On a mis­sion for peace

A for­mer abuser wants to help other men stop do­mes­tic vi­o­lence

The West Australian - - AGENDA - Liam Croy

So much has changed in the com­mu­nity re­sponse to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence since Devon Cuimara was a per­pe­tra­tor — like his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther be­fore him.

Sup­port for vic­tims has im­proved, po­lice and the courts are bet­ter equipped to deal with more cases and in re­cent years the is­sue has been dragged doggedly into the open.

But the sta­tis­tics keep ris­ing and in­dige­nous peo­ple are des­per­ately over-rep­re­sented.

Ser­vice providers still strug­gle for fund­ing and refuges for the abused are of­ten full, in­clud­ing the women’s shel­ter in Mr Cuimara’s home town of New­man.

Pun­ish­ments, from po­lice or­ders to jail terms, usu­ally fail to end the pat­tern of abuse.

As the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion turns to­wards a gen­er­a­tional change in the cul­ture that al­lows do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, the vi­o­lence con­tin­ues be­hind closed doors.

But something special is happening in New­man, something born of Mr Cuimara’s lived ex­pe­ri­ence and years of re­search.

The fa­ther of five has ded­i­cated him­self to re­duc­ing in­dige­nous do­mes­tic vi­o­lence through a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram for male per­pe­tra­tors in the Pil­bara and Western Desert re­gions.

His vi­sion, the Abo­rig­i­nal Men’s Heal­ing Cen­tre, has strong sup­port among po­lice, le­gal ser­vices, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence work­ers and lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

It also has the back­ing of Martu elders who are cen­tral to the AMHC con­cept.

The Shire of East Pil­bara is iden­ti­fy­ing pos­si­ble lo­ca­tions for the 28-bed cen­tre while the busi­ness case and gov­ern­ment fund­ing ap­pli­ca­tions are fi­nalised.

A res­i­den­tial pro­gram last­ing up to 12 months and an out­reach ser­vice would be avail­able through the courts, cor­rec­tive ser­vices or on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and drug and al­co­hol abuse would be tack­led in a cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate en­vi­ron­ment, with for­mer per­pe­tra­tors act­ing as men­tors and elders work­ing along­side clin­i­cians.

A fo­cus on life skills and find­ing mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment would com­ple­ment hard-line re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion based on the Du­luth Model.

Cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion from the elders would ad­dress what Mr Cuimara calls a grow­ing trend of “lore­less­ness” among younger gen­er­a­tions.

There is a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram for per­pe­tra­tors in Perth but it is shorter term and not tai­lored to the in­dige­nous ex­pe­ri­ence.

The holis­tic ap­proach of the AMHC and the pas­sion of the man be­hind it have cre­ated a dis­tinct sense of op­ti­mism.

The of­fi­cer-in-charge at New­man po­lice sta­tion, Sen. Sgt Larry Miller, told Agenda his coun­ter­parts in the Kim­ber­ley had al­ready shown in­ter­est.

“Even at these early stages the guys in the Kim­ber­ley are say­ing, ‘We need this here,’” he said.

Mr Cuimara’s long-term goal of cen­tres across the coun­try might not be so far-fetched.

There was noth­ing of the sort when he was a child.

“My de­sire to do this comes his­tor­i­cally from see­ing it in my own fam­ily and in the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity in gen­eral,” Mr Cuimara, 50, said.

“It goes back to my fa­ther and my grand­fa­ther. There were gen­er­a­tions when po­lice wouldn’t worry about a com­plaint from a woman, more or less.

“It was something that was seen and not heard, like we were as chil­dren.

“I had to pro­tect my mother, I had to pro­tect my brother, my sis­ter and my­self.

“I was more my fa­ther’s keeper. You sort of be­come him in your mother’s eyes.”

He left an abu­sive home and started abus­ing his part­ner, now for­mer part­ner, un­til he man­aged to change his ways 20 years ago.

At­tempts to use main­stream re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices fell flat so he worked through the is­sues him­self.

“That change came through a process of cold turkey,” he said.

“I did my own re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion which was to just stop. I didn’t do any of it. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t use drugs.

“It’s not our way. We weren’t born like that. I learnt it so if I could learn it, I could un-learn it.

“It’s been 20 years since I started on my heal­ing jour­ney.”

Since then, he has watched do­mes­tic vi­o­lence dig its claws even deeper into in­dige­nous fam­i­lies through­out WA.

The Kim­ber­ley is the State’s worst re­gion for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence but the rate of re­ported do­mes­tic as­sault in the Pil­bara was 82 per cent higher than in Perth in the last fi­nan­cial year.

In that pe­riod, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence com­plaints re­ceived by the Pil­bara Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vice more than dou­bled, per­haps in part be­cause of an in­creased will­ing­ness to report abuse.

The le­gal cen­tre’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Nanette Williams said the AMHC was ex­actly the type of ser­vice needed to cre­ate sus­tain­able change in the Pil­bara.

For the past five years, as Mr Cuimara has fleshed out his vi­sion, re­ports to po­lice in the re­gion have risen from 587 in 2011-12 to 880 in 2015-16.

The num­bers are im­per­sonal

I did my own re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Devon Cuimara

but they rep­re­sent suf­fer­ing which is dealt with ev­ery day by the likes of Sen. Sgt Miller and Maggie, the man­ager of the New­man women’s shel­ter.

They have been deal­ing with it for more than a decade, so their en­dorse­ment of the AMHC model holds weight.

Maggie ar­rived in New­man 13 years ago and started run­ning the shel­ter.

She has watched chil­dren grow up think­ing al­co­hol and abuse are the norm and she does not want to leave with­out see­ing im­prove­ment.

Ev­ery night she does “what­ever it takes” to find a safe place for women and chil­dren while the abuser of­ten stays at home.

Most nights the shel­ter is full so she or­gan­ises other ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Mr Cuimara has given her a re­newed sense of hope.

“He’s got my full sup­port,” Maggie said. “I do be­lieve they can change and I be­lieve they can change al­most overnight with no al­co­hol.

“I don’t get an ad­mis­sion that isn’t re­lated to al­co­hol.

“They have to be ac­count­able for their be­hav­iour.”

Po­lice are on the front line of try­ing to make per­pe­tra­tors ac­count­able and Sen. Sgt Miller sees a wel­come ally in Mr Cuimara.

“It’s (the AMHC plan) sen­sa­tional oth­er­wise I wouldn’t have sup­ported it,” Sen. Sgt Miller said.

“I was part of the steer­ing com­mit­tee and I’ve been in it since its in­cep­tion.

“I met Devon and was im­me­di­ately struck by his ideas and his pas­sion.”

Sen. Sgt Miller has had in­put on the se­cu­rity of the cen­tre and the role po­lice could play in the pro­grams.

The main re­spon­si­bil­ity of po­lice is pro­tect­ing the abused — a pri­or­ity he shares with Mr Cuimara.

He ad­mits in­car­cer­a­tion is of­ten a stop­gap mea­sure.

“A whole lot of re­sources go into look­ing after the vic­tim, as it should,” he said.

“Pro­tect­ing vic­tims of crime is cru­cial, pro­vid­ing sup­port after the crime is ob­vi­ously cru­cial as well. This is the first one I’m aware of where it’s Abo­rig­i­nal-spe­cific and try­ing to get to the root cause of it all.”

Ad­dress­ing the root cause could also help stem the cost of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in Aus­tralia, which is on track to reach $15.6 bil­lion in five years, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment re­search.

The vet­eran po­lice­man is im­pressed with the cul­tural fo­cus that un­der­pins the con­cept.

“They’re go­ing to be hit with some home truths and there will be cul­tural dis­cus­sions with the elders which we won’t be privy to,” he said.

“They’ll be dev­as­tated if they’re chal­lenged by the elders.”

The elders reached an agree­ment with New­man liquor ven­dors in March to re­strict the sale of al­co­hol to Martu and Nyiya­parli peo­ple after 5pm.

Po­lice and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence work­ers have been en­cour­aged by the no­tice­able ef­fects of a strat­egy de­vised at a grass­roots level. It has only added to the mo­men­tum of the AMHC project.

Martu el­der Colin Peter­son, 72, from the Ku­nawar­ritji com­mu­nity, is one of sev­eral lead­ers com­mit­ted to get­ting it off the ground.

He has seen what al­co­hol and abuse does to fam­i­lies and thinks the heal­ing is im­por­tant for the Martu peo­ple.

“Some­times man is OK,” he said. “Some­times man is a prob­lem. They get jeal­ous with their wives, they have too much grog.

“It’s get­ting worse. Even the kids watch­ing their mother and fa­ther when they’re small. “I’ve seen what’s been happening and it’s no good.”

Mr Cuimara has seen it, too, first-hand, and he’s do­ing ev­ery­thing he can to help other in­dige­nous men and fam­i­lies break the cy­cle.

“I see an ab­so­lute need for it be­cause there’s noth­ing like it,” he said. “How are things go­ing to change? It’s not go­ing to hap­pen by it­self, so we want to make it hap­pen.”

If you or some­one you know is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, call the women’s helpline on 1800 007 339 or the men’s helpline on 1800 000 599.

Pic­tures: Kevin Mitchell/Chas­ing Stars

Martu el­der Colin Peter­son, Devon Cuimara and son Djeran Cuimara.

Pic­ture: Re­becca Par­ish

Sen. Sgt Larry Miller sup­ports the new pro­gram.

Colin Peter­son is com­mit­ted to help­ing the pro­gram.

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