Family violence: Helen Meads' dad aims to prevent another 'if only'

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 the final day 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.

David White's daughter was murdered by her husband.

After suffering years of physical and psychological violence, Helen Meads found the strength to leave. Four days later, she was dead, shot in the head by her husband at their Matamata property.

Since then, her father has crusaded against family violence, raising awareness of the warning signs, in a bid to save others' lives. He is about to publish his second book about Helen, Family Violence, Lifting New Zealand's Dark Cloud.

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"We never recognised the warning signs that came with family violence," he said.

"We failed ... Had I joined all those little dots together, we would have seen a picture that would have got me rather scared.

Never once did I ever step back and see the full picture or the lethality of Helen's situation - and that was a pretty big mistake.

"That's why I spend so much time now trying to raise people's awareness - look for the things that we just saw but didn't. I don't want others to walk in my shoes and find out the hard way. I want people to start listening."

In the book, out next month, he outlines all aspects of family violence.

David White didn't see the warning signs before his daughter was killed. Photo / Christine Cornege
David White didn't see the warning signs before his daughter was killed. Photo / Christine Cornege

He hopes the work, a guidebook of sorts, will raise awareness for victims, families and the community.

Until his daughter died he was completely ignorant of family violence. "Neither of us had any exposure to family violence before Helen's marriage so we didn't understand it. As such, we were like fish out of water and at no point did I think I needed to ring anyone or ask for help."

Helen Meads died in September 2009, four days after she had told her domineering and violent husband, Greg Meads, that she and her two daughters were leaving.

"In the end Helen had had enough," Mr White said.

"She'd been beaten pretty badly once and been hit enough times [so that] just a look or an action [from her husband] was enough to force submission, for her to cower down and toe the line. The whole sparkle had gone out of her life."

When Helen told him and his wife, Pam, that she was leaving Meads, they cried "tears of joy". She gave Meads a week's notice that she was leaving.

"He spent three days carefully putting together how he was going to kill her, and finish it - because he decided who left the marriage, not her," Mr White said.

Meads organised to take Helen's daughters to school and said he would go to their second farm afterwards. He sent Helen to clean the stables, and made sure no other farm workers were in the area.

He took the girls to school then went to the stable with a loaded shotgun.

"He waited till she walked past the end of a wall, put the gun to her head and blew her head off," Mr White said.

"It was cold and it was calculated ... He turned around, rang his father and said, 'I've just shot Helen. She's dead'."

Mr White's first book was Helen: The Helen Meads Tragedy. His second book is less personal and more about practical advice, information encouraging people to see the bigger picture, something he feels he did not do with Helen.

"We can make all the laws in the world but until we get into the community, and change the community, we're not going to make our country safe again," he said.

Helen Meads died in September 2009, four days after she told her husband she was leaving. Photo / Supplied
Helen Meads died in September 2009, four days after she told her husband she was leaving. Photo / Supplied

Mr White believes Kiwis do not know enough about family violence and many ignore it because it does not directly affect them -- or so they think.

"It's not until you're affected that you sit back and go, 'Why didn't I see that coming?'

"You say, 'It's not my problem,' but then suddenly it's right in front of you and you're standing there identifying your dead daughter.

"What does it take to drive it home to people?"

Mr White did not want any father, family or community to experience a loss like his family's. "We thought we had it under control ... and we were just so far from the truth.

"If only I'd made one phone call, Helen would be alive. I just don't want anyone else to end up saying, 'If only.'

"That's what I want to achieve more than anything."

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 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz

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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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