As a community like many others around NZ, we are only too aware of the effects of violence on children, families, and neighbourhoods.

It requires an enormous collective effort to change this but we can take that challenge.

Whanganui can set itself a target and start making steps towards becoming a Violence Free Zone. The declaration may be aspirational but the strategy required is eminently practical.

The first step is to make the Violence Free Zone declaration as a statement of intent. This provides a focus that unites us in our work towards making Whanganui a safer place for all its citizens. It provides a place to stand where all can do their part.

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The next step is to build an array of participating organisations. Sports clubs, the arts community, schools, UCOL, bars and pubs, retailers, NGO's, regional government and local authorities all have a contribution to make.

All can adopt the Violence Free Zone concept and apply it within their environment and own sphere of influence. We could wait till the District Council provide some leadership but that would just mean it waits in the queue behind everything else they are required to do.

In practical terms declaring a Violence Free Zone means acting as a collective social conscience and being proactive where ever there is the potential for violence.

For example, on a sports field to eliminate violence from a game. We recognise that if someone hits or attacks another person on the street that this is assault but there is a widely held assumption that if this occurs on a sports game that this is somehow different. The 'boys will be boys' attitude is no longer acceptable.

A recent news report about a cricket game down the coast illustrates this situation perfectly. In that instance players from one team assaulted the umpire, apparently dissatisfied with his decision.

Witness descriptions indicate that if this had occurred anywhere other then a sports field the Police would have been arresting people and taking them away. This was just a game. But violence became the default setting.

For local Whanganui businesses, declaring themselves a Violence Free Zone sends a strong message across the CBD that there is a collective response.

The existing liquor ban areas are one way that alcohol, a primary source of fuel for violence can be corralled to some extent. The other more effective community action is opposing liquor outlets to ensure there is no increase in availability.

The biggest and perhaps most difficult challenge is the section of the population who regard violence as a currency of exchange – "if you (a) do or say this or (b) don't do what I say then violence will be what you get."

This macho bullshit is well past its use by date. The parade of assault cases through the Whanganui Court provides ample evidence of a how senseless violence occurs, with both males and females becoming victims of violent men.

Social influence can play a part in how we respond to and work to reduce violence. Whanganui has led the way on many initiatives and making the move to declaring Whanganui a Violence Free Zone would be a world first for a community. It may be an aspirational goal but that is how social change begins.

Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker. Feedback welcome: tgs@inspire.net.nz