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Churches echo ‘It’s Not Okay’ message against family violence

By Julia Stuart

We’re going to be seeing a lot more about family violence in the media in the next few months but it’s not going to be all horror stories about abused women and children.

At the beginning of September, the government launched a major campaign of attitude and behaviour change with the slogan ‘Family Violence – It’s Not OK’.

At the launch of the It’s Not Okay initiative: from left, Heather Henare (Women's Refuge), Howard Broad (Police Commissioner), Peter Hughes (Ministry of Social Development), Cindy Kiro (Children's Commissioner), Peter Boshier (Principal Family Court Judge) and Rajan Prasad (Chief Families Commissioner).
An impressive bunch of brass fronted up for the event. The Prime Minister (who officially launched it), the Children’s Commissioner, the Family Commissioner, the Police Commissioner, the Chief Family Court Judge, the head of Women’s Refuge and the head of the Ministry of Social Development were all on hand. Every brand of politicians was there. So too were a couple of hundred social service and social welfare workers.

Speakers urged us all to change the way we think about family violence. They quoted the nasty statistics – every year 14 women, two men and 10 children are killed and there 70,000 police callouts because of family violence.

“Family violence is no longer a private matter but a community issue,” said Helen Clark. “Protection of perpetrators is not loyalty but concealing criminal behaviour. Local leadership including religious organisations’ involvement is critical – it can’t be left to Government, but government must lead. And it’s not OK to use your culture as an excuse.”

Churches are key in this community initiative, according to Nick Farland of the Families Commission. Families Commissioner Lyn Campbell is especially keen to get churches involved, Nick said. “Churches reach directly into the community and have strong influence on behaviour.”

The Commission has produced a list of actions (see box) and emphasizes the power of individual as well as collective action.

Tauiwi Pasifika ministry of the Methodist Church has rapidly taken up this new family approach. Director of Mission Resourcing for Pacific Ministries Rev Aso Samoa Saleupolo said he has already downloaded the video from the website www.areyouok.org.nz and set up a trial run of it with a group of Pacific families which meets regularly.

“It makes us much more aware of the issues that promote violence in everyday life,” Aso said. “We shouldn’t be using the excuse that ‘violence is within our culture’ to take no action. Pacific people need to learn non-violent ways of improving their interaction with each other just like everyone else.”

Once he has seen how the family group discussion goes with the video, Aso plans to invite his minister colleagues to view it and work out the best way to encourage non-violence and speaking up about violence within their wider Pacific community.

While applauding the idea of speaking out against family violence, Methodist workers at the coal face express some caution about how we tackle the problem. Methodist Mission spokes people say there needs to be a much stronger emphasis on generic family and community development approaches which contribute to the prevention of family violence.

“Family violence is clearly a problem,” said David Hanna of Wesley Community Action in Wellington. “There’s a risk that by focusing only on one negative aspect of family life we un-intentionally reinforce it, creating a family violence industry in the process. This is fine until the next big problem comes into focus.”

“All of our core work contributes to preventing or reducing violence – our street-based practice, our work with young people and their families, our services for old people who might otherwise suffer abuse or neglect.

“Because the word violence doesn’t appear within these services people may think that they don’t deal with this issue. Sometimes this subtle approach is most effective,” David says.

“Yes we need to be more open about violence in our community – but we need to do this is a way that strengthens our social connectedness and social ecology by replacing the cycle of violence with a cycle of hope.”

Erin Redgrove of Methodist Social Services in Auckland talked about breaking the cycles of intergenerational abuse in their work with fathers and sons.

“We try to get in early through our self-referral work with families with children under 14. Many of them have preschoolers. But these days families have such a raft of complex issues in their lives that it’s hard to focus on a single issue.”

Gaps in social policy don’t help and they’re not being addressed well, said Erin. “Non-governmental organizations such as church social service agencies are increasingly expected to pick up child and family work from CYFS. They do it well, in a far less threatening way than a government department.

“But our funding is limited and we can’t do everything. This campaign on family violence will increase referrals and funding is already stretched.

Extra support for providers is in the pipeline, however. Calls to the Family Violence hotline (0800 456 450) will be monitored for their impact on specific service providers and special fund has been set up for providers if they become over-burdened.

What can you do?

1. Be informed. Publicise the hotline 0800 456 450. The website www.areyouok.org.nz is excellent.

2. Break the silence. Ask “are you OK?” if you think there is violence in someone’s life. Support and encourage someone who’s in a violent situation.

3. Choose to live in a violence-free environment – your home, your work, club, school.

4. Name violence for what it is – not “a relationship problem”, “a domestic”, “an argument that got out of hand”. Don’t accept excuses.

5. Phone talk-backs, write letters to papers, raise discussions about news reports.

6. Know your neighbours and your neighbourhood, know who can help.

7. Support local initiatives, community agencies and the White Ribbon Campaign on 25 November.