Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Special report: former abuser calls on men to take stock

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Jeremy Eparaima learned how to change his abusive behaviour.
Jeremy Eparaima learned how to change his abusive behaviour.

Violence by men against women is the most serious issue we face in New Zealand when it comes to family harm.

On average, about 72 per cent of family violence incidents and 78 per cent of partner homicides are perpetrated by men.

Yes, there are women who abuse and batter their partners and children, but the figures show that New Zealand's most significant family violence issue is men hurting women.

The hurt is not just physical. Women are being bullied, tormented, controlled, and emotionally, psychologically and sexually abused.

It is thought that about half of all Kiwi women will experience some form of non-violent abuse by a partner in their lifetime.

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So who are the men behind the pain and suffering?

They are professionals and beneficiaries. They are rich and poor. They are European, Maori, Pacific Island, Asian, Middle Eastern. They are of all ages. They come from every social, cultural, ethnic and economic background.

According to the National Network of Stopping Violence (NNSV), most men who hurt their partners and families do not want to behave that way.

They use violence for "short-term gains" including controlling people and situations and, essentially, getting their own way.

The NNSV said men often used a sense of entitlement or superiority to justify their use of violence. They think they are the "king of the castle" or "the boss", and anyone who challenges that is seen as a threat.

A big part of violence towards women in New Zealand is male privilege, said the NNSV.

There is a sense of entitlement and superiority which is used by men to justify violent and controlling behaviour in their homes towards their wives, partners, exes and kids.

They see women and children as "less than", objects or owned possessions who are under their complete control.

Yesterday, NZME spoke to a man who, for almost three decades, ruled his home and family with his fists and by fear.

"I started off mainly verbally and psychologically abusing," Jeremy Eparaima said.

"I minimised it by saying it was 'just' verbal abuse. I didn't see myself as being as bad as the guy that hit ... After a little while, the words start to lose their effect, though ... so you have to step up your game to remain in charge.

"The first time I was violent, it was a push. Even then I knew in my head that I had overstepped the mark - but at least it wasn't a punch ... I said sorry and 'it will never happen again'. But from then I went on to be a perpetrator for more than 20 years."

A tyrant at home

Jeremy Eparaima punched, kicked, bashed, choked and bullied his way through a marriage and two other relationships. He physically and emotionally abused his kids. Because of him, his family lived in fear.

The abuse spanned almost 30 years before he realised that he had to change.

Mr Eparaima has never been arrested or charged with any offence related to family violence.

Until recently, many people had no idea what was going on behind closed doors.

Today, he is speaking out about his past in a bid to reach other men before they do the same damage to their family that he did to his.

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To the world he was "an all-round good guy". He was a retail manager and a talented rugby player. He was well respected. But at home, he was a tyrant who inflicted pain and suffering on the people he was supposed to love the most.

I would get right up in my partners' faces, I'd be spitting angry. I didn't have a gradual anger, we'd go from talking nicely and quietly to an outburst, just an absolute attack.
Jeremy Eparaima

It's important to note that Mr Eparaima is not asking for sympathy or forgiveness. He is not justifying anything he did or making excuses. The reason he speaks out about his past is to try to teach other men what family violence is - and that it's unacceptable.

He works with the It's Not OK programme and speaks to groups, including the police, about his life in a bid to educate them from a perpetrator's perspective.

By sharing his story, something he is deeply ashamed of, he hopes to help others.

"My kids are adults now and it's what I used to say to them that they remember. The bruises disappear but the psychological stuff, that's what is left behind, that's what has done the damage," he said.

Mr Eparaima said that in most cases, verbal abuse was the precursor to violence.

"After a little while the words start to lose their effect, though. The victims see them as threats; they are not having the same effect as they did.

"I would get right up in my partners' faces, I'd be spitting angry. I didn't have a gradual anger, we'd go from talking nicely and quietly to an outburst, just an absolute attack."

The next thing was a slap

Mr Eparaima "progressed" from threats and pushing. The neighbours would often call the police but he was never arrested, never charged.

From pushing, the next thing was a slap. Again I justified it - it was 'just' a slap, not a punch, so it's not that bad. After that I pretty much progressed to everything imaginable and unimaginable.
Jeremy Eparaima

He knew how to talk his way out of a situation, and his family never challenged him in front of anyone.

They knew what would happen if they told anyone about what dad was doing.

"From pushing, the next thing was a slap. Again I justified it - it was 'just' a slap, not a punch, so it's not that bad. After that I pretty much progressed to everything imaginable and unimaginable.

"There was punching, kicking, choking, spitting. I put butcher knives to the throats of a couple of my partners. The intention in my head was to take them out. It was pretty horrific."

The path to violence

Mr Eparaima was raised in an extremely violent home. By the age of 10, he was assaulting his mother.

He was sent to boarding school, where again he was exposed to violence. As a new student he was beaten and bullied.

With a lot of perpetrators, society sees them as this angry, aggressive man, but most of us were victims once; we had to deal with some pretty adverse things in our childhoods.
Jeremy Eparaima

Then an older boy started to sexually abuse him.

It was just another episode in his violent life.

He is open when he speaks about all of this. All of this, combined, is why he was so angry, which in turn led to violence.

Again, this is not his excuse - it's merely an insight into a traumatised young man who became a traumatiser.

"With a lot of perpetrators, society sees them as this angry, aggressive man, but most of us were victims once; we had to deal with some pretty adverse things in our childhoods.

"If that's all you know, that's all you know.

"Until you learn a new way or decide this is enough, you will always carry on hurting the ones you are supposed to protect and love."

Mr Eparaima can't remember all of the beatings he dished out, but the continual apologies are painfully clear.

"The word 'sorry' becomes a hollow word in a house like mine was," he said.

"What you're sorry for today is going to be there again tomorrow or the next day. You feel stink, you are critical of yourself.

"You build up a good amount of self-hatred, which then just adds to the anger."

Control was also a big driver of Mr Eparaima's rage.

"For me, I was the king of the castle. That's how things went," he explained.

"I could be good for a few months but when the shit hit the fan, I went back to what I knew worked - violence and put-downs ... I was an out-and-out arsehole."

The beginning of the end

Mr Eparaima's life only changed when a mate of his started to go to anger management. He thought it was a good thing, that his mate "needed it".

"He was constantly violent. They didn't just send a police squad car to his place, they sent the armed offenders squad," he said.

Initially, I thought it was a load of crap. They would talk about violence-free homes and I'd think, 'They're filling your head with shit, man, that's not the real world.'
Jeremy Eparaima

"He said, 'I'm doing anger management,' and I said, 'Good on you, mate, because you really need it.' I never put myself in that category with him."

After weeks of his mate pestering him to come along, Mr Eparaima joined him.

"Initially, I thought it was a load of crap. They would talk about violence-free homes and I'd think, 'They're filling your head with shit, man, that's not the real world.'

"In all honesty, I didn't believe at the time that there was such a thing as a conflict-free world out there."

His mate persevered, and Mr Eparaima stayed and completed the 23-week course.

He immediately signed up to do it all again.

He also credits the woman running the course for forcing him to see himself as his partner and kids saw him - as a terrifying and abusive man.

"She made me realise I was scary, that the stuff I'd been doing was not right."

A call to men

Now 51, Mr Eparaima travels the country telling his story and calling for men to take stock, take responsibility and make changes. He has been working with the It's Not OK campaign since 2011.

My behaviour was bad, but not me. I'm not a bad person. It was my behaviour that needed changing - and it did.
Jeremy Eparaima

"And for the last two years, I've been contracted to the police as part of recruit training and going around talking to front-line officers. The aim is to give them a holistic view from a perpetrator."

He has apologised to his former partners - and his kids.

Stopping family violence is everyone's job. It is everyone's job to go next door if you hear something going on; if you see something in a carpark it is up to you to go and make sure everything is okay.
Jeremy Eparaima

He says he will be making amends with them until the day he dies, and he feels thankful that he has relationships with them and is able to be a grandfather to their children.

"My behaviour was bad, but not me. I'm not a bad person. It was my behaviour that needed changing - and it did.

"I can't take back my life or what I've done. And I am certainly not looking for forgiveness or to justify my behaviour. But if you can make a positive change in someone else's life then for me, that's the only way I can pay back for the damage I did over the years."

Mr Eparaima is doing everything he can to break the cycle and make a difference, and urges all Kiwis to do the same.

"Stopping family violence is everyone's job. It is everyone's job to go next door if you hear something going on; if you see something in a carpark it is up to you to go and make sure everything is okay.

"Lifting awareness is the only way we're going to stop this epidemic. There needs to be a change."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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