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

Family violence: Breaking the cycle of 30 years of abuse

New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. Eighty per cent of incidents go unreported — so what we know of family violence in our community is barely the tip of the iceberg. Today is part five of We’re Better Than This, a week-long series on family violence. Our aim is to raise awareness, to educate, to give an insight into the victims and perpetrators. We want to encourage victims to have the strength to speak out, and abusers the courage to change their behaviour.

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.

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.

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.

"I started off mainly verbally and psychologically abusing," he told the Herald.

I minimised it by saying it was 'just' verbal abuse. I didn't see myself as being as bad as the guy that hit.
Jeremy Eparaima

"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 has done the damage."

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.

"So, you have to step up your game to remain in charge. 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 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.
Jeremy Eparaima

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. 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.
Jeremy Eparaima

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. Then an older boy started to sexually abuse him.

It was just another episode in his violent life.

At 19, after he left school, he was charged with forcing a younger girl to do an indecent act. He was convicted, and on top of the anger that was building within as a result of being a human punching bag most of his life, he now had the shame of being convicted of a sex offence hanging over him.

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. 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.
Jeremy Eparaima

The beginning of the end

Mr Eparaima's life only changed when a mate 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.

"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.
Jeremy Eparaima

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 It's Not OK since 2011.

"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. He will be making amends with them until the day he dies and 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.
Jeremy Eparaima

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."

Are you a perpetrator?

Here's Jeremy Eparaima's advice:

If you are worried about your behaviour, the way you speak or treat your partner, ex or children, or you are violent and want to stop, there is help out there.

"You need to ask for help," said Jeremy Eparaima. "You can't break this behaviour or make changes without some help. There are so many agencies out there now that are willing and caring enough for you to get that help from.

"If you're a young guy and you're just starting down that track, make the changes now before you do 20 or 30 years of damage, like I did. If you're like me -- you're a bit older -- it's never too late to make positive change. You need to be a safe man. If you become a safe man, then you'll have a safe family."

Mr Eparaima said there was no shame in asking for help. "Don't be scared. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Look for someone you can trust.

"And if it's your friends doing this stuff, don't be afraid to ask them the question, 'Are you okay?' or 'Do you need help?' Don't write them off, don't give up on them."

• In tomorrow's Herald: The front line. While you are getting the kids to school, going to work, socialising with friends, police, refuge staff and the courts are dealing with family violence. It never stops, it never sleeps. We take you to the coal face.

Help for men

If you are experiencing or witnessing violence, or want to change your own behaviour, you can ask for help. It can be hard, but getting involved or reaching out for help for yourself could save a life.

• It's Not OK information line 0800-456-450 for information about services that can help men.

• Shine runs a No Excuses stopping-violence programme for men. Ring the helpline on 0508-744-633 to find a programme near you or even if you just want to talk to someone and talk through your options.

• The National Network of Stopping Violence Services also has information on stopping-violence programmes.

If you're in danger NOW:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you
• Run outside and head for where there are other people
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you
• Take the children with you
• Don't stop to get anything else
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisisline operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice:
• National Network of Stopping Violence:
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

How to hide your visit

If you are reading this information on the Herald website and you're worried that someone using the same computer will find out what you've been looking at, you can follow the steps at the link here to hide your visit. Each of the websites above also have a section that outlines this process.

Take a stand - NZ is #BetterThanThis

New Zealand has the worst rate of family violence in the developed world. One in three women will be subjected to physical or sexual violence from a partner at some point in their lives.

Take a stand. Change your social media profile picture to demand that we are better than this. Right-click on this image below (or press and hold on your mobile device) to save, then upload to your social profiles. Or you can download the image here.

- NZ Herald

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