Turning male violence around at Tauawhi Men’s Centre

Tairawhiti has one of the country’s highest rates of family violence callouts relative to its population. The Tauawhi Men’s Centre is one of many organisations here seeking to turn that around, with a goal to make this region violence-free. Michael Neilson speaks to some of those involved to share their story.

Tairawhiti has one of the country’s highest rates of family violence callouts relative to its population. The Tauawhi Men’s Centre is one of many organisations here seeking to turn that around, with a goal to make this region violence-free. Michael Neilson speaks to some of those involved to share their story.

TAUAWHI MEN: The team at Tauawhi Men’s Centre are, from left, programme facilitator Sam Gray, youth social worker Gareth Thomas, co-ordinator Tim Marshall, part-time office administrator Allan Brown and counsellor Winton Ropiha.
TAUAWHI MANAGER: Tim Marshall manages Tauawhi Men’s Centre and co-ordinates the Dad & Me and Building Awesome Whanau parenting programmes, while contributing to other local and national initiatives in the family violence sector.
YOUTH SOCIAL WORKER: Gareth Thomas delivers youth-focused social work, individually and with school and community groups.
Counsellor: Winton Ropiha provides individual counselling to men, covering a range of issues connected to their behaviour.
Programme facilitator: Sam Gray is Tauawhi’s lead programme facilitator for the Department of Corrections and Ministry of Justice group and individual non-violence programmes, delivered in Gisborne and Wairoa.

THERE are many steps to becoming violence-free: recognising you have a problem, seeking assistance, getting on a path to recovery, and staying on it.

Those are the basic steps, but each one can be fraught with obstacles.

Feelings of shame, guilt and denial can hold up each of those steps.

Practical challenges can just as easily get in the way. Simply knowing where to go, who to speak to — and if that problem is all a person knows, and is normalised, it can be difficult to even identify.

In a country with the highest rate of family violence in the developed world, this following story might sound familiar.

Since Thomas (not his real name) was a child, violence has consumed much of his life.

He was regularly beaten by a family member. His upbringing was violent, but much of it was kept secret from his immediate family.

Rather than deal with it, it became part of his own life.

He became involved with gangs, a sort of refuge.

As an adult, he beat his partner — the mother of his three children — for years.

He tried not to hit his children, but it was the way he was brought up.

Assault and aggravated robbery

He was in and out of jail, largely for assault and aggravated robbery, and consequently became removed from his family.

“I knew I had a violent nature and attitude. I was angry. But I couldn’t tell people around me these problems. They would just tell me to harden up.”

One day he lashed out at a co-worker, and was lucky to keep his job. Deep down he knew he had to change.

Thomas rang the Gisborne Police Station saying he wanted to go on an anger management course, and they referred him to Tauawhi Men’s Centre.

On a Wednesday at 6.30pm, he turned up at 71 Peel Street, hesitantly made his way up the flight of stairs, and entered a group counselling session.

It was the first time he had confronted his violence.

“I came up those stairs and laid it all out on the floor.”

The Tauawhi staff showed him a few diagrams, explained the relationship between violence and anger, his emotions, his upbringing — recognising the problem, but also ways to address it.

Something clicked for Thomas.

“If I had of known all of that years ago, I would not have been like I was.

“I didn’t like myself, after doing all of the violence to my ex-girlfriend. But it was the way everything was happening around me.

“People were always fighting, beating their women. It just felt normal to do it.”

In 2016, New Zealand Police conducted 118,910 family violence investigations.

In a country with such high rates of family violence, it might seem a place like Tauawhi that addresses violence at the root would be common-place — especially in Tairawhiti, a district of 48,000 people where there are more than 2000 family violence investigations a year, the vast majority of them perpetrated by men. A centre specifically to support men might seem a no-brainer.

But until 2010, the most support these men would get was in jail.

Proposed mid-2007

The idea for a men’s centre was proposed in mid-2007 by Tairawhiti Men Against Violence, an informal group of men in Gisborne who aimed to start a “revolution of non-violence”, after three local intimate partner murder-suicides in two months the year before.

In 2009, child protection non-governmental organisation (NGO) Family Works Tairawhiti offered the space above its op shop on Peel Street, which became the Tauawhi Men’s Centre.

One of the centre’s goals has been to help break down the stigma many men feel when asking for help for family violence issues and other problems.

“A lot of the work is around changing community messaging about raising men,” centre organiser, and one of the founders, Tim Marshall says.

“That traditional ‘man box’ reinforces the idea of not talking about stuff. The ‘harden up’ mentality is not really helpful.”

Since opening its doors the centre has supported over 2000 men through its free counselling, social work and group programmes.

Tim worked for 13-and-a-half years with the Department of Corrections, and has seen both sides of how men with violence issues are treated.

“That system of locking people up has been around for a long time — it hasn’t worked,” Tim says.

“The statistics say men dominate the sharp-end of family violence, but the only government response is a court-directed violence programme and imprisonment.

“All we are doing inside prison is containing people. There is not much intervention there.

“It might involve a 16-week programme, but they are trying to change 16-plus years of behaviour.

“It makes no sense.”

In setting up the Tauawhi — which means “to support” in te reo Maori — Men’s Centre, they wanted to close the gap in terms of accessible support for men.

“One of the biggest barriers for men is asking for help, so if you then put a cost up it is an easy way for them to back out.

“It is hard enough to say you want to get some help, let alone pay a hundred dollars an hour.

“Apart from court-directed stuff, there were not a lot of places for men to get help.

“But there are a lot of men who don’t even come to the notice of police or other services, who are going through stuff and just want to offload and have somewhere to talk.

“In 2006, who was around to support those men? To say, ‘Hey, you don’t need to feel this way’, to help them get through it.

“That is ultimately where Tauawhi came from.”

Self-referred

Many of the men who come in refer themselves or come on the recommendation of a community organisation.

The centre is open to all men to support them with whatever they are going through — although at the moment that support is predominantly around family violence, drugs and alcohol, and relationship conflict.

They are seen by a small team including Tim, a counsellor, a programme facilitator, two co-facilitators, a youth social worker and a part-time administrator.

Tauawhi is a service of Family Works Tairawhiti, under the parent organisation Presbyterian Support East Coast.

The centre’s doors are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with a counselling service for individual men, youth social work support, advocacy and advice.

They have a weekly men’s group support session, and have designed specific programmes for areas of particular needs.

Throughout the year they run several month-long “Dad and Me” parenting programmes, and have two weekend noho at Turanga marae each year.

“Traditional parenting programmes can be really content heavy, and often these men are not living with their family,” Tim says.

“So the Dad and Me programme is about how to have a positive and respectful relationship with the mother of their children, but also with their children.”

The work they do is about creating real, lasting change.

“We are not here to make it look good for the court — that culture still exists — we are about people being real about what is going on for them.

“It is around changing behaviour, which is the biggest thing for family.

“When someone makes a complaint to police they don’t necessarily want the person to go to jail. They just want a change in behaviour.

“It takes time to change, and to sustain the changes. Often people think they can come up three or four times and they will be all good.

“But when dealing with behaviour that has been around for decades, it can take a long time.

“A good number suffered abuse as children, and have been using drugs and alcohol since their early teens. Some of them have been in and out of jail.

“When you hear of their pathway to coming here you think, ‘no wonder’.

“Violence is often learned behaviour, often from their parents. This is generational stuff, that is the reality.”

A lot of the work is court-directed, which is funded by central government.

The social work position is 50 percent-funded by the Ministry for Social Development for its youth component, and Tauawhi gets support for counselling men with children. For men without children, there is no funding.

“But we still find a way to see them,” Tim says.

Foundational support

Various foundations and NGOs support the programmes they run, including the Todd Foundation, Tindall Foundation and Sunrise Foundation.

However, having a continuing stream of funding is a constant battle.

“Our message to the new government, including the ministers of Corrections, Justice and Social Development, would be that if they invested in us even a 10th of the $100,000 the government spends keeping someone in jail for a year, for each person, I am sure we could achieve more beneficial long-term, sustainable change for the men and their whanau,” Tim says.

“From a return for investment perspective, the money it spends on prisons just does not make sense.

“We could probably have twice as many people working here and still have work to do.

“It would be great to have a generic social worker. We have always said that if someone comes up the stairs, we want someone to be there to have a conversation.

“Sometimes men build the courage there and then, and if you can’t respond, we might not see them again.

“It is an act of courage, opening themselves up and confronting their own behaviour.”

The next goal for the centre is to have more volunteers available to support men on a casual basis.

“We are building some of the guys into mentoring roles, and also plan to have a time-out space for men to be able to access any time.”

Keeping men coming back is a big challenge, too.

“The number of men who stay on board for a period of time, and create sustained change, is not very high.

“A lot of men initially change, but then we might see them back in a couple of months.”

The most important things in the beginning are helping men feel OK about themselves, and not passing judgement.

“Instead, separating the behaviour from the person, and building that into their relationships, and respect for themselves.

“I don’t think anybody who comes here wants to do that negative stuff to their families, but sometimes they just don’t know any different.”

After recognising the issues, they then learn how to put it into practice.

“Their time in here is a small part. Out there is where the rubber hits the road.

“It is about how they are with their family, and how their family feels about them.”

That philosophy is behind It’s Not OK campaigner Vic Tamati’s Safe Man, Safe Family patch programme.

“Ultimately, the people who are going to tell you anything are your family. They are with you all the time and knew that other guy before.”

National reputation

Seven years after opening, the centre is gaining a reputation nationwide.

“We have had some good conversations nationally and the Government is starting to come around to the idea of doing some different stuff with people who perpetrate violence, rather than court and prison.”

Still, the solution to family violence is not going to come from one place.

“There is a lot of work going on, but at the end of the day services like ours are a small part of the puzzle.

“As a community, we need to change our attitudes about men.

“It is a double-edged sword — the whole thing that makes men not come here is the belief men need to carry on being tough.

“It creates negative behaviour and also holds men back from dealing with it, the harden-up approach.

“We have to make it easier and more normal for men to be able to talk to each other about this sort of stuff, whatever space they are in.”

Three years since that first Wednesday night, Thomas returns to Tauawhi regularly.

“I love it here. If I feel pressure on myself, this is my safe haven. I feel safe around these people.”

Through counselling sessions at Tauawhi, parenting courses, noho marae, and the support of the other men, he has felt a change within himself.

“Now I can actually talk to people, and even let people look at me strangely without reacting.

“Before, if someone looked at me in a strange way I would reply, ‘What the f... are you looking at?’ Now I just let it go.”

Most importantly, though, he has rekindled a relationship with some of his family.

“I am trying to do something better for myself and the people around me.”

■ If you are interested in more information or supporting Tauawhi, contact Tim at tim.marshall@psec.org.nz or 027 558 6362

THERE are many steps to becoming violence-free: recognising you have a problem, seeking assistance, getting on a path to recovery, and staying on it.

Those are the basic steps, but each one can be fraught with obstacles.

Feelings of shame, guilt and denial can hold up each of those steps.

Practical challenges can just as easily get in the way. Simply knowing where to go, who to speak to — and if that problem is all a person knows, and is normalised, it can be difficult to even identify.

In a country with the highest rate of family violence in the developed world, this following story might sound familiar.

Since Thomas (not his real name) was a child, violence has consumed much of his life.

He was regularly beaten by a family member. His upbringing was violent, but much of it was kept secret from his immediate family.

Rather than deal with it, it became part of his own life.

He became involved with gangs, a sort of refuge.

As an adult, he beat his partner — the mother of his three children — for years.

He tried not to hit his children, but it was the way he was brought up.

Assault and aggravated robbery

He was in and out of jail, largely for assault and aggravated robbery, and consequently became removed from his family.

“I knew I had a violent nature and attitude. I was angry. But I couldn’t tell people around me these problems. They would just tell me to harden up.”

One day he lashed out at a co-worker, and was lucky to keep his job. Deep down he knew he had to change.

Thomas rang the Gisborne Police Station saying he wanted to go on an anger management course, and they referred him to Tauawhi Men’s Centre.

On a Wednesday at 6.30pm, he turned up at 71 Peel Street, hesitantly made his way up the flight of stairs, and entered a group counselling session.

It was the first time he had confronted his violence.

“I came up those stairs and laid it all out on the floor.”

The Tauawhi staff showed him a few diagrams, explained the relationship between violence and anger, his emotions, his upbringing — recognising the problem, but also ways to address it.

Something clicked for Thomas.

“If I had of known all of that years ago, I would not have been like I was.

“I didn’t like myself, after doing all of the violence to my ex-girlfriend. But it was the way everything was happening around me.

“People were always fighting, beating their women. It just felt normal to do it.”

In 2016, New Zealand Police conducted 118,910 family violence investigations.

In a country with such high rates of family violence, it might seem a place like Tauawhi that addresses violence at the root would be common-place — especially in Tairawhiti, a district of 48,000 people where there are more than 2000 family violence investigations a year, the vast majority of them perpetrated by men. A centre specifically to support men might seem a no-brainer.

But until 2010, the most support these men would get was in jail.

Proposed mid-2007

The idea for a men’s centre was proposed in mid-2007 by Tairawhiti Men Against Violence, an informal group of men in Gisborne who aimed to start a “revolution of non-violence”, after three local intimate partner murder-suicides in two months the year before.

In 2009, child protection non-governmental organisation (NGO) Family Works Tairawhiti offered the space above its op shop on Peel Street, which became the Tauawhi Men’s Centre.

One of the centre’s goals has been to help break down the stigma many men feel when asking for help for family violence issues and other problems.

“A lot of the work is around changing community messaging about raising men,” centre organiser, and one of the founders, Tim Marshall says.

“That traditional ‘man box’ reinforces the idea of not talking about stuff. The ‘harden up’ mentality is not really helpful.”

Since opening its doors the centre has supported over 2000 men through its free counselling, social work and group programmes.

Tim worked for 13-and-a-half years with the Department of Corrections, and has seen both sides of how men with violence issues are treated.

“That system of locking people up has been around for a long time — it hasn’t worked,” Tim says.

“The statistics say men dominate the sharp-end of family violence, but the only government response is a court-directed violence programme and imprisonment.

“All we are doing inside prison is containing people. There is not much intervention there.

“It might involve a 16-week programme, but they are trying to change 16-plus years of behaviour.

“It makes no sense.”

In setting up the Tauawhi — which means “to support” in te reo Maori — Men’s Centre, they wanted to close the gap in terms of accessible support for men.

“One of the biggest barriers for men is asking for help, so if you then put a cost up it is an easy way for them to back out.

“It is hard enough to say you want to get some help, let alone pay a hundred dollars an hour.

“Apart from court-directed stuff, there were not a lot of places for men to get help.

“But there are a lot of men who don’t even come to the notice of police or other services, who are going through stuff and just want to offload and have somewhere to talk.

“In 2006, who was around to support those men? To say, ‘Hey, you don’t need to feel this way’, to help them get through it.

“That is ultimately where Tauawhi came from.”

Self-referred

Many of the men who come in refer themselves or come on the recommendation of a community organisation.

The centre is open to all men to support them with whatever they are going through — although at the moment that support is predominantly around family violence, drugs and alcohol, and relationship conflict.

They are seen by a small team including Tim, a counsellor, a programme facilitator, two co-facilitators, a youth social worker and a part-time administrator.

Tauawhi is a service of Family Works Tairawhiti, under the parent organisation Presbyterian Support East Coast.

The centre’s doors are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with a counselling service for individual men, youth social work support, advocacy and advice.

They have a weekly men’s group support session, and have designed specific programmes for areas of particular needs.

Throughout the year they run several month-long “Dad and Me” parenting programmes, and have two weekend noho at Turanga marae each year.

“Traditional parenting programmes can be really content heavy, and often these men are not living with their family,” Tim says.

“So the Dad and Me programme is about how to have a positive and respectful relationship with the mother of their children, but also with their children.”

The work they do is about creating real, lasting change.

“We are not here to make it look good for the court — that culture still exists — we are about people being real about what is going on for them.

“It is around changing behaviour, which is the biggest thing for family.

“When someone makes a complaint to police they don’t necessarily want the person to go to jail. They just want a change in behaviour.

“It takes time to change, and to sustain the changes. Often people think they can come up three or four times and they will be all good.

“But when dealing with behaviour that has been around for decades, it can take a long time.

“A good number suffered abuse as children, and have been using drugs and alcohol since their early teens. Some of them have been in and out of jail.

“When you hear of their pathway to coming here you think, ‘no wonder’.

“Violence is often learned behaviour, often from their parents. This is generational stuff, that is the reality.”

A lot of the work is court-directed, which is funded by central government.

The social work position is 50 percent-funded by the Ministry for Social Development for its youth component, and Tauawhi gets support for counselling men with children. For men without children, there is no funding.

“But we still find a way to see them,” Tim says.

Foundational support

Various foundations and NGOs support the programmes they run, including the Todd Foundation, Tindall Foundation and Sunrise Foundation.

However, having a continuing stream of funding is a constant battle.

“Our message to the new government, including the ministers of Corrections, Justice and Social Development, would be that if they invested in us even a 10th of the $100,000 the government spends keeping someone in jail for a year, for each person, I am sure we could achieve more beneficial long-term, sustainable change for the men and their whanau,” Tim says.

“From a return for investment perspective, the money it spends on prisons just does not make sense.

“We could probably have twice as many people working here and still have work to do.

“It would be great to have a generic social worker. We have always said that if someone comes up the stairs, we want someone to be there to have a conversation.

“Sometimes men build the courage there and then, and if you can’t respond, we might not see them again.

“It is an act of courage, opening themselves up and confronting their own behaviour.”

The next goal for the centre is to have more volunteers available to support men on a casual basis.

“We are building some of the guys into mentoring roles, and also plan to have a time-out space for men to be able to access any time.”

Keeping men coming back is a big challenge, too.

“The number of men who stay on board for a period of time, and create sustained change, is not very high.

“A lot of men initially change, but then we might see them back in a couple of months.”

The most important things in the beginning are helping men feel OK about themselves, and not passing judgement.

“Instead, separating the behaviour from the person, and building that into their relationships, and respect for themselves.

“I don’t think anybody who comes here wants to do that negative stuff to their families, but sometimes they just don’t know any different.”

After recognising the issues, they then learn how to put it into practice.

“Their time in here is a small part. Out there is where the rubber hits the road.

“It is about how they are with their family, and how their family feels about them.”

That philosophy is behind It’s Not OK campaigner Vic Tamati’s Safe Man, Safe Family patch programme.

“Ultimately, the people who are going to tell you anything are your family. They are with you all the time and knew that other guy before.”

National reputation

Seven years after opening, the centre is gaining a reputation nationwide.

“We have had some good conversations nationally and the Government is starting to come around to the idea of doing some different stuff with people who perpetrate violence, rather than court and prison.”

Still, the solution to family violence is not going to come from one place.

“There is a lot of work going on, but at the end of the day services like ours are a small part of the puzzle.

“As a community, we need to change our attitudes about men.

“It is a double-edged sword — the whole thing that makes men not come here is the belief men need to carry on being tough.

“It creates negative behaviour and also holds men back from dealing with it, the harden-up approach.

“We have to make it easier and more normal for men to be able to talk to each other about this sort of stuff, whatever space they are in.”

Three years since that first Wednesday night, Thomas returns to Tauawhi regularly.

“I love it here. If I feel pressure on myself, this is my safe haven. I feel safe around these people.”

Through counselling sessions at Tauawhi, parenting courses, noho marae, and the support of the other men, he has felt a change within himself.

“Now I can actually talk to people, and even let people look at me strangely without reacting.

“Before, if someone looked at me in a strange way I would reply, ‘What the f... are you looking at?’ Now I just let it go.”

Most importantly, though, he has rekindled a relationship with some of his family.

“I am trying to do something better for myself and the people around me.”

■ If you are interested in more information or supporting Tauawhi, contact Tim at tim.marshall@psec.org.nz or 027 558 6362

Violence-free network

Police 111 or Gisborne: 06 869 0205,
Ruatoria: 06 864 8419
Te Whare Tu Wahine Women’s Refuge
and Men’s Respite Centre: 06 867 9427
Crisis Line: 0800 377 600
Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou Whanau
Oranga Services: 06 867 9960
Tauawhi Men’s Centre: 06 868 8278
Victim Support: 06 869 0259 or 0800
842 846
Court Victim Adviser: 06 869 0330 or
0800 650 654
Ngati Porou Hauora: 06 864 6803
Turanga Health: 06 869 0457
Te Kuwatawata: 06 868 3550
Barnardos: 06 869 1340
Family Works: 06 868 1399
Age Concern: 06 867 6533
Rape Crisis: 06 867 9967
Oranga Tamariki (formerly Child Youth
and Family): 0508 326 459

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