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Breaking the cycles of abuse

The national section of Monday’s paper included a sobering story covering the sentencing of an Auckland man, Hamuera Rawhiti, for the manslaughter of his five-month-old son.

The story recounted that his partner, who was pregnant at the time, was also subjected to his fits of violence.

It was a stark reminder of New Zealand’s shameful domestic violence statistics.

In the year leading up to June 2022, there were 175,573 family harm investigations recorded by police, a figure that’s assumed to be a major under-count of the problem given that – according to the police annual report for 2020/21 – it’s estimated that only about a third of family violence cases are reported.

The same report states that in 83 per cent of family violence cases the transgressor will re-offend at the same or greater level of seriousness at some point in the future.

Much closer to home, Saturday’s Times-Age included a story about a man sentenced in Masterton District Court for stabbing his then-partner in the leg.

Because the man had spent the nine-and-a-half months prior to sentencing in police custody, he received five months of community detention, with curfew, supervision, and counselling requirements.

It was also acknowledged that his own life had been “filled with adversity”, with the judge noting that his own childhood left him with feelings of abandonment.

In all cases of domestic abuse, especially when they are as distressing as the two examples listed, it is difficult to consider the situation rationally.

To say the least, the women involved in both ordeals are likely to have ongoing trauma for the rest of their lives.

But if solutions of a rehabilitative nature are superseded by those that are more punitive, cycles of abuse will continue to be passed down through generations.

How do you prioritise education and rehabilitation while also acknowledging the victim’s resulting pain and prioritising their safety?

Hamuera Rawhiti was sentenced with an 11-year starting point, with the judge noting that his own childhood made for “harrowing reading”.

Also in Saturday’s paper was a story about the She Is Not Your Rehab campaign, which aims to address New Zealand’s domestic violence rates and was recently brought to the region by local counselling and family violence service Changeability.

Both Matt and Sarah Brown, the campaign’s founders, grew up surrounded by family violence.

Much of their work involves travelling to prisons and speaking to captive audiences about how to break these cycles.

Sarah said that ultimately, their work boils down to reframing the conversation in order to invite in and include men who are stuck in cycles of violence.

“Why are our men in so much pain, why are they perpetuating violence on their partners? Sarah asked.

She was firm that those who grow up with violence will learn to pass it on if there’s not an effective intervention.

“It’s children who are affected, who witness the brunt of it. They grow up to become adults with their own pain.”

It’s promising to see local services like Changeability pushing initiatives that, based on the past week’s news coverage, are so desperately needed.

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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