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Anti-violence movement comes to town

She Is Not Your Rehab founders, Matt and Sarah Brown, are powerful catalysts for change. The husband-and-wife duo sat down with reporter BELLA CLEARY to discuss the patterns that drive violence and how to break cycles of abuse.

Matt and Sarah Brown visited Wairarapa this week to speak about their campaign She Is Not Your Rehab, an anti-violence movement addressing the stigma and shame that result from and contribute to patterns of abuse.

Only in Masterton for the night, they managed to fit in a visit to Mākoura College, a public talk at the Copthorne, and a training workshop with people working on the frontline of family violence.

The public event also featured Fadeaway barbers giving haircuts – a nod to Matt’s haircutting business in Christchurch, which morphed into a space where men would sit and open up about issues while getting their hair trimmed.

Sarah said both her and Matt’s own pasts were afflicted by domestic violence.

“We came from dysfunctional, abusive homes and we’re lucky we survived it.”

As someone who was raised in a home with domestic violence, Matt said he believed open conversations between men is pivotal to changing intergenerational cycles of abuse.

“Although I was brought up and raised in violence, it was possible to change that.”

Matt – whose work with Sarah has involved public talks and programmes inside men’s and youth prisons – said he believes using his own upbringing as an example is a powerful tool.

“The beauty in that work with my wife is modelling what that [change] looks like,” Matt said.

“We speak to these men in prison to change and heal, but how can they if they don’t have a model of what that looks like?”

Also wanting to reach out to the younger generation, Matt said he enjoyed speaking at Mākoura College.

“The kids were beautiful, laughing at my dry jokes and clapping,” he said.

There is a degree of sensitivity needed in approaching topics like this with the younger generation, as Matt said he knows “tapu topics” can be triggering.

“But I also come from a mana-enhancing perspective using my own story,” Matt said.

“I’ve been talking about my story since I was 15, so I relate to these kids with that hat and that lens on.”

Both Matt and Sarah’s work in the anti-violence space have led to talks all over New Zealand, pushing their campaign She Is Not Your Rehab.

Sarah said this campaign was made to invite men into the conversation and look at the root causes of domestic violence.

“Why are so many men perpetrating violence on their partners?” Sarah asked.

“We recognise here in Aotearoa that there is a huge cultural shift that needs to happen around the way men can express their feelings and
do the healing work.

“Is that something that’s talked about enough? I don’t think so.”

By speaking in this way and inviting men into the conversation, Sarah said it is possible to promote generational change and education surrounding mental health.

“Here there’s a real culture for men to harden up. The statistics here just continue to rise,” Sarah said.

“The reality is, your childhood trauma isn’t your fault, but your healing now is your responsibility.”

Matt and Sarah have authored a book titled after the campaign that has been distributed to men’s prisons nationwide.

Now, they have made an app. InnerBoy is a free resource for any men needing help in this space, something Sarah said men in New Zealand have needed for a long time.

“In your pocket, you have a tool to use. For too long too many men haven’t been able to access help,” Sarah said.

“We need to make healing accessible.”

Both Matt and Sarah hoped that having a free, available resource and safe space for men to access support and tools would be hugely beneficial in Wairarapa and nationally.

Matt described it as a “digital sanctuary for men”.

“Together, we can rewrite the narrative and build a future where violence and abuse have no place for our tamariki [children].”

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Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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