, like many in the anti-violence arena, believes education is the only real way to solve the problem. Jail time simply delays it for a while, which means she stands up for abusers when they deserve it - and when they don't, she's the first person on the phone to the judge or the prosecutor to have their probation revoked.

"I believe in this program. I'm very faithful to my batterers," she said.