New hotline, crisis beds helping men recognise red flags before they give in to violence
Lauren Novak | Social Policy Editor | The Advertiser
December 23, 2020
Tom* seems like an average guy – he works full-time as an engineer, he’s been married for 10 years and has two children.
But recently he’s been fighting more with his wife, “snapping” and “losing it” and even getting physical.
As families prepare for the extra stresses that can come at Christmas time, it’s a situation that could easily escalate.
But Tom is one of more than 170 men who have recognised something’s not right and reached out through a new helpline.
The Don’t Become That Man service opened in June for men who are worried about their thoughts or behaviour towards women and want help before they become violent.
Tom*, a full-time engineer, contacted the helpline after hearing an ad on the radio. He confided that recently he felt he had “just lost it” and “snapped” with his wife of 10 years. The couple’s two children also hear these incidents. Tom said arguments were becoming physical, he claimed as a way to “calm the situation”, but he acknowledged that wasn’t working. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant Tom is now working from home and experiencing additional frustrations.
Run by Community Transitions and funded by the State Government, the helpline is attracting calls from all types of men, although the typical caller is aged 40 to 50, employed, usually with kids and living in suburban Adelaide. Very few have any criminal history.
Community Transitions CEO Leigh Garrett said men were often prompted to seek help after highly public crimes of family violence, such as when Brisbane man Rowan Baxter murdered his wife and children by setting their car on fire earlier this year.
“When these events happen that does cause men to ring up … and say Holy Moley I don’t want to be him,” Mr Garrett said.
“It’s trying to capture that moment of self-doubt or concern and have a pathway ready for help.”
Peter... Peter* saw a poster for the helpline at his local fish and chip shop. A worker in rural South Australia, he had not previously been aware of, or used, any support services for men. Peter hasn’t been in a relationship for about a decade. He would like to be, but is worried about some of the thoughts and beliefs he has about women and their roles. He confided that he has also had daydreams about harming someone he loves. Peter has since begun one-on-one counselling to try address these thoughts before entering into any relationships.
Mr Garrett said his staff were “all very worried about Christmas” as SA Police data shows offences related to domestic violence spike by about 20 per cent at this time of year.
“Extended time off work, increased alcohol consumption and more time focused on parenting … can all contribute to men lurching into harmful behaviour,” he said.
“Some men, or their potential victims, will already be dreading the coming festive fortnight. My advice to them is act now – call our helpline.”
Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said there were services available for “men who are worried about their current controlling behaviour and we’re really urging them to reach out for help to break the cycle before it’s too late”.
John* has a history of domestic violence and his family is subject to a child protection order, although he still has access to his children. Previously employed, John has been out of work since April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently receiving Jobseeker payments. He was referred to the men’s crisis accommodation by his Family Wellbeing Worker. His stay there enabled he and his partner to separate and reflect on their future. John engaged in counselling to address the trouble he has communicating during arguments, and to take accountability for his use of violence and control. Meanwhile his children were able to remain at home and continue attending school.
Alongside the helpline, the government is funding nine crisis beds for abusive men who need to be separated from their family to break the cycle of violence.
The independent units opened in September and so far seven men have stayed for a month each.
Another six were offered places but did not go ahead. Four men are spending the festive period there, including three who have children.
These men are usually referred by police or child protection and receive counselling and help with housing or court proceedings.
*Names changed for safety reasons