For domestic abusers, silence is golden

White Ribbon Ambassador David White with Cambridge Community House manager Harriet Dixon.

The biggest domestic violence killer is silence, says White Ribbon Ambassador and New Zealander of the Year nominee, David White.

He was speaking at a Cambridge Community House meeting at Onyx Restaurant to mark White Ribbon Day   – a United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  It is part of a global White Ribbon Campaign, launched in Canada in 1991 and adopted in New Zealand in 2004.

White joined the movement against domestic violence after his daughter Helen Meads was killed by her multimillionaire horse breeder husband Greg Meads in 2009, a week after she told him she was leaving the relationship.

When introducing White, Cambridge Community House (CCH) manager Harriet Dixon said an average of one in three New Zealand women suffer from domestic violence, while 13 women, 10 men and nine children are killed through domestic violence every year. It crossed all racial and socio-economic sectors and was as prevalent in Cambridge as is anywhere else, she said. CCH receives reports of family violence incidences every day.

White said the silence around the issue – often maintained because of a sense of shame or fear – was often greater in areas of higher socio-economic standing because of a perceived need to maintain status.

David White speaking in Cambridge on White Ribbon Day.

“If we are going to change anything, or make any progress at all, we have to change the communities in which it happens,” he said. “Everyone can make a difference. Find out about the people around you, don’t be afraid to ask how they are doing.”

In an effort to spread his message, he toured New Zealand, taking in 71 electorates in 14 weeks and covering 11,500km.  By the end of it, he had enlisted the support of 44 MPs in his anti-violence campaign.

“MPs are very important,” he stressed. “They are the ones who can easily access the breadth of resources available to help, and they are the people who can also help in their own communities.”

White cited the success of what has become known as the Ruapehu Whānau Transformation Plan, launched in 2013 and containing solutions for positive transformation for families in Raetihi, Ohakune and Waiouru.

It started when he was called in to help stem the tide of growing domestic violence in the area, beginning with just a handful of people and now spanning communities across the three centres.  It launched with a scoping report containing 32 ideas for change and provided an initial five-year time scale and targets for transformation across education, housing, health and social issues.  All those targets were met. School NCEA two pass levels jumped from 50 percent to 92.9 percent, and despite not being the direct focus of any of the targets, family violence halved in those five years.

“We just removed the triggers to family violence,” he said. “It was simple stuff, but stuff the communities got involved with themselves. Every community can do this.”

A second plan has since been launched, and communities across the three towns are thriving. “I would like to see that spread across the country,” David said.

He went on from his address to visit Cambridge High School where he promoted his anti-violence message and urged people to sign the White Ribbon Pledge.

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