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Domestic violence: Men on the frontline

Men are most likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence – but they're also an integral part of the solution. Clair Weaver meets four inspiring men who have confronted the ugly reality of violence against women in their everyday lives.

The mes tackling Australia's domestic violence problem

THE EX-ABUSIVE HUSBAND

Rod Beckham, 54, warehouse manager, Melbourne

 Rod Beckham
Rod Beckham

Growing up in country Victoria, Rod Beckham learned that being an Aussie bloke meant you had to be macho, in control and never show your emotions.

As an insecure boy who didn’t get much love at home from his remote family, he would bully other kids in the playground.

But on the inside, he always felt alone and empty. “I felt worthless,” he says. “I never had deep friendships – I kept my distance from people.”

As Rod got older, he hid behind a gruff exterior and struggled with relationships. When he met his now wife Julieanne, however, he knew she was the one.

But marrying his soulmate didn’t resolve his issues. Pent-up anger and frustration spilled into domestic violence. He would spiral into terrifying rages, using his size to intimidate and threaten his wife, punching walls and shouting.

One day, he became so out of control that a neighbour believed he was murdering Julieanne. The neighbour came around later to apologise to her for not trying to intervene.

"After about four years, we were at a point where Julieanne couldn’t face it anymore – she had had enough," says Rod. On Julianne’s behest, he called a men’s helpline and enrolled in group counselling.

"I was terrified," he says. "But I decided to be open and honest. I learned to talk about my feelings – and the talking felt good."

Among his most powerful lessons were putting himself in Julieanne’s shoes and deciding to break the cycle. "Realising I wasn’t the only person in the world feeling the way I was and with my problems was a relief," he says. "Knowing other people had come through it gave me hope."

While the father of two adult children is living proof that perpetrators of domestic violence can be rehabilitated, he doesn’t advocate women staying with abusive partners. He does encourage men to get help.

Against the odds, Rod and Julieanne managed to salvage their now 22-year marriage, although it took time for her trust to return. "Our relationship is loving, we’re comfortable around each other and we talk so much more," says Rod. "I love Julianne more than ever – she’s an incredible woman."

*Men who need to seek help for anger and abusive behaviour can contact MensLine Australia on1300 78 99 78, or visit dedicated referral services mrs.org.au (NSW and Victoria), dvconnect.org (Queensland) or Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline (08) 9223 1199(WA)

THE DOCTOR

Dr Anthony Lynham, 53, reconstructive maxillofacial surgeon, Brisbane

 Dr Anthony Lynham
Dr Anthony Lynham

Each week, Dr Anthony Lynham is confronted with the shattered face of a woman who has been attacked by her partner.

He sits quietly as she tells him, under the watchful eye of her overly-attentive partner, the unlikely story of how she "fell over" and smashed her skull.

Dr Lynham can recognise the difference between injuries caused by a deliberate punch or hit and that of an accidental fall.

"We'll say, 'ok, we will schedule your operation for three days' time' but then the overly supportive husband will jump in and say, 'oh no, this is my wife - you need to do it today'."

Dr Lynham is obliged to supress his disgust, knowing as he does the likely reason for her bruised, bloodied and swollen face.

"I do find it difficult when a husband comes in," he says. "[Abusing your wife] is un-Australian, unmanly and unnecessary."

That’s not to say he and his medical colleagues don’t try to intervene.

"We’ll take her through into a private room and say, 'our main concern is for your ongoing safety. Please, if you need support, we have some immediately available – a psychologist, social worker, a police officer.

"But the majority will stick to their story. I feel for them because their injuries are so bad."

Dr Lynham remembers one woman who lost an eye and had a portion of her scalp missing after being attacked with a baseball bat. "She was such a beautiful woman, a thoroughly nice human being. It was the most horrendous thing."

Heartbreakingly, Dr Lynham has female patients who come in with repeat injuries, requiring him to "put more screws in" to their damaged bones.

He doesn’t believe the onus for taking action should lie solely with victims. "We need to shame men. It takes a real bloke to stand up and control his anger."

From his many years’ experience, Dr Lynham knows domestic violence usually involves alcohol and is far bigger than what he sees in his surgery.

"People don’t seek help when it’s just facial bruising," he says. "And I don’t see them when they die."

THE COP

Superintendent Commander Daniel Sullivan, 43, Brisbane Waters local area command, NSW

 Superintendent Commander Daniel Sullivan
Superintendent Commander Daniel Sullivan

Back in the 1980s, domestic violence was treated as a private matter between a husband and wife that should be kept behind closed doors.

Talking about it was "airing your dirty laundry" and to the cops pulling into the driveway of a suburban home in response to a disturbance, it was often "just another domestic".

But times have changed. Indeed, Superintendent Commander Daniel Sullivan has seen a huge shift in the way both police and the public respond to domestic violence in his 25 years in the force.

"Back then, we were well-intended and we did a good job but we weren’t well-equipped [to deal with domestic violence] like we are now," he says.

Today police undergo specialised training on how to tackle domestic violence perpetrators, help victims and manage repeat offences. They are plugged into to various support services and play a key role in education and prevention.

"As a police officer, it’s one of the most dangerous jobs you can attend," says Daniel. "You have high emotion coming from a family situation and it often leads to violence against our own officers."

One of their challenges is giving women the confidence to pursue charges against their attackers, an often daunting prospect clouded by fear, loyalty, shame and family dynamics.

As well as working with victims, Daniel hands out "red cards" to perpetrators and teaches kids and teens about domestic violence prevention in schools. With two daughters of his own, he’s conscious of being a positive male role model.

While the scale of the problem may seems unsurmountable - one in three Australian women faces physical or sexual violence in her lifetime – Daniel is heartened by an increase in reporting rates, which he attributes to greater public confidence in police.

Not that there’s any room for complacency: staying sensitive to domestic violence is vital, reflected in the title of a police training course “Not just another domestic”.

"Being a police officer is a hard job because you see a portion of society that luckily enough most of us don’t see," says Daniel.

"The challenge is not to harden your heart and keep your mind open."

THE SURVIVOR

Arman Abrahimzadeh, 26, design and construction worker, Adelaide

 Arman Abrahimzadeh
Arman Abrahimzadeh

Growing up, domestic violence was as normal as having a meal for young Arman Abrahimzadeh and his sisters.

The Adelaide siblings lived in fear of their domineering father Zialloh, who would eventually murder their kind and caring mother Zahra in front of 300 people on a dance floor at Adelaide Convention Centre.

"It’s hard to see two people you look up to and respect get stuck into each other - and for one to physically assault the other,” says Arman, “Usually my father would go to another room or leave the house afterwards, leaving my mother sitting crying and recovering from a beating."

Arman and his sisters also bore the wrath of their father, from hitting, verbal abuse and beltings to chilling death threats. "He used to scare the hell out of me," says Arman.

As head of the household and a respected pillar of the Persian community, charismatic Zialloh held a tight rein of control over his family. "We had normal family times too,"points out Arman. "We used to have picnics, family gatherings and go to cultural events."

But abuse was always there and by 2009, Zahra mustered the courage to leave the marriage with her children. They took out a restraining order after Arman was forced to wrestle his father away from a kitchen knife amid threats to kill them all.

A year later, Zialloh walked into a Persian function at Adelaide Convention Centre with a knife and stabbed his estranged wife to death. She was 44.

The murder bought domestic violence into stark perspective for Arman, a gentle young man who has vowed to never follow his father’s footsteps into a cycle of abuse.

"If my mother hadn’t passed away, I might have gone a different way," he says. "I may have picked up some different traits."

Now a White Ribbon ambassador, he works with various organisations in helping victims and raising awareness of domestic violence. His father is serving a minimum 26-year jail sentence.

"I’m glad that I have chosen my own way in life," Arman says.

November 25 is White Ribbon Day. Join the campaign and stand up to violence.

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