A violence programme that sees men - instead of their victims - leave the family home and seek help has been found to prevent further offences in two of three cases. Kirsty Johnston reports.

The night police came to Isaiah's house and took him away was the saddest of his life.

His wife had called for help during a violent altercation between the couple, who were arguing in the South Auckland home they shared with their three young children.

Isaiah was issued a Police Safety Order - meaning he had to stay away from his family for at least a week - and taken to a house in Ōtāhuhu run by Gandhi Nivas, a violence intervention programme that works with men at risk of further harming their families.

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"It was 1.30 in the morning and there were workers there, they interviewed me and gave me a bed. They had the heaters on, it was the middle of winter, I remember," he says.

"And then I tried to sleep but I had so many emotions. Saying goodbye to my kids, it was very sad. And my pride. I'd wanted to fix things on my own."

It was the beginning of a journey for Isaiah - through counselling and the courts, learning to talk about his emotions, and accepting that he was wrong.

"The lesson for me was that resorting to violence isn't going to change anything," he says.

"But if they hadn't taken me away, if there wasn't that place to go … I never would have dealt with those feelings and thoughts. I would have done something bad."

Isaiah, which is not his real name, is one of 864 men included in a Massey University study about the Gandhi Nivas programme, a pilot project began in connection with police and ACC.

Initially, the programme was targeted at the Indian and Fijian Indian community in South Auckland, where police had identified an issue with extremely high family violence rates. It was set up by well-known local businesswoman Ranjna Patel in 2014, with the first house in Otahuhu.

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Auckland businesswoman Ranjna Patel, who established the Gandhi Nivas programme in partnership with ACC and police. Photo / File
Auckland businesswoman Ranjna Patel, who established the Gandhi Nivas programme in partnership with ACC and police. Photo / File

It now takes a broad range of ethnicities and has extra homes in Te Atatu and Papakura.

The idea was that - rather than removing victims and their children from their homes - they would remove the men, and give them counselling and ongoing support.

The study, designed to test the efficacy of the programme, spanned the pilot's first five years, focusing on men at the Otahuhu branch of the service.

It found that almost 60 per cent of men who used the service did not go on to reoffend.

Amid a sea of bleak statistics about family violence in New Zealand, co-author Professor Mandy Morgan said the results should be considered a success.

"The programme ... offers hope that properly resourced early intervention can contribute to addressing our very real problem of violence in our homes," she said.

The results come just three months after the seminal Family Violence Death Review Committee report, which found there was an urgent need to focus on addressing men's use of violence if further harm to victims was to be prevented.

That report found most men who used severe violence against their female partners in New Zealand had sought help - 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 attitudes about women.

The National Network of Family Violence Services' general manager, Merran Lawler, said it was well recognised that a 20-week stopping violence programme - the most common model in New Zealand - was often insufficient to help perpetrators to address entrenched behaviours.

Early supportive interventions, like those offered by Gandhi Nivas, coupled with long-term supportive behavioural change programmes, were more likely to be successful, she said.

"The more time that elapses between an incident and the offering of a programme, the more likely the perpetrator will justify to themselves that they don't need help, especially if there have been no other incidents in the meantime," she said.

"The closer the intervention is with the incident, the more motivated the perpetrator is to engage in change."

Initially, the programme was targeted at the Indian and Fijian Indian community in South Auckland. It now takes a range of ethnicities. Photo / 123rf
Initially, the programme was targeted at the Indian and Fijian Indian community in South Auckland. It now takes a range of ethnicities. Photo / 123rf

Equally, she said, [it] helped address other issues within the system - for example the disruption caused to victims if they were forced to flee, or perpetrators who were removed under a Police Safety Order but had nowhere to go.

Many men did not want to tell their families or friends about what had happened, so would sometimes sleep on the street or in cars if police removed them.

Or, Lawler said, they just returned home anyway, in breach of the orders.

"This puts their victims at further risk of harm and that continues the cycle of family violence."

Inspector Dave Glossop, the Counties Manukau South area commander for the police, said he saw a need for more services similar to Gandhi Nivas.

"I've seen cases where the victim leaves, but the perpetrator moves on from victim to victim to victim," Glossop said. "We had a case a few years ago - one man moved through five women in three months - demonstrating the same violent behaviour."

Glossop said that the promotion of perpetrator services did not take away the need for refuges, or making sure victims were safe.

"But family harm is such a complex beast, it really is. A lot of people are in complex relationships and don't want to leave the offender, they just want them to stop the behaviour," he said. "We would be naive if we didn't accept that working with perpetrators is hugely valuable."

Glossop said he'd heard stories of men who'd returned to their families, and felt unstable, so they'd gone back to the Gandhi Nivas houses.

"You've got these men knocking on the door, effectively self-referring," he said. "That's keeping victims safe."

Gandhi Nivas provides one-on-one counselling, which is available 24/7 when the men are at the home, and on-call afterwards. Photo / 123rf
Gandhi Nivas provides one-on-one counselling, which is available 24/7 when the men are at the home, and on-call afterwards. Photo / 123rf

Also, Gandhi Nivas counsellors - provided by Sahaayta Counselling & Social Support - could go around to the perpetrator's homes if they heard from the men's wives or other family that things were tense, to check on how things were going and provide support.

"We already know that it works," Glossop said. "My personal opinion is that this needs to be across the whole country."

Funding for the programme comes partly from ACC, and Rajnja Patel also holds regular funding. Each house costs about $650,000 per year to operate.

Isaiah, who is now back living with his wife, says he hopes the programme will be able to help many more men like him.

"We need a nudge now and then. We think sometimes that we are the head of the family and everyone should listen to us. But we forget that women are the heart of the family and they do almost everything for us," he said.

He recommended counselling for anyone feeling anger issues, saying it was helpful finding someone to listen to how he felt.

"For men, it's hard to share a story. It's hard to open up, or to admit defeat, or to accept blame. Before, I was always trying to point the finger. I would always say 'it's your fault'. I would never say, 'that might have been my fault," he said.

"But when you say, 'it was me,' then you feel the change."

Key findings of the Gandhi Nivas 2014-2019: A Statistical Description Of Client Demographics And Involvement In Police Recorded Family Violence Occurrences

The pilot service – run in connection with the Police, ACC and Massey University – began five years ago and studied 864 men who were referred through a Police Safety Order.

• The study found that 57.5 per cent of previous offenders had no offences recorded after intervention.

•Men aged in their 20s and 30s are the predominant client group in residence at Gandhi Nivas and may have specific life-stage needs

•Clients from other ethnic groups are accessing Gandhi Nivas residences in proportionately higher numbers than in its first year.

•Relationships with intimate partners and family members are recorded for 95 per cent of clients at intake occurrences. For men recorded as the aggressor at intake 32 per cent were the intimate partner of the victim, 30 per cent were the parent, 20 per cent were the child.

•Lack of employment is a significant issue facing Gandhi Nivas clients and the community more broadly.

•65 per cent of intake clients were involved in incidents where PSO's were issued

•92 per cent of intakes to Gandhi Nivas are recorded within 24 hours of the family harm occurrence.

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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 crisis line 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. Crisis line 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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