Abuse Manifests in Many Ways - Physical, Verbal, Emotional, Sexual and Financial - but with a Little Help from Their Mates, Men Can Learn to Overcome Their Violent and Controlling Behaviours, Writes JENNIE DELL; Men and Women Exploring New Directions to Reduce the Abuse

Article excerpt

A BACKPACKER accuses her Byron Bay nightclub boss of sexual assault. An elderly man feels entitled to kill his wife because he believes she's having an affair. A 15-year-old Lismore boy assaults his pregnant girlfriend. We read these stories, in one week, in this newspaper.

What can be done about the ever-increasing cycle of male violence in our communities?

Darmin Cameron is a co-facilitator of the group Men Exploring New Directions, (MEND), a function of the Lismore-based Men and Family Centre, which runs the MEND program and several other groups aimed at helping men address the cycle of abuse in their lives. Also the media liaison for the group, Darmin is currently making a film about the centre and its achievements.

"We hold groups to bring together men who've got into difficulties because of their own violence or abuse, whether it's in their marriage and family, or offences out in the community," Darmin says. "Some men come to us of their own accord or because their partners are urging them to get help. Others are told they must attend by an agency such as the Probation and Parole service or the courts.

"In the groups, we give men tools and skills they can use to increase their self-awareness, so they can learn to monitor their feelings before they get out of control. I've seen changes in men so rapid that it's blown me away - moments when they 'get' a particular set of communication tools. It's inspiring to be part of the journeys of these men and feel the spirit of their willingness to change and do things differently."

The Men and Family Centre grew out of Mensline, established in 1993 as a telephone counselling service for men concerned about their anger, abusive behaviour or violence. It became clear from the volume of calls that there was a lack of services for these men. In 1995 the Anti-Violence Project was established on the North Coast; this later morphed into MEND, a resource that is unique to the North Coast.

The Mensline telephone counselling service still operates every night from 7 to 11pm. Staffed by volunteers, it has helped hundreds of men over the years.

At least two, and up to six MEND groups (including one for Indigenous men) have been held in local centres every week since 1996. The primary goal is to end violence and foster fulfilling relationships.

"The theme of 'building respectful relationships' is woven through all the work we do," Darmin says. "There are some shocking statistics around the effects of relationship breakdown and separation on men. Professor Pierre Baume, head of the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention, at Griffith University, found that in a study of 4000 suicides, at least 70 per cent were associated with relationship break-ups, and that men were nine times more likely to take their own lives after a break-up than women."

As a condition of entry to a MEND group, participants have to agree that their partners, or others who have been affected by their abuse, will be contacted and offered regular telephone counselling. Women also have the option to join a WEND (Women Exploring New Directions) nine-week group program.

Lizette Twisleton is the co-ordinator of the women's program, as well as being a co-facilitator with other groups run by the centre.

"Our priority with women is they should feel safe," Lizette explains. "Safe in the first place to talk and start a rapport with us, and then safe to disclose what has been happening for her, or her children, and the effect it has been having on their lives. It's a gentle process that allows us to evaluate her risk of harm. …