Tim Avila calls his ex-girlfriends his "victims."
From the age of 16 until he turned 30, he abused every woman he dated, a pattern that began the day the mother of his first child heaved a garbage can at his back and he turned around and hit her. He threw an ashtray at his next girlfriend and pulled a third, pregnant, by her hair across the kitchen floor. He learned to beat women around their heads to avoid leaving visible bruises. One day he struck a little girl, the daughter of another girlfriend.
Nine years ago, when Avila attended a workshop at Partners in Change, a domestic violence offender program in Colorado Springs, it wasn't because he wanted to stop abusing women. Like many men there, he just wanted to keep his son from being taken from him by the Department of Human Services. It took his program leader, another man named John Andrade, to make him realize he should stop abusing for his own sake.
"It's all about choice," he says. "Choice to get up. Choice to go to work. Choice to be angry. This year, I made more choices not to be abusive."
Avila, now 39, is a founding member of Colorado Springs' newest anti-domestic violence group, Men Against Violence and Abuse. MAVA was created a year ago on the premise that domestic violence awareness, for decades perceived as "women's work" because of massive feminist advocacy efforts, should be taken up by the people who are nearly always the perpetrators: men.
MAVA, whose 10 core members include both those who have abused and those who haven't, last year initiated a series of focus groups in Colorado Springs, a city that has seen at least 55 domestic violence-related deaths since 1992. MAVA members have also distributed a "Pledge of Non-Violence" to men throughout the city. To date, 200 people have signed, including El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey.
MAVA was created through a federal grant awarded to El Paso County agencies to work on the problems of domestic abuse and child maltreatment. The five-year grant allocates $350,000 per year to anti-violence work in the community.
With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, MAVA's recent efforts have concentrated on defining masculine culture and how it relates to abuse. Avila, who works in construction, says the culture fosters in tiny silent cues between men at a work site. When a woman walks by, one man elbows the other. Without speaking to one another, they begin the catcalls.
"Men are socialized in certain ways," explains Tim Landis, a licensed social worker and non-abuser who spearheads MAVA. "To talk to other men about not being disrespectful of women is to step outside of the normal limits. You risk being called a sissy."
That's what makes MAVA's work so challenging. Men who are not former abusers often don't see a place for themselves in domestic violence awareness circles. But even seemingly harmless catcalling and anti-women jokes help to condone an environment of degradation, and, in turn, violence.
"We don't want to appeal to men's guilt," he says. "We realize that most men are not violent, and that they care about the issue. I hope that all men can agree, no matter where they come from, that violence and disrespect are unacceptable."
In the coming months, MAVA will continue to host focus groups throughout the community, with members attending national conferences with similar organizations.
"My only hope is to get men to start heading [the movement] instead of women," says Avila, who now has a violence-free relationship with his fiance. "It is our responsibility." CAPSULE
To get involved with MAVA, or to sign the "Pledge of Non-Violence," contact Tim Landis at 331-9628.