PORTLAND – The Portland Press Herald headline “New strategies needed to fight domestic violence” (Dec. 7, 2011) was exactly right. But what strategies? The editorial only pointed to new technologies that might be helpful. I believe that’s a very limited presentation.

We need to support groups, like Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, that provide direct support to the women who are the primary targets of domestic violence. Much of their work is offering straightforward support to women who need safe shelter and who should seek legal protection. This is not high-tech or new, but it’s needed now as much as ever. Supporting women in standing up to domestic violence and helping them see that when it begins, it generally won’t stop on its own is an absolutely vital first step.

The editorial highlighted a well-known case in which there was a protection order, but husband Steven Lake still obtained two guns — in direct violation of that order. What can be done to improve enforcement, to spotlight such situations before anger escalates to violence? And how can we reduce the number of handguns in general and ensure careful monitoring before licenses are issued for the privilege of handgun ownership?

In reflecting on this story, I realize that nobody has ever offered me any instruction on how to have a good fair “fight” in which anger might be expressed but nobody gets hurt. We know that conflicts will arise in our lives, that tempers will flare and that anger can erupt in totally unacceptable ways.

All of us, and particularly all men, need a toolkit of ways to deal constructively with anger. This isn’t just for those whose behavior has already led them to court. I know SARSSM is also working in this area, but there’s so much more needed than one such group can possibly offer.

Years ago, when I was in college, I had an encounter that I believe helps illuminate the underlying problem here. I spent one summer living in a small dorm at a research center, and one weekend a friend of one of my dormmates arrived in his fancy sports car. He proceeded to bring a number of young women back to our dorm for a party and asked me to join them for what was obviously just a sexual encounter. I joined them for a few minutes but quickly realized that this was not where I wanted to be or how I wanted to relate to anybody.

The next morning he apologized to me, “for the poor quality of the women.” I was speechless, but he then continued, asking me how I could possibly have resisted the offer of raw sex the night before. I felt no moral purity and had certainly felts moments of temptation.

What might I say that could help him understand, without putting myself on a pedestal I didn’t deserve?

I thought for a minute and then asked him whether he’d ever asked a woman a question and cared about the answer. He hesitated for a while, obviously disturbed by my question. But then he responded, “No, I don’t think I ever have.”

I suggested that he try it — ask a question, really wait for an answer and take it seriously. I might have lectured him about respect and mutuality, but I believed that was about as much as I could communicate at that time.

Was he the only man who couldn’t ask a woman a question and truly care about her response? I don’t believe so. And until we have a society of mutual respect in which people seek and find help when they realize that that respect is compromised and anger or lust is taking over, we’ll continue to have more of the domestic violence that is the sad and brutal subject here.

Arthur Fink is a consultant and coach to nonprofit organizations and their staffs, a former nonviolence trainer and an active member of Portland Friends Meeting (Quakers).