Article: Victims should be front and centre in the response to men using violence

Tue 07 Jul 2020

Professor Julia Tolmie has written a response to the Family Violence Death Review Committee's Sixth Report.


The Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) published their Sixth report | Te Pūrongo tuaono: Men who use violence | Ngā tāne ka whakamahi i te whakarekereke in April 2020.

In Professor Tolmie's response, Victims should be front and centre in the response to men using violence, she says there is "much to applaud" in the report. This includes the need to develop higher expectations of men as parents, to see their use of violence as a parenting decision, and to train professionals to work effectively with men using violence (including developing a better understanding of how children are used to control and intimidate women). She notes the discussion of the role that schools, mental health and others can play, and that the report flags the possibility of models of care involving long term support for men with high and complex needs and ongoing high risk of causing harm. Importantly the Sixth Report highlights the limited support that is currently available to those men using violence who want to change their patterns of behaviour.

She writes “Despite the many strengths of the report, however, I am concerned that it tackles only part of what is required to address men’s use of violence against their female partners and children.”

She acknowledges that some men using violence may have sought help for various issues in their lives, and some may have sought help for their use of violence. However many men using violence who come into contact with services to address their violence were not voluntarily seeking help for this.

She notes that perpetrators often deny and minimise their use of violence and coercion and do not take responsibility for their actions; even if they acknowledge their use of violence, often they blame the victim for causing it (Prioritising women’s safety in Australian perpetrator interventions: The purpose and practices of partner contact, ANROWS, 2020).

In terms of service responses to men using violence, Professor Tolmie writes,

“In some instances, because agencies working with men were not connected into a broader family violence safety response, they were under the impression that the men they were working with were taking responsibility for their behaviour – when in fact, they were continuing to use violence. Other agencies also unwittingly colluded with men in minimising and excusing their violence and insisting the victim take partial responsibility for what happened."

She says that in the FVDRC death reviews, “There were instances where agencies responded to these men who were suicidal or depressed or had addiction issues as though they were vulnerable (which they were), but tragically failed to understand that they were also very dangerous.”

She discusses the role of trauma, writing “Although trauma may be part of the histories of many men who use violence, many men and women who experience trauma do not use violence against their partners and children. … When men who use violence have themselves experienced abuse and neglect in childhood and structural violence over their lifetimes, practitioners need to acknowledge these experiences whilst holding them responsible for their use of violence.”

She also notes “The death reviews evidence that many of the female victims also had been abused as children, as adolescents and by multiple male partners. Concerningly, these women had repeatedly experienced negative and unsafe responses from professionals, services and systems to their attempts to seek safety from their partner’s lethal violence.”

Professor Tolmie welcomes the Sixth Report highlighting the need for equitable health, education and social services; the need for social care and protective responses to be based on indigenous world views and cultural values; the need for trauma informed and community based responses; the value of Kaupapa Māori services; and the structural harm that indifferent or discriminatory agency responses have on Māori, including the enduring impact of colonisation, intergenerational trauma and profound structural inequity.

While acknowledging that Māori men are overrepresented as male predominant aggressors in intimate partner violence death events, Professor Tolmie emphasises that they remain a minority of those men who use violence against their partners. She says “… one could be forgiven for losing sight of this fact in reading through the report. The concluding recommendations are to uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi; decolonise services; address racism; and address structural inequity. Few would disagree with these as aspirations. Nonetheless, the violence of Pākehā men and the multiple forms of violence against Māori women slip from visibility. Sexism, despite the inherently gendered nature of family violence, and its intersection with racism and oppression, is not on the agenda."

(Of the 97 male predominant aggressors in intimate partner violence death events in the report, 41 were Pākehā, 32 were Māori, and the remaining 24 men other ethnicities listed in the report.)

Professor Tolmie notes “the report does not discuss the disproportionate impact of colonisation on Māori women, who today bear a significant burden of the violent victimisation in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Professor Tolmie summarises:

“If we are to address men’s use of violence we must do many things at the same time – respectfully engage with men using violence so that they are ‘connected and in sight’ whether or not they are committed to behaviour change, hold them in places where proper holistic help and culturally responsive support is available to them should they choose to address their harmful behaviours, develop ways to contain their abusive behaviours so that we can keep child and adult victims safe, and escalate the consequences for the continued use of violence."

She concludes:

“In Aotearoa New Zealand, in the shadow of Covid 19 we are confronted again by our failure to effectively respond to family violence. We urgently need to be developing intersectional ways of working, at all levels of the family violence safety system, which are publicly accountable to victims. Such approaches must hold the dignity, sanctity and safety of victims at the centre of our work with those using violence, while also maintaining the dignity and humanity of those using violence.

Present systemic opportunities to do this include:

1. Delivering men’s stopping violence services with victim services within one organisational setting or within a formal partnership organisational setting.

2. Requiring men’s stopping violence programmes to provide safe and supportive service responses to victims, irrespective of the man’s attendance at the programme.

3. Re-orientating the criminal justice response towards victim safety [rather than punishment of perpetrators], including integrating the safety of victims’ into all criminal justice responses.

4. Developing an integrated justice strategy for men who use violence that is directed at upholding victims’ safety. This would include developing sentencing options and alternatives to imprisonment which are safe (including culturally), just and effective for victims and for men using violence.”

Professor Tolmie is a former Chair of the Family Violence Death Review Committee.

A shorter version of Professor Tolmie's response was published on Newsroom.

Related information and research

NZFVC hosted the Family Violence Death Review Committee to present a webinar on their Sixth Report in May 2020.

Prioritising women’s safety in Australian perpetrator interventions: The purpose and practices of partner contact (ANROWS, April 2020)

Wāhine Māori: Keeping safe in unsafe relationships (Denise Wilson and others, 2019)

He rau murimuri aroha: Wāhine Māori insights into historical trauma and healing (Te Atawhai o Te Ao, 2019)

Image: Jose Antonio Alba from Pixabay

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