‘Cambridge Champions’ launch campaign against family violence

Cambridge stood unified against family violence last week as hundreds of people marked the launch of the new Cambridge Champions campaign.

The ‘Cambridge Champions – It’s OK to ask for Help’ campaign was organised by a working group comprising Violence Free Waipa, Mana Hapori, police, Women’s Refuge, Elim Church and Cambridge Netball, and its June 28 launch featured several speakers.

It also put to bed any lingering misconceptions that family violence doesn’t happen in a ‘nice town’ like Cambridge, with Violence Free Waipa co-ordinator Hannah Glover revealing that there had been 408 family violence investigations in Cambridge in the past 18 months, with 40 of those being assaults of varying nature.

She told those attending the event at Cambridge High School that nationally, half of all homicides result from family violence, and that each year 13 women, 10 men and nine children are killed by a member of their family.

“One in three women have been physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. Police attend an incident every five-and-a-half minutes, and only 24 percent of family violence is reported.

“It absolutely does happen in our town. It’s not only physical,” Hannah said. “It comes in many different forms – trying to control a partner, mind games, put-downs, neglect, attempts to isolate a partner, and sexual violence.”

It is against that backdrop that other ‘champions’ campaigns have been launched around the country. Each one sees everyday people in different communities go through training, then wear a ‘We Stand Up’ t-shirt when out and about identifying them as someone able give help or advice to anyone struggling with family violence. They are not trained as counsellors – rather as a conduit to agencies where appropriate help can be accessed.

One of the first campaigns was launched a year ago in Te Puke, fronted by Sue and Roger Wilks. Sue, who works as a pastor for a local church, said that one year in, the town was already noticing a difference.

The couple said that while there had been an initial spike in the number of incidences reported, those numbers had subsequently dropped to below levels recorded a few years ago.  The same pattern was seen elsewhere, attributed largely to a growing confidence about community support and an associated willingness to seek help earlier.

The Te Puke champions are visible throughout the community. They carry cards bearing contact details on them, don their t-shirts for a day or so a week at work, go to all local events and games, and are supported in various ways by local businesses.

Sue also said the average person experiencing some form of abuse was likely to take seven offers of help before accepting it. Being just one of those seven offers of help has immense value, she said.

Another speaker was Louise Nicholas ONZM, the New Zealand campaigner for the rights of women who have been victims of sexual violence.

Herself a survivor of child and adult rape, Louise said she had gone through the criminal justice system as a witness seven times. She now works as a national advocate and advisor to those seeking justice for sexual abuse.

“Sexual violence happens to one in three women, and one in six men before they are aged 16,” she said. “It can take up to 20 years for them to disclose that abuse, and one offender can have up to 50 victims in his or her lifetime of offending.”

She said that more people were willing to come forward and ask for help today than was the case in the past. “It is important to allow the voices of abuse survivors to be heard across the board.”

Louise hailed the ‘champions’ campaign, saying one of its primary benefits was that it targeted specific communities.

“Every community is unique, every survivor is unique.”

Hannah acknowledged the more than 40 Cambridge champions’ willingness to stand up publicly against violence. The next step will be for their faces and a statement from each to be displayed on posters around town, with five of them set to go onto billboards.

By Viv Posselt

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