From Ken’s Desk August 2010

Imagine this. It is 4 April 2010 and you are having a party. As things happen someone at another party said that you had stolen a car (a mistaken belief) so a 17 year old bourbon-fuelled young man arrives with his mates to sort things out. You refuse to let him on to the property (which is your lawful right). The 17 year old jumps the fence, picks up a piece of wood and strikes you on the face. You fall semi-conscious and you are hit four or five more times when you are on the ground. Others try to restrain the young man but he breaks free, comes back over and kicks you in the head. You are left with a fractured skull, broken jaw, eye socket fractures, and plates and screws now hold you together. And the issue of the car was not accurate in the first place. So much for a quiet night at home!

The story doesn’t finish there. At an earlier time in his life the young 17 year old man who instigated the frenzied attack was present when his father committed a double killing. His father is now serving a very long sentence in prison. Does violence beget violence? It seems that the presence of fathers in the lives of their sons is critically important from a social learning perspective. Farrington in the now famous Cambridge study indicated two time periods in particular (8-11 years, and 13-16 years). How often does violence at home form the basis for violence in public places?

Family violence prevention and training for intervention continues to be a strong theme at the moment in terms of the focus of our work. Many of you will know that I have worked in this field for nearly 30 years – I am as passionate today as I was when I started this journey. Building capacity into this field of practice is of critical importance at the moment. We continue to be faced with a serious problem within New Zealand which impacts generationally. Breaking the cycle of what occurs behind closed doors is our ongoing challenge.

I remember starting this work back in the early 1980s when I worked as a social worker at the Alcohol and Drug Centre for the Canterbury Health Board (as it was known then – DHB now). We had significant numbers of men coming through the centre who had the dual issues of alcohol and other drug issues as well as violence. I remember the first couple of groups that we piloted based around good safety strategies (time-out, managing risk situations, mood regulation skills, and attitude change – cognitive behavioural therapy).

In fact not a lot has changed in terms of what we need to do to achieve a result in terms of intervention with men who are abusive. I admit that our interventions have become more sophisticated over the years with the introduction of narrative, strength-based, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dialectical behaviour therapy.

However at the end of the day the challenge is to invite men to position themselves against a dominant masculinity of disrespect that allows abuse of a loved one. This has a long history within Western thought (see McMaster, K.J. & Swain, P. A Private Affair: Stopping Men’s Violence to Women). The challenge is to identify what is important and work to aligning one’s life accordingly. If I want to enhance the mana (dignity) of my partner, then my behaviour will exhibit support, caring, encouragement. If I want to be the best dad I can, my behaviour will exhibit coaching, encouragement and celebration of success.

With base rates of around 10% for family violence in our community, we need to keep the pressure on to ensure we maintain a clear focus upon strategies that will lead to a shift towards respectful rather than abusive relationships.

Published on Friday, July 30th, 2010, under Announcements, What Ken thinks

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