Hundreds join demonstration against family violence

By Heather McCracken

The Roast Busters controversy was top of mind for many anti-violence marchers taking part in today's White Ribbon Day parade in Auckland.

Hundreds gathered in Henderson to take part in the march from Waitakere Hospital to Falls Park.

Spokeswoman and manager of family violence prevention network WAVES, Tiaria Fletcher, said she expected a higher turnout given the depth of feeling in the community about the Roast Busters.

"For that reason we're grateful to those who did come out. It gave them an opportunity to voice some of their concerns around it," she said.

"We acknowledge there's probably been some mistakes made there, but we don't know the full story yet. That's something that police have said they'll sit down and talk to us about."

The WAVES network were working on a strategy to address issues that had emerged, such as the lack of education for young people about sexual violence, Ms Fletcher said.

The so-called Roast Busters, a group of young west Auckland men, had boasted on Facebook about their sexual exploits with young girls.

Police initially said they knew about the page but were unable to take action as no one had complained, but were later forced to admit a girl had complained two years ago.

Bert Cuthbert was among today's marchers, helping to carry a banner reading "rape culture and police culture must change".

It was a protest against the lack of police action over Roast Busters, he said.

"They knew about the Roast Busters for two years and they just watched. It's scandalous. I think the police will come under a lot of pressure."

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Today's march was also attended by dozens of police staff, along with Waitakere District Health Board staff, community workers and members of the public.

They were addressed by White Ribbon ambassador and former rugby league star Awen Guttenbeil, who said growing up, his role models were league players who would joke about "giving their missus a slap when she didn't listen".

"It takes a strong man to stand up and say 'bro, that's not what we're about'," he said.

Guttenbeil said he was proud that his family and children could come home to a safe haven.

"It's not easy being a parent but it's about your choices and your motivation," he said.

"For us men that starts with treating their mothers, our wives, our sisters, our grandmothers, with respect."

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Read more: Open letter to men of NZ about violence on children
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Another parade was held in south Auckland this morning, starting from the Manukau Court. It attended by White Ribbon riders, who ended their four-day motorcycle ride against family violence at the march.

In Christchurch, a crowd of nearly 200 people marched from the central police station to Christchurch Hospital this morning to mark White Ribbon Day and stand against family violence.

The march, led by the White Ribbon motorcycle riders, was to symbolically recognise the women and children who are affected by family violence in Canterbury each year, a police statement said.

Participants included District Police Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, Councillors, Members of Parliament and representatives of many different agencies working to prevent family violence and support those affected by it.

Special guest Lesley Elliott, mother of Sophie Elliott and founding trustee of the Sophie Elliott Foundation, told the marchers she hoped others would never have to experience what she had been through.

"Since Sophie died there have been about 80 family violence-related deaths. That is shameful.

"If you know of someone being abused don't be a bystander. Do something about it. And if you are personally being abused, seek help - you don't have to put up with it."

Pauline Clark, General Manager of Christchurch Hospital, noted that the hospital's emergency department was a salient reminder of "some of the most serious and devastating outcomes for women experiencing family violence".

"It is only with the combined efforts of all within our communities that we will achieve the necessary change in behaviour and attitudes to reduce and ultimately eliminate family violence."

Superintendent Knowles told the marchers that one in three women experience violence from a partner in their lifetime, while on average, 14 women are killed each year by a member of their own family.

"Police staff face the grim reality of family violence every day, and we see it occurring right across our community, among every ethnicity, every age group, and every socio-economic level of society.

"My challenge to us all today is to stand for non-violence, to wear the White Ribbon to show we will not tolerate violence towards women; and to not be afraid to speak out against domestic violence, wherever we find it."

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As part of the White Ribbon campaign men are encouraged to take The Pledge - to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence towards women.

The Pledge can be signed online at: www.whiteribbon.org.nz

- APNZ

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