Violence against women is a national crisis. Here’s how these Aboriginal men are working to stop it

Mark Richards, Alan Thorpe and Devon Cuimara run programs in their communities to stop domestic, family and sexual violence. Source / Facebook / NITV

This article was first published by NITV.

Last month, thousands of people marched across the nation calling for an end to violence against women.

The prime minister and members of his cabinet marched on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country in Canberra.

“We’re here today to demand that governments of all levels must do better, including my own, including every state and territory government,” Albanese told the rally.

“It’s up to men to change men’s behaviour as well.”

Advocates have long rejected the idea violence against women is a women’s issue, and this movement has pushed men into the spotlight.

Around the nation, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are rising to the challenge, working to eliminate domestic, family and sexual violence.

Giving people the tools to respond to violence

Wiradjuri man Mark Richard works across New South Wales, training frontline workers on how to respond to and support victims of violence.

“In a lot of circumstances, people lack the confidence and have a real fear about saying the wrong thing or making a situation worse,” he explained to NITV.

“That is one of the beautiful things about upskilling people and giving them tools. They have the confidence to address these issues and provide support for people, or their family and community.”

For Mark, the key to eliminating violence is in prevention, particularly working with young men and role-modelling healthy masculinity, a “generational change”.

Wiradjuri man and family and domestic frontline services trainer Mark Richards. Credit / Facebook / NITV

“I think there’s a lot of confusion for the young fellas I come into contact with about what it is to be a good man, especially if they maybe haven’t had solid uncles, solid fathers or solid men around them,” he said.

“A lot of young men are also being influenced by society’s expectations of what masculinity is, believing they have to fit into a certain box.

“I truly believe that one interaction or one adult can change the trajectory of a young person’s life.”

Mark champions self-determination in his work, and firmly believes in the notion of ‘nothing about us without us’ in anti-violence work.

“Programmes that are led and made by community see better results.

“Mainstream services can’t address our cultural complexities so there needs to be focus on giving power back to communities, and real investment in our self-determination.”

‘We need to work with men’

Victorian-based service Dardi Munwurro created the world’s first Aboriginal men’s family violence programme.

Gunai man and Dardi Munwurro CEO, Alan Thorpe, says the programme is just one part of the holistic healing the organisation aims to promote.

“We have our residential rehabilitation programme. It’s a 12-bed programme. The retention is unbelievable,” he explained.

“We address healing as well, so get amazing outcomes. We’re able to not only support men but also support their families.

“We help restore men to full health and provide them pathways to other things.”

Alan believes the system as it stands is “punitive” and “isn’t what is needed” to end violence.

“If we want to fix the problem we can’t just keep funding like we have. This isn’t fixing men, this whole thing is a punitive model, it’s western thinking,” he said.

“It’s an easy option, putting men in prison, incarcerating them and putting monitors on them. That isn’t going to stop violence because what has changed? We need to work with men, like Dardi is.”

Uncle Alan Thorpe (left) with his Dad, Uncle Robbie Thorpe, at the Bairnsdale branch of Dardi Munwurro. Credit / Dardi Munwurro Facebook / NITV

Dardi also does a range of community work including prevention work with young men.

“Intergenerational trauma can be a factor in violence, but having that intervention and support early and having a conversation around respectful relationships and role models is important for our young men,” he said.

“We engage with them, help them build their identities, make sure they get that sense of nurturing, belonging and love - all the things that will support them to become strong, respectful men.”

Growing up in Fitzroy, Alan recalls his elders speaking about violence, and the importance of working with men. This drives him to do this work, and to continue despite limited funding.

“We are seeing changes in our men, and in our community. These programmes are working but the government isn’t coming to us to learn what we’re doing or help us expand.

“We’re doing this off our own back,” he said.

Aboriginal dancers at Dardi Munwurro marking the release of the Deloitte's cost analysis study. Credit / Dardi Munwurro Facebook / NITV

Indigenous-led programmes could be the answer

Underfunding is a severe issue for many Aboriginal community-controlled organisations including those responding to and eliminating domestic, sexual and family violence.

It’s an issue for Devon Cuimara who runs the Aboriginal Male Healing Centre (AMHC) in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

The Whadjuk Yued Noongar man has lived experiences of violence, having used it against others himself before his rehabilitation.

That journey inspired him to help other men stop using violence.

“The AMHC believes that violence is like a virus,” he explains.

“Violence has all the characteristics of a virus, it spreads from one person to another, has far-reaching effects on individuals and communities and like a virus, can affect people’s thoughts and behaviours.

“In our programmes, we treat the virus. We isolate it, like you would any virus, we provide the vaccine.”

Devon Cuimara used violence. Now, he runs a behavioural change program to stop men using violence against women. Credit / Aboriginal Male Healing Centre Facebook

For years, Devon has been trying to advocate for the role of men’s programmes in anti-violence responses but has been repeatedly ignored.

He feels it’s deliberate exclusion.

“We’re deliberately ostracised. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, that perpetuates those nasty stereotypes, and portrays us as marginalised offenders or that we don’t have any ideas, regards, empathy or solutions,” he said.

“It reinforces contemporary colonialism. It’s about power and control ... All that funding was announced and what did our mob get?”

Like Mark, Alan and other dedicated anti-violence workers, Devon believes investing in self-determined, Indigenous-led programmes is the answer to ending domestic, family and sexual violence.

“When it comes to violence against women and particularly violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, nothing is working. They’re throwing money at the same things,” he said.

“These homicides are preventable. But they aren’t listening. Investing in us would save lives.”

1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Lifeline 13 11 14

By Rachael Knowles of NITV.