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Big Read: How we can stop men's violence against women

Kirsty Johnston

Kirsty Johnston is an investigative reporter at the New Zealand Herald

A new report on family violence deaths shifts the focus from the experiences of female victims to the men who hurt them. By Kirsty Johnston.

Imagine a man. Let's call him Tim. He is raised by a supportive family. His dad coaches him at rugby and he excels at a provincial level. After university, he meets his first wife while travelling. Later Tim leaves her because she doesn't provide him sufficient love, attention or support. Tim gets shared custody of the children.

He meets another woman, Sarah. They have more children together. During their relationship, police are called many times. At the beginning, it's Tim who phones, saying the violence happened because Sarah was "overemotional". Reports from these early callouts described Sarah as uncommunicative and Tim as calm, in control and co-operative. Sarah's injuries are always worse, but Tim says the violence was her fault. Sarah's family notes Tim's controlling behaviours are increasing and they rarely see Sarah.

When Sarah is found dead, evidence of the crime scene described Sarah's notes in her diary about how she could improve to make Tim happy. Tim's pre-sentencing report noted that he outlined numerous ways that Sarah was falling short of his expectations.

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Although it acknowledged Tim's attitudes supported violence and a sense of entitlement, the pre-sentencing report notes Tim was at low risk of offending again due to his previously clean record.

Tim is an example of what the Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) calls "unchecked privilege", in its sixth and latest report, both a searing analysis of the drivers of male violence in modern New Zealand and a call to action.

"No single, consistent story describes a man's lived experience before he uses violence towards an intimate partner," the report says. "It is not possible to use these characteristics to identify in childhood which boys will grow up to be men who use violence."

But it says, colonisation is a key driver, its intergenerational impacts reverberating through the ages, leaving trauma and suffering and addiction and depression and violence for Māori in its wake. And not just for Māori.

"Importantly there is a Pākehā corollary to the ongoing impact of colonisation on Māori – their experience of unchecked privilege," the report says. "While discussing privilege is uncomfortable for many who work to understand inequities, we need to explore it to understand how Pākehā sustain their positions of privilege and in that way reinforce inequities."

The report looked at the lives of 97 men in total, their cases drawn from the family violence death dataset, covering the years to 2017. Māori were over-represented, but 67 per cent of the men were not Māori. And all 97 were considered the "primary aggressor" in an intimate relationship with a woman that ended in death. The case of "Tim" is an anonymised, composite example of a life.

Deaths
Deaths

"In our previous reports we really talked about the entrapment that women experience during intimate partner violence," said FVDRC chair Jane Koziol-McLain.

"We found that services who responded to women were focusing on what the women needed to do, and we recognised that will never be sufficient. If we want to prevent family violence we need to understand and have a look at men who use violence."

In doing so, it examined the links between colonisation and patriarchy, which fed off and into each other to reinforce structures that either enabled entitlement or trauma, or both.

It found an early experience of violence, rejection and transience was a common feature of the men's lives.

Family Violence Death Review Commitee Chair Jane Koziol-McLain said the focus on men came after two reports about the experiences of women. Photo / Supplied
Family Violence Death Review Commitee Chair Jane Koziol-McLain said the focus on men came after two reports about the experiences of women. Photo / Supplied

They shared characteristics such as a need for control, an inability to acknowledge weakness, and internalised hurt from a breakdown of a relationship.

Those characteristics translated to ineffective parenting, drug and alcohol use, depression and violence, it said. But again, not all men shared those factors, and while housing stress and poverty was also a commonality, perpetrators came from across sectors of society.

The report intentionally focused on missed opportunities to change the pattern of men's development and the impact of these ineffective responses on their violent behaviour. It found most of the men had sought help from agencies at some point along their path to violence, but opportunities to stop their behaviour escalating were missed.

Instead of being given appropriate support, men were turned away by under-resourced services, or had their concerns minimised, or were even sent to programmes that might have entrenched their problematic attitudes about women.

Examples of ineffective responses in the report included a violent man presenting himself a number of times to the police front counter, who provided him with a pamphlet and told him to go to psychiatric services.

Another man presented his firearms to the police after his partner and daughter had expressed concerns, but received no offer of additional support.

Intimate partner violence was the single largest contributor to family violence deaths, accounting for 48 per cent of the total. Photo / 123rf
Intimate partner violence was the single largest contributor to family violence deaths, accounting for 48 per cent of the total. Photo / 123rf

The report found largely, this was due to the threshold for service delivery being too high.

Thresholds are set as a method of managing use of scarce resources by identifying the people who have highest priority to receive services, it said. But also, sometimes services were dismissive of the men's help-seeking.

Fiona Cram, chair of the mortality review committees' Māori caucus, said that led to Māori men in particular being excluded from services.

"They are stigmatised just because people think they're bad. When they call for help, that call is minimised and then don't know how to help, or they think they're not deserving of help, or don't think they can change if help is offered."

Cram said part of the committee's work was to make women's lives safer while recognising they didn't always want to "just leave" men, because that didn't sit with their values around whānau.

"That's an old discourse. Often women love these men, they just want them to stop abusing them."

Addressing structural racism and patriarchal views within agencies could help reduce violence, the report said.

It used the Ministry for Children as an example, saying it needed a more nuanced understanding of how men use children to threaten, control and intimidate women. This included understanding coercive controlling behaviours that can continue, and in some cases escalate, after a couple had separated.

It said while it was increasingly acknowledged that children's exposure to intimate partner violence was harmful, that view had come with an increased emphasis on blaming women for 'failing to protect' their children. At the same time, agencies fail to hold men responsible for their behaviour.

Child abuse and neglect accounted for 27 per cent and intrafamilial violence for 25 per cent of total deaths. Photo / 123rf
Child abuse and neglect accounted for 27 per cent and intrafamilial violence for 25 per cent of total deaths. Photo / 123rf

However, it said currently professionals received little training to work with men who use violence. When men who were using violence actively looked for help, they found few, if any, options available for them. Stopping violence programmes had variable availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality, it said. Little published information was available on how, for whom and when stopping violence programmes worked.

There were some promising initiatives, however. The report highlighted the work of He Waka Tapu as an example of a comprehensive wraparound response for men while also providing ongoing support for women and their families or whānau.

It had the 0800HeyBRO number, a help resource is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In some situations, men concerned about their potential to escalate their violence had phoned, been kept on the phone and invited to meet a He Waka Tapu worker and have met over coffee to discuss and de-escalate the situation.

But those services were few and far between. The report recommended amid its calls for sweeping change, that Government needed to identify effective strategies that address men's use of violence - that were collaborative and creative, and allowed for long-term, holistic engagement with men who used violence to take responsibility for their behaviour and live in a violence-free way.

And it needed to do that without reducing the resources available to support women and children.

Deaths
Deaths

Tim Marshall, from Gisborne's Tauawhi Men's Centre – a support and resource centre for men - said for him, the report was another page in the song sheet he had been singing from for years.

"If want to impact on victims, we need to do something for people who perpetrate violence," he said. "There are so many barriers, even apart from the whole barrier as men to ask for help, our culture that says 'harden up instead of open up'."

He said male violence against women was the sharpest end of the family violence sphere, and it was up to men to share the workload and take reponsibility.

"That stuff about traditional manhood, where we are trained to shut down emotions at an early age, all that kind of rubbish stops people from seeking help," he said. "But emotions aren't masculine or feminine and we need to remind men of that."

Question and answers

What is a primary aggressor?

The person who is the most significant or the main aggressor in an intimate relationship, and who has a pattern of using violence, threats, humiliation and/or intimidation to control their partner

What is a primary victim?

The person who (in the abuse history of the relationship) is experiencing ongoing coercive and controlling behaviours from their intimate partner

What is intimate partner violence?

The FVDRC views intimate partner violence as a gendered form of social entrapment for women.

Women are vulnerable to social entrapment across three dimensions, which compound a man's violence and control:

• Social isolation, fear and coercion the abusive partner's violence creates in the victim's life.

• The indifference of institutions to the victim's suffering.

• Structural inequalities such as gender, class and racism that can aggravate coercive control.

Support services available:

• 211 Helpline (0800 211 211) – for help finding, and direct transfer to, community-based health and social support services in your area.

• Find your Local Women's Refuge by calling 0800 743 843 (0800 REFUGE) to be linked up with an advocate in your area.

• Victim Support – call 0800 842 846. 24-hour service for all victims of serious crime.

• Victim Information Line/Victim Centre – call 0800 650 654 or email victimscentre@justice.govt.nz.

• Shine domestic abuse services – free call 0508 744 633 (9am to 11pm) if you're experiencing domestic abuse, or want to know how to help someone else.

• Family violence information line – call 0800 456 450 to find out about local services or how to help someone near you.

• Elder Abuse Helpline – call 0800 32 668 65 (0800 EA NOT OK) - a 24-hour service answered by registered nurses who can connect to local elder abuse specialist providers.

• Tu Wahine Trust – call 09 838 8700 for kaupapa Māori counselling, therapy and support for survivors of sexual harm (mahi tukino) and violence within whānau.

• Shakti New Zealand – call 0800 742 584 for culturally competent support services for women, children and families of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin who have experienced domestic violence.

• Safe to Talk – sexual harm helpline. Call 0800 044 334, text 4334 or email support@safetotalk.nz.

• Rape Crisis Centres – call 0800 88 3300 for contact details of your local centre. Provides support for survivors of sexual abuse, their families, friends and whānau.

• Male Survivors Aotearoa New Zealand – call 0800 044 344. Offers one-to-one, peer and support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse and their significant others.

• ACC Sensitive Claims Unit – call 0800 735 566 for access to services related to sexual abuse or sexual assault.

• Hey Bro helpline – call 0800 HeyBro (0800 439 276). 24/7 help for men who feel they're going to harm a loved one or whānau member.

• Korowai Tumanoko – text or call 022 474 7044 for a kaupapa Māori service for those with concerning or harmful sexual behaviour.

• Stop – support for concerning or harmful sexual behaviour.

• Need to Talk? 1737 – free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

• Youthline – call 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz.

• Kidsline – call 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age (24-hour service).

• Skylight– call 0800 299 100 helping children, young people and their families and whānau through tough times of change, loss, trauma and grief.

• Oranga Tamariki – call 0508 325 459 (0508 FAMILY) or email contact@ot.govt.nz for concerns about children and young people.