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Wairarapa men changing family harm patterns

“I remember the look in my son’s eyes, this one time I got really mad. It was nothing but fear.”

These are the opening lines of a video about to appear on social media feeds, featuring three Wairarapa men speaking about their experiences getting help to break patterns of family harm.

The video is part of a new campaign, Stories of Change, resulting from a two-year project aimed at improving the accessibility of family harm resources to Wairarapa men.

The help-seeking campaign is the first of its kind in New Zealand, will be advertised for a month and is a collaboration between local counselling and family violence service Changeability Wairarapa and the Ministry of Social Development [MSD].

Changeability manager Jeremy Logan said he reached out to MSD for support two years ago when initially working on developing a local campaign.

“They asked us a lot of hard questions, that were difficult to answer.”

“What are you trying to do? Who are you trying to reach?” Logan asked.

“But we got there and decided to really focus on a help-seeking campaign for men and pointing to Changeability.”

In asking what measures support men to engage in – what can be – a scary process of change, Jeremy said they landed on short-form videos designed for social media reach.

MSD’s social action team, which had been working in close collaboration with Logan and the Changeability team, sat in on Changeability’s non-violence men’s group.

“They asked some of the guys if they would speak in these videos, and we had seven men who were brave enough to agree,” Logan said.

“It’s about their journey to engaging with help and what that was like, owning up and acknowledging their behaviour and what’s been happening in their relationships.”

Logan said real-life stories of Wairarapa men could point others towards resources and tools, and the results of this work could lead to other campaigns in New Zealand using a similar strategy.

MSD social action team lead Teresa Pomeroy said the initiative linked to the ministry’s Campaign for Action on Family Violence’s five-year strategy.

“When we looked at evidence for that strategy, beyond programmes and prison, there aren’t a lot of resources for men.”

In asking how to support men on healing journeys, Pomeroy said projects like this helped to understand the impact of local stories.

“It takes huge courage to put yourself out there, but we know that real men’s stories of change are some of the most powerful tools we have.”

In attending Changeability’s sessions and speaking with those attending, it became apparent that the message could be translated simply, with one suggestion that it could just be a man sitting in a chair.

That scene, just men sitting and speaking, was what made the final cut, featuring three out of the seven men who volunteered.

MSD social action team lead advisor Brian Gardner said there needs to be ongoing support for men who need it.

“Guys want to be hopeful, and they want to know change is possible, and I know their partners and families want that too,” Gardner said.

“They want access to information and support when they need it.”

In speaking on the campaign’s approach in trying to reach local men by sharing local stories, Gardner touched on his own experience with family harm.

“I grew up in Hawke’s Bay, and grew up around family violence,” Gardner said.

“Lots of great things about my dad, but a lot of things that weren’t great, that were scary and awful, that you can’t forget and you shouldn’t forget.”

Gardner said there were things he picked up on as a young man, and friends told him they were worried about him and what he was doing, he attended a stopping violence programme.

“It saved my life, actually.”

With many aspects of family harm being difficult to face or acknowledge, Gardner said an initiative like this – local people speaking on their experiences – would help paint a more positive image of masculinity.

“When you think about the job description for men, it’s good for training soldiers. Be stoic, invincible, always be successful, don’t share your feelings,” Gardner said.

“It’s not that great a job description for loving dads or partners.”

Gardner said that local stories like the men speaking in this campaign could shift traditional views of what masculinity looks like.

“It looks like tools and support, facing up and taking responsibility,” said Gardner.

“It looks like creating safe environments to step into for everybody in the family.”

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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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