Thanks for the publicity

I generally keep away from commenting on issues in the media. I am more comfortable with behind the scenes work of creating effective interventions to intervene with family violence and general offending behaviour. However we need to thank Tony Veitch for bringing to the forefront of our awareness that family violence is not just something that happens in working class suburbs, with Maori, or people with less education. Tony Veitch has done more to get people talking than any campaign can. In tea rooms, factories, offices, coffee bars, pubs, the conversation has been around how could someone who we enjoy, who entertains us, and appears to be a well thought of guy, have been so violent to a previous partner.

The conversations are not only about the fact that he was violent but the degree of the assault. This was severe violence in anyone’s definition. What has offended people so much is the cost to this young woman who was in a wheel chair after the assault. The fact of paying hush money to keep this secret and well hidden behind closed doors goes against the grain for many people.

We can all see those on the sidelines and on various teams taking positions in relation to what took place. In these situations friends and supporters are often asked to make a difficult call. Do they take an ethical stand around behavior, or do they join and collude? This goes to the very heart of what it means to be a friend.

I have been thinking about what friendship really means and have come to the view that there are three main types of people that populate our lives. I must say these ideas are not scientific, not normed, and not published in reputable journals. They are based on good old experience of the world and as we say ‘from the ground up’. In order to stand up and be a man, which in my view translates into being accountable and responsible for behavior, those around us make a big difference.

The first group I call ‘detractors’ who will have an interest in keeping a person in a position of stuckness around patterns of behavior. They turn a blind eye, collude, make light of abusive behavior, and join in blaming tactics to shift responsibility onto the receiving end of the behaviour. By the nature of their position-taking they are no better than the person being abusive in that they allow for the behaviour to continue.

‘Supporters’ sit at the opposite position. They are the people who support a person’s efforts to live full and honest lives. They stand by a person and encourage an ethical position around behavior. They recognize that it is easy to make mistakes. They also will be there for the person who struggles with changing behavior but hold them accountable to do the hard work necessary in order to get life back on track. These are people you want on your team in times of difficulty.

‘Fence sitters’ sit somewhere in the middle and tend to hedge their bets. A dollar each way type people. They can go either way and the secret with this group is for them to be definite around their position. Inaction allows abuse to continue. I discovered this during a piece of research I undertook. Those men who grew up with violence and took a strong position that they wouldn’t take it into their own relationships were pretty successful in breaking the inter-generational cycle of violence. As you can imagine those who believed violence was an okay way to manage situations went onto replicate the violence in very similar ways to what the observed. Those that took the middle ground and were ambivalent also went on to be abusive in their relationships. Perhaps the lesson is that there is no middle ground in support for violence.

If we are to really help the Tony Veitchs of this world, we need to balance the need to support with the need for accountability for behavior.

Violence is the only winner in these situations. A career in tatters, a woman with life-long injuries – a constant reminder of the violence she was subjected to. No person wins in these situations.

While it is easy to point the finger at celebrities falling over, it is more challenging to consider our own position in relation to those around us who are either being abusive or experiencing abuse. In these situations ask yourself, “Am I a detractor, fence-sitter, or supporter of change?”

The next step is to then take action to make a difference. In the words of the popular drink driving advertisement to look out for your friends gives you the status of a real friend and “You’ll be a bloody hero”.

Published on Tuesday, July 29th, 2008, under What Ken thinks

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