Engaging men: Doing the work that works

By Phil Barker

As an advocate for No to Violence (NTV), a rewarding part of the gig is meeting the staff and understanding the inroads they make through their hard work with men who use family violence.

It was my privilege to speak at the NTV Annual General Meeting last week. This gave me the chance to spend a couple of days at NTV HQ in Melbourne, getting to know the board more members of the team as they recognised a very effective year working together to end men’s family violence.

The work being done across the city every day to keep women and children safe is essential. The day to day work on the ground is intense, emotionally difficult and demanding. The people talking to men on the phones, working with men in family courts, referring men to behaviour change programs, and everyone else in a support or policy role at NTV, are exposed to shocking real-life stories and events.  

Emma Brooks is a Senior Family Violence Counsellor for NTV. She has worked on the phones with men who have used family violence, or their partners, every day for three years. (Emma has since taken up another position in the sector, at Orange Door).

When asked if she maintained hope that men could change in the face of everything she’s seen and heard, Emma’s response was moving.

“It can be very difficult to hear a man be dismissive, with no insight at all into what he’s done, and know he’s still using his kids as a source of manipulation and power in the relationship. I find that hard,” she said.

“But when you can hear them take a moment to think about the impact of their violence on their children, for example, then you know you’ve started the process of change, of men beginning to think clearly about their actions.

It was wonderful to hear she’s still hopeful. “I know people can change. In the end, this is important work and you have to be hopeful, despite knowing what we see is the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much work still to be done.”

As well as Emma, it was my privilege to meet Nick Joseph, a Family Violence Male Respondent Case Manager for NTV at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) in Melbourne’s Collingwood.

The NJC, Australia’s first such centre, and one of a network of 50 best-practice centres around the world, is a one-stop community justice centre with a court, a wide range of support services for legal aid, mental health, addiction, housing and financial difficulty, homelessness and men’s behaviour change.

The NJC engages with the local community to “increase the….capacity to prevent and manage the impacts of crime and other harmful behaviour, providing dispute resolution and restorative justice practices, and enhancing offender accountability and thereby reducing recidivism”

Nick’s work focuses on supporting men through their day in family court, helping them understand what is happening, and referring them to whatever behaviour change, counselling or other services they may need and may involve de-escalation and risk assessment.

Like Emma, Nick is ultimately hopeful about his work with men.

“Men want to change,” he says. “Sometimes, they just don’t know how to go about it.”

Nick points to the need for more resources, intense risk assessments and care plans, so men can take better responsibility for their recovery.

These approaches are working.

The data shows a decline in crime rates, recidivism and higher levels of offender accountability. An evaluation shows that since the introduction of the NJC, the Yarra area has observed declining crime rates, which are greater when compared other area of Victoria.

Judges also understand the value of having support for men during their day in court.

In the Attorney General’s opening address at the Federal Circuit Court of Australia plenary, Christian Porter mentioned the support provided by an NTV worker in the family court in Melbourne.

A Melbourne Judge interviewed also commented on the positive impact of having a dedicated men’s worker in court, saying it “immediately changes the tone of the (court) room.”

Following the AGM and my visit to Melbourne, the tireless NTV staff returned to the office, the phones, the courts, writing policy and fundraising. Like Emma Brooks and Nick Joseph, they do it because, while the work is difficult and demanding, it is ultimately hopeful. They know they’re making a difference, one step at the time.

They know men can change.

If you need help addressing your use of family violence, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491. Lines open 24/7.