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How an ex-perpetrator ended his cycle of violence to become a force for change

Giovanni Torre -

Devon Cuimara learned the hard way how to break the cycle of family violence.

The Newman local spent his childhood surrounded by violence in his own home and became an offender himself before seeking help and breaking the inter-generational pattern.

"I was growing up with violence from the moment I was born... The first intervention I did was with my own parents," he said.

"I am the son of a father who is the son of a father, three generations who would use violence... I was born into it and it was normalised for me.

"All my life I said I would never be like my dad or my grandfather, but they were cheap words, I was exactly like them.

"Even when it happened the first time I did something every perpetrator does, I blamed the victim."

Mr Cuimara said his life unraveled, and he found it difficult to talk to anybody, particularly in his family, about violence.

"It was difficult to come up for fresh air to breath... I had already lost one marriage and family, and the second marriage I was in... I knew I was going to lose that and in the end I did," he said.

"All my life I said I would never be like my dad or my grandfather, but they were cheap words, I was exactly like them" - Devon Cuimara

This was the point Mr Cuimara knew he had to change.

While unable to find culturally appropriate counselling at the time, the act of seeking help put him on the path to breaking the cycle of violence.

"The difficulty I had with it was, as an Aboriginal man, was the notion of the perpetrator as using power and control, without looking at the power and control the rest of society uses against Aboriginal people," Mr Cuimara said.

"I saw the need for a specialised Aboriginal men's behaviour change program."

He said in the 1980s and 1990s there were no culturally appropriate services apart from some individual counsellors.

A lot of those counsellors were Christian services, which Mr Cuimara was wary of after having suffered childhood sexual abuse in church institutions.

"There are many facets to being a perpetrator," Mr Cuimara said.

"Yes, it was my family, yes it was alcohol, but there were other traumas. (Our) identity as Aboriginal men was removed by colonialism - we lost the right to be hunters and providers. This was replaced by a patriarchal system, which was about men owning and controlling women... a narcissistic world view."

Mr Cuimara said his father had come from a generation which had "no hope" of solving any of their traumas.

"It has only been the last 10 years in which that has changed," he said.

Now as chief executive of Newman's Aboriginal Male's Healing Centre, Mr Cuimara wants to change the "reactive" system which leaves women and children uprooted and incidents unreported.

"With a justice reinvestment model, there is an alternative to come to us... being in jail doesn't make them responsible or accountable," Mr Cuimara said.

"It doesn't stop him coming out and doing it to the same partner or to another partner."

The Healing Centre's model enables women and children to remain at home while offenders are moved away for counselling.

Offenders are placed into a year-long residential program, followed by four years of support.

Information sharing with other services is a vital part of the work, and the Healing Centre is using software to make collaboration easier/

"We know how he operates, knows his haunts, his patterns... we can send alerts through the app for appointments... and if he doesn't turn up we will breach him," Mr Cuimara said.

"The whole system is based on First Nation principles.

"We need our own Indigenous-specific services, a model to confront family violence in our communities.

"Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised because of family violence."

The centre in November last year started using a case management app designed by ECINS to provide support to to clients in remote communities.

ECINS operations manager Thomas Pettengell said the app afforded help to anyone with an internet connection.

"If you are a vulnerable person and you are in a remote community, provided you have an internet connection you can receive support you need even if the practitioner is stuck in Perth," he said.

"The app has a mood journal, calendar, you can set task lists, share journals, it is comprehensive support system for vulnerable people can have on their phones at all time."

The Healing Centre has been using the system since November last year, but has been working with ECINS more broadly since 2018.

Mr Pettengell said the app could have benefits for telehealth services too.

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