It’s the heartbreaking reality of our domestic violence crisis that the current system simply doesn’t work.
There aren’t enough shelters for women. And sending men to jail doesn’t break the cycle. Most offenders are only given a slap on the wrist in the form of a Violence Restraining Order. And then they hurt their victim again.
According to WA Police, there were 7,330 recorded incidences of VRO breaches in 2011-12. In 2019-20, the number had almost doubled to 12,115.
The Pilbara-based Aboriginal Males Healing Centre is trying a different approach.
While it’s important that female victims are given as much support as possible, this centre is tackling the male problem head on. And what it has found is the need to address a cycle of male violence that can stretch back generations.
“I am the son of a father, who was the son of a father . . . three generations, including myself, who have used violence,” Yuat, Wadjuk, and Pibilman man Devon Cuimara, who founded the AMHC from his lived experience, said.
“I realised it stops with me, for my children. I needed to do something to help other men who used violence. If I did not, who would?”
The organisation is voluntarily run and has been working on a 12-month pilot program centred on early intervention for Aboriginal men who turn to violence.
“We have taken the women’s shelter concept and turned it upside down,” Mr Cuimara said.
In WA victims are often removed from their homes after a domestic violence incident.
“We need to allow the women the option of remaining in the home . . . we need spaces for both parties, because if the man is safe, the female is safe,” he said.
“Unfortunately, until the perpetrator goes to jail, the woman is not safe.
“The fact is that in a regional town there may only be one women’s shelter. One of the founding principles of women’s refuge is anonymity, but in regional towns that’s not the case.
“How does leaving the perpetrator in the home make him accountable and responsible for his actions?”
Mr Cuimara said the current gaps in the system meant generational cycles of family violence continued.
“There is no residential, culturally focused therapeutic help available in WA. Therefore, the cycle of family violence continues to be repetitive,” he said.
“When the couple reunite, the relationship enters the honeymoon phase . . . if nothing is done to help those individuals through an intervention process then the cycle continues.”
Mr Cuimara also said that stopping First Nations men from interacting with the criminal justice system was crucial, too.
He said it was encouraging to see “significant movement now for First Nations men” in the space of “behaviour change programs”.
“It is time for governments and white not-for-profit family violence advocates to support a First Nations peak representative body,” he said.
“There is little recognition for the work First Nations men are capable of doing and the work we are doing. Men who have a lived experience and now work with other men who use violence are an asset not a liability.”
Despite the larger issues at play, the choice to heal comes down to the individual.
“A white person does not even know what a reformed Blak man looks like. I am what a reformed person looks like; an abstainer, a truth seeker, a reasonable and ordinary man,” Mr Cuimara said.
“You need to get to that point in your healing journey. Becoming an abstainer, seek redemption as a truth seeker, model your behaviour on what a reasonable and ordinary man would do.
“Reaching a fork in the road and knowing you must take the pathway that is better for you and your family.”
By Rachael Knowles