In Hawke’s Bay the national Are you okay? family violence campaign is being framed as We’re okay in the Bay. It’s a misnomer. Actually we’re not okay, and although we are beginning to understand that it may be ‘Okay to ask for help’, many of us are still not asking.

Help is out there. Help for victims, help for offenders, help for children affected and for families trying to alleviate the issues. There are even some big bold moves afoot to not just tackle the effects but take on the causes too. To many, however, the subject remains taboo and although help is available people are still keeping their problems to themselves.

Police more proactive

Detective Sergeant John McCarthy is the Napier Family Violence Co-ordinator, one of three teams servicing Hawke’s Bay.

DOVE Hawke’s Bay works with offenders, victims and families.

“There’s a stigma attached to family violence, they’re not reporting it because they might be embarrassed. It’s not something they want to talk about,” he says.

With 35 to 40 incident reports a week in Napier the problem is obviously ongoing, but more concerning is the number of incidents that go unreported, an estimated 80%.

It may also be that women, occasionally the offenders but more often the victims, feel they can’t leave their situation and don’t want to break their family up. But in some instances women want to leave.

“It’s okay to leave and there are services out there to help, they don’t need to be out there on their own,” explains John.

There was a time where what we then knew as ‘domestics’ were extinguished by arresting the perpetrator. The police stance has become more constructive and collaborative, both with families and with partner agencies. But when required, uniformed officers can still go into homes and take action. This can include arrests, separation and issuing police safety orders.

Over the past four years there have been big changes in the way police deal with family violence. One major tool is the weekly Family Violence Response Team meetings between the Police, DOVE Hawke’s Bay, Child, Youth and Family Services, Women’s Refuge, Victim Support, Mental Health and Probation. Together, they go through all active files and look at ways to offer practical help to victims and offenders.

“We do a lot of proactive cold call visits and we follow up after there’s been an incident. It’s very positive when you go into a situation a few days later and it has cooled down and you can have a conversation. We’re also identifying recidivist families and we do routine visits, it’s about trying to identify the issues for each family and what services we can give that family to break their cycle.”

No limits, no excuses

Family violence knows no limits. It is not the singular burden of any particular race, socio-economic group or gender. It’s across all sectors. Women as well as men, same-sex couples, all can be offenders, and victims.

The reasons for family violence are as diverse as the individuals involved, and family violence can wear many guises: physical, sexual, psychological.

Malcolm Byford, Acting Manager at DOVE Hawke’s Bay puts it this way, “Hitting, punching, kicking, poking, slapping. There’s threatening behaviours, intimidation, isolation; there’s psychological violence where the victim is withdrawn from outside reference points. There’s also male privilege, a feeling men can have around being the boss. Economic abuse – controlling the money.”

And there are lots of reasons why instances can occur: financial pressures, drug and alcohol abuse, frustration and angst.

But although there are many triggers, for people like the DOVE counsellors working on the frontline there are no excuses.

Malcolm Byford explains: “Family violence is a behaviour, it’s a choice. At some point someone has chosen to act like that, they make a decision to be violent.”

Sometimes, ironically, that comes from a need to break the cycle.

“Some men can choose not to be like their fathers who beat them as a child, but then they turn to verbal violence. Part of the work we do is around showing them they have a choice. The majority of people want a safe, loving, caring relationship.”

It is my business

Henare O’Keefe, Flaxmere Councillor, famous for fostering 200 children, and active in many areas of the Flaxmere and wider Hastings community, believes there are concrete ways families can be helped up from a difficult situation. One of those is to create a pathway to owning a home.

“If they own their own place just watch the pride kick in,” Henare says.

Henare is spearheading a challenge to the Government. He wants Housing New Zealand to sell all 316 state houses in Flaxmere to the Te Aranga Marae Trust, who will then improve the housing stock, and in some cases sell the house on to its tenants.

“People are saying to us, ‘I would love the marae to be our landlord.’ We can take 316 houses and we can turn it into 600, then into 900. This is for life. That’s our home, it isn’t just a project, it’s our turangawaewae,” says Henare.

“We want to wrap the korowai of the marae around them. Why should mortgage agreements be just about money? If you’re beating your missus or your kids, that’s not okay. Diabetes, asthma, rheumatic fever, poverty, violence – we’ll wrap ourselves around that. It can’t fail.”

Flaxmere has the highest deprivation rating of ten and the highest proportion of overcrowded housing in Hawke’s Bay – houses that are old, cold, mouldy and can lead to illness, especially in children.

“Often the very heart and cause of family violence has never been addressed. There’s no such thing as a bad baby and poverty is not an excuse for abuse, but if there’s no food in your belly, or you’re living in a cold, wet house … well, it’s hard. There’s angst and frustration there, when you’re not getting any support. You can lash out in one way or another and children get hurt, children die.”

Family Violence is a multi-headed beast. Victims become perpetrators, perpetrators breed more victims. It comes down through the generations, with children mimicking behaviours at home until they become habit and then a way of life.

“You can’t work with anyone in isolation. To get continuity you’ve got to make an intrusion. If you see a parent screaming at their kids – effing and blinding – it takes boldness to yell out across the street. They can say ‘It’s none of your business,’ but it is my business.”

For Henare, and his fellow trustees, including Taine Randell and Rex Graham, the plan to take on the 316 Flaxmere houses is not a commercial one.

“If we don’t make this work we’re going to continue to marinate in the faeces of life and this place will continue to inherit whatever is thrown at it. This is a solution, this is survival.”

Asking for help

To put the stress and strain of family violence into hard, cold figures: it costs the country around $5 billion a year, about the same as road accidents. Hastings recorded 1,220 family violence offences in 2009; Napier recorded 1,370.

DOVE’s Malcolm Byford says it takes an holistic approach to provide robust and credible help, but with central government support being patchy, especially in the area of prevention, it’s always a challenge to keep programmes alive.

“It is becoming more important for us to work with the whole whãnau. We may work with an individual but we will also look at the whole system they are in.”

DOVE Hawke’s Bay works with perpetrators, victims and their families. Specifically for offenders it runs Men Stopping Violence courses and a programme designed for women called ‘Managing anger without violence.’ The service also works with children who have witnessed family violence.

For both victim and offender, getting the message that it is okay to ask for help can often be more challenging than it seems.

“One of the difficulties, particularly for men, is to say I screwed up and I don’t want to do it again. Asking for help isn’t a weakness, sometimes it takes more strength. There’s a whole male thing around asking for help. We are human and that comes with human frailties as well as strengths,” says Malcolm.

For all the mitigation campaigns, family violence in Hawke’s Bay remains a significant issue. But rather than something to be fixed through the intervention of social services or government initiatives, the only way to see real change is through individuals being proactive, getting involved in other people’s lives, having the confidence to intervene at a neighbourhood level, and for victims to continue to seek help and to encourage others to do so too.

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