There is frightening violence happening in our community.

Occasionally it takes the shocking form of a premeditated doorstep killing, as happened in Puriri Street on Tuesday. Much more often it happens behind a home's closed doors, within families.

Domestic violence is an epidemic in our country. It occupies more than 40 per cent of frontline police officers' time. In 2016, there were nearly 119,000 family violence investigations by NZ Police, and the number increases each year.

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Is it because more violence is being wreaked, or are the police more likely to be involved? This is a question no-one can answer with complete certainty.

But there is no doubt that, compared to previous generations, the horror of family violence is less hidden. Police and other agencies are more likely to be involved and there are consequences for those who use violence, in a way that didn't exist before the mid-90s.

The vital work to counter the violence that is happening in our community takes all kinds of forms.

It happens when a neighbour calls the police, fearing for someone's immediate safety. It happens when a workmate or another mum at kindy has a quiet and sympathetic word, asking: "Are you okay?"

And it happens at a more formal level in groups and one-on-one work with those who use violence (almost always men) and those upon whom it is visited (almost always women and children).

Last week I visited Rise Stopping Violence Services, which delivers individual and group programmes. It was formerly the Whanganui Living Without Violence Trust which, in turn, arose out of the work begun by a group called Men Against Violence in the early 90s.

When the Family Court issues a protection order, the respondent (the person being violent) is required to attend a non-violence programme.

Those serving community-based sentences for family violence offences are likewise directed to get help.


Nearly 40 per cent of men at Rise refer themselves, although often it's not entirely of their own volition. They've likely been given an ultimatum, by a partner or even by the police or Oranga Tamariki — a "Sort-yourself-out-or-we'll-take-further-action" type of scenario.

I'm heartened by the apparent rigour of the stopping violence programmes running today. They are evidence-based and use the latest scientific insights about how human brains develop.

Those working in the field don't talk about "anger management" any more. The aim is simple and direct: stopping violence. (They're also keen to distance what they do from the "men's rights" groups. There is no crossover.)

It starts with recognising emotions. Rise's former manager Kyley Logan has worked in this field for 20 years and she says when it comes to emotions, a lot of men can recognise happy, angry and sad. That's all.

Learning to identify anxiety is crucial to the work Rise does; this surprised me but Kyley is clear that anxiety is the core issue that underlies family violence.

"Men aren't angry. They are scared of losing control, and that's based in anxiety," Kyley says.

It's a "lightbulb moment" when men come to understand this. No one else is pushing their buttons — the cause of their behaviour is not outside of them.

They may be anxious that their partner will leave them or when reality collides with their rigid beliefs about gender roles and how families operate.

There's a bit of social work jargon I needed to ask about — "trauma-informed practice". It boils down to an understanding that hurt people hurt people.

Kyley says those they work with have been traumatised themselves, very often abused or neglected as children.

This isn't presented in any way as an excuse but it's powerful for men to understand how what happened to them as children and young men shaped how they developed.

They also learn the same thing is happening to their own children who, even if they are not being hit themselves, are harmed by being exposed to violence within the family.

And yet, on all levels, people are capable of change and learning. All of us can forge new ways of thinking and being in the world.

There's a tikanga Māori programme run in conjunction with Tupoho.

Rise works individually with a small number of women each year (their violence is typically directed at their kids), plus there's a youth programme for teenage boys who are violent.

That need is huge and massively underfunded — a year's funding will last about three months. Rise gets creative and finds ways to keep doing the work with young people.

Other local services, like Jigsaw and Women's Refuge, work with the whole family or specifically women and children who are experiencing violence.

Tim Metcalfe, Jigsaw Whanganui's executive officer, was the first paid worker with Men Against Violence all those years ago.

He says the sector is still under-resourced but feels hopeful about the number of people taking action in different ways — that includes younger men using social media to connect with and influence their peers.

The country's most active White Ribbon campaign is right here in Whanganui and we have outstanding local leaders encouraging a culture of respect for women, he says.

There is never ever any justification for violence, says Tim. He urges men who are using violence to reach out. "There is help available." • 347 7992 • 345 1636 • 0800 733 843

Rachel Rose is a local writer and organiser