As we mark intolerance of violence towards women for White Ribbon week, two Kiwi families will bury loved ones whose lives ended because of family violence.

Crystal-Lee Selwyn of Hamilton died earlier this week after an alleged assault by her partner. Police are investigating her death as a homicide. She was a mother of eight children.

In Tauranga Ethan Kerapa was fatally shot by police after he held his children hostage at knifepoint. He had an extensive history of using serious violence against his partner and children.

For some, these devastating deaths are just more headlines we can ignore. It’s too much, overwhelming.

Some of us turn to blame. ‘The government need to do something’ and ‘What’s the system doing about this?’ are common outcries. As specialist family violence experts who work in the ‘system’, we can tell you we’re doing all we can to clean up the results of family violence in New Zealand homes. We know it’s not enough. Any intimidation, any assault, any murder is too much.

Every one of us is responsible for violence in NZ

How can this be when most of us see ourselves as peaceful, law-abiding Kiwis who treat others with love and respect?

It happens like this: we react to headlines about violence with shock and surprise. He seemed like such a good bloke. He was a good dad. It’s so tragic.

But good dads don’t hurt their partners. They don’t hold knives to their children’s chests. They don’t punch, scream, yell or intimidate. Good blokes don’t act on anger – a normal and valid emotion – inappropriately.

As individuals we need to be alive and alert to reading the signs of violence and to address them every time we see them. We must stop acting surprised at these terrible incidents and lamenting their tragedies; instead we have to insist that violence is neither acceptable or necessary.

Violent acts don’t come out of nowhere – they stem from people’s everyday behaviours.

So, what are the signs of violence we need to be alert to?

  • The way he speaks about his partner – using derogatory or humiliating terms.
  • Name-calling.
  • Acting with aggression: slamming doors, yelling, throwing items.
  • Controlling and possessive behaviour like constantly messaging his partner or checking on her whereabouts.
  • Making all the decisions in the relationship.

How do you call out violence?

There is always a choice to behave differently. Everyone, and especially men, are capable of engaging in appropriate behaviour. It is everyone’s responsibility to support them with that.

Being respectful and helpful is essential in approaching someone about concerning or violent behaviours, says Takarua Tawera, who works with high-risk violent offenders and is the chair of the National Network Family Violence Services.

“The person might not have the skills to moderate their intensity of emotions, so the situation needs de-escalating rather than igniting,” he says. “Every person and situation is different but you could say something like, ‘Bro look, I’m here. Let’s give it time and breathe. Have time out, think about it, then you and I can talk.’”

Harsh judgement of someone who uses violent behaviours is not helpful, says Mr Tawera.

“We want to challenge the behaviours – not the person. We know that people who use violence can also be loving, good men but we need to support them during critical times when anger and violence takes control.”

If you use violence or are affected by it, there is help available in your area now.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 111. Or, contact a specialist family violence worker in your area by visiting nnfvs.org.nz.

This media release was published 17 November, 2019

To arrange an interview with Takarua Tawera, contact Paulette Crowley at kaipapaho@nnsvs.org.nz or 027 231 5970.