Category Archives: Domestic Violence

Out Of The Woods. Sir Arthur Williams. A hidden life of Depression and Abuse – Cherie Howie.

In the high-powered, ­influential world he spent much of his adult life, Sir ­Arthur Williams was charming and generous.

Another Sir – Robert Muldoon – was among those the married entrepreneur brought home to his family of five children. The then Finance Minister watched across the dinner table as Sir Arthur, smiling and laughing, told stories.

Also at the table was Sir Arthur’s middle child, Brent Williams.

The scene, repeated whenever the property developer philanthropist brought colleagues, church leaders, businessmen – and future Prime Ministers – to the family home in Karori was confusing and intriguing for those close to him.

“I would just sit in awe. I would just sit there thinking: ‘Who is this other man?’ He was so different, he was animated, he was fun,” ­Williams tells the Herald on Sunday.

When his father, who died at 73 in 2001, came home without guests, things were very different.

“We were physically prepared, we were verbally prepared, before he arrived. We sort of ran around like headless chickens, trying to make sure everything was perfect.”

A light left on was enough to spark his father’s rage. He would scream and shout about the waste of electricity. If all the lights were off, he’d find something else. Williams learned to hide in corners and hide under the bed from a young age.

Sir Arthur went into the ­construction business after emigrating from the United Kingdom in the late 1940s. He was later responsible for building dozens of commercial buildings in Wellington, used Valium to get through the day and tranquilisers to get through the night, Williams says.

He took all the stress in his life out on his family. “From as early as I can remember it wasn’t a case of ‘Yay, Dad’s home.’ You’d go into a state of anxiety. What was going to happen?

“There was every form of abuse, in different ways, in different forms, in different levels, but every form of violence was carried out.”

It took decades for Williams to understand the awful toll his ­childhood took.

Despite a successful career and becoming the proud dad of four children, he broke down in his late 40s.

Now he has written an ­innovative graphic novel-style memoir to help others chart their way back from depression. He hopes it will help others struggling to find their way back to health, and also lay his own ghosts to rest.

Arthur imposed his will on everything his family did – from the partners they chose, to the subjects they took at school. He even took ownership of their dreams.

“My father wanted me to be a lawyer. He told me, since the age of 5: ‘Brent’s going to be a lawyer.’ And I believed that.”

Williams went to law school, but another man with a large presence and a powerful voice lit the spark that would become his life’s work – helping the vulnerable.

“This wonderful big man came and gave a guest lecture one day and told me what he was doing with his practice in Mangere and it ­totally inspired me.

“That man was David Lange.”

The community law movement was gaining traction overseas and Williams realised he wanted to work not in a traditional legal way, but by offering people legal ­resources.

His father didn’t approve but, with law student friends, ­Williams set up a community law centre in Wellington in 1981.

They helped street kids, tenants’ groups and victims of domestic abuse and child abuse.

Later, he took his skills to the Legal ­Resources Trust and the Family Court.

But although he walked among the vulnerable, he did not count himself among their ranks.

“My work was totally my life ­experience. There was a lot of ­anger there that I was able to vent in a very constructive way by being an advocate for people who were ­vulnerable.

“But in a way it totally hid the fact that I was actually vulnerable and I’d experienced this. It was really weird to think that I was making videos that were very much based on my personal story, but I was ­totally unaware of it.”

His work revealed to him the truth he had been fighting to hide.

Williams was stressed and ­exhausted and being hard on the photographers trying to capture an image he was obsessed with – a child hiding under a bed as his ­parents screamed and shouted at each other.

“I had no awareness that it was me. Then I was getting the publication reviewed and … the woman, she just stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Now, Brent, what has brought you to this?’

“I just started crying, and that was the start of my journey.”

The first decade of the 21st ­century was coming to a close and ­Williams was about to crash. He’d been fighting it for a while – refusing to accept he was depressed. Eventually, he had to give up work.

His journey back to health would be long.

Almost a decade on, ­Williams holds firm to routines that keep him well.

But in those dark ­early days, putting his thoughts in writing was a first step, which ­eventually turned into his book.

“As time went on and I got a bit stronger, when I was partly ­acknowledging that I had this illness called depression and ­anxiety, I started doing some ­research and I started writing more, my writing had shifted from being more personal to trying to ­understand the illness.

Because of Williams’ job producing ­material to help people, it felt ­natural to get into writing a book.

“I didn’t start off writing a book. I was literally just writing to help ­myself.”

The result – Out of the Woods, out on September 19 – is as honest as it is simply told.

Williams tells his story ­entirely through 700 watercolour ­illustrations by Turkish ­artist ­Korkut Oztekin – from his ­realisation something was wrong to finding his way back to health, and the setbacks along the way.

Williams says he always knew his book had to be in pictures.

“When I was depressed I couldn’t take on board information or advice from people. I certainly couldn’t read good advice – and I think there’s a lot of good advice out there.”

Each illustration chronicles his battle to accept his illness and how he became well – neither one a neatly linear experience.

Some events are condensed – a panic ­attack over a baked beans purchase came from several events, one of which did involve buying beans.

“It’s faithful to the feelings I had. The brain is struggling so much that a simple decision becomes overwhelming and then something else can spark it – a noise, a bump, an ­unfriendly interaction.”

Other experiences are more ­palpably dark.

In one scene ­Williams, in his mid-teens, is the victim of sexual abuse – which he didn’t report to police, and didn’t plan to.

“I felt the guilt of it for so many years and here I am writing about it and still protecting him to some extent … I feel comfortable with how I’ve dealt with it.

“I don’t want to stir his reaction and I don’t really want to hurt ­anybody that doesn’t need to be hurt. It’s what happened and I’ve forgiven him.”

The book helped him forgive both the man, and his own father, Williams says.

Intially, Sir Arthur did not feature in the book. A question from his therapist changed Williams’ mind.

“She just quietly posed the question: ‘Why isn’t he in there and why won’t you talk about that event that had such a big impact on your life?’

“I went home and picked up my pen and it all came out. Draft two was a very different story.”

It was the right decision, he says.

“Without my father it wouldn’t have been a personal book. It would’ve been a story of a person pretending to be well and trying to tell other people what they should do. A pretty, clean, self-help book.

“From then on I knew it had to be very faithful to my journey, my ­inner emotional journey, my ­history, my experiences and it had to really be honest about what got me well.”

The unusual style is winning plaudits from mental health ­experts at home as well as at Stanford University in the US and ­Oxford University in the UK.

Dr Ben Beaglehole, from ­Otago University’s Department of ­Psychological Medicine, wrote the book could provide an “invaluable lifeline to those experiencing ­depression”.

For Williams, though, the ­backing of those closest to him is the most powerful validation.

“My mum, she said: ‘Write what you need to say – it needs to be said.’

“My younger sister just said, ‘Let the crows fly.’ When my mum read it, it was very emotional. She just gave me a big hug and said, ‘I love you. Thank you for writing.”

Williams still dreams about his dad, and it’s frightening, he says.

But he also thinks his dad would be proud of him for doing something that gave him back his life.

It was something Sir Arthur ­never achieved. Late in life, he struggled to get off prescription drugs and, in a single, unexpected conversation with his son, he expressed regret.

“He said, ‘I’ve filled my life with a whole lot of useless things.’ Even though he’d achieved so much building, he realised his life was not what he really wanted. In a way, I can say he would be proud of me doing something that got me well.”

Like all of us, Williams is still a work in progress.

He is well, but he has to work at it. Routine is his best friend.

“I go to the pool most mornings. I eat well, I sleep well. I’m careful about who I’m around and I go to therapy and if I do all that I’m really well and I can really see so much joy in life.”

His dad might still come to him in the night, but the rest of his life feels like when you wake from a bad dream, pull back the curtains and let sunlight flood the room.

“It’s really wonderful. Sometimes I’m sort of bursting in what I see in life – the colours, the people, smiles, little children.

“It’s just fantastic and it’s so different to a life that I was hiding from.”

NZ Herald

Out Of The Woods website. 

get it from Amazon.com

***

WHERE TO GET HELP

The following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354

NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737

SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666

YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

* If you need immediate help contact the police on 111.

FAMILY VIOLENCE – WHERE TO GET HELP

If you’re in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.

• Run outside and head for where there are other people.

• Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.

• Take the children with you.

• Don’t stop to get anything else.

• If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 – 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz

• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day – 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz

• It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz

• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584 • Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence

• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz

• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men’s violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz

 

Abuse breeds child abusers – Jarrod Gilbert. 

Often when I’m doing research I dance a silly jig when I gleefully unearth a gem of information hitherto unknown or long forgotten. In studying the violent deaths of kids that doesn’t happen.

There was no dance of joy when I discovered New Zealanders are more likely to be homicide victims in their first tender years than at any other time in their lives. But nothing numbs you like the photographs of dead children.

Little bodies lying there limp with little hands and little fingers, covered in scratches and an array of bruises some dark black and some fading, looking as vulnerable dead as they were when they were alive.

James Whakaruru’s misery ended when he was killed in 1999. He had endured four years of life and that was all he could take. He was hit with a small hammer, a jug cord and a vacuum cleaner hose. During one beating his mind was so confused he stared blankly ahead. His tormentor responded by poking him in the eyes. It was a stomping that eventually switched out his little light. It was a case that even the Mongrel Mob condemned, calling the cruelty “amongst the lowest of any act”.

An inquiry by the Commissioner for Children found a number of failings by state agencies, which were all too aware of the boy’s troubled existence. The Commissioner said James became a hero because changes made to Government agencies would save lives in the future. Yet such horrors have continued. My colleague Greg Newbold has found that on average nine children (under 15) have been killed as a result of maltreatment since 1992 and the rate has not abated in recent years. In 2015, there were 14 such deaths, one of which was three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri, or baby Moko as we knew him when he gained posthumous celebrity.

Moko’s life was the same as James’s, and he too died in agony; he endured weeks of being beaten, kicked, and smeared with faeces. That was the short life he knew. Most of us will struggle to comprehend these acts but we are desperate to stop them. Desperate to ensure state agencies are capable of intervening to protect those who can not protect themselves and, through no fault of their own, are subjected to cruelty by those who are meant to protect them.

The reasons for intervening don’t stop with the imperative to save young lives. For every child killed there are dozens who live wretched existences and from this cohort of unfortunates will come the next generation of abusers.  Solving the problems of today, then, is not just a moral imperative but is also about producing a positive ripple effect.

And this is why, In the cases of James Whakaruru and baby Moko the best and most efficient time for intervention was not in the period leading up to their abuse, but rather many years before they were born. The men involved in each of those killing came from the same family. And it seems their lives were transient and tragic: one spent time in the now infamous Epuni Boys home, which is ground zero for calls for an inquiry into state care abuse (and incidentally the birth place of the Mongrel Mob).

Once young victims themselves, those boys crawled into adulthood and became violent men capable of imparting cruelty onto kids in their care.

This cycle of abuse is well known, yet state spending on the problem is poorly aligned to it, and our targeting of the problem is reactionary and punitive rather than proactive and preventative.

Of the $1.4 billion we spend on family and sexual violence annually, less than 10 per cent is spent on interventions, of which just 1.5 per cent is spent on primary prevention. The morality of that is questionable, the economics even more so.

Not only must things be approached differently but there needs to be greater urgency in our thinking. It’s perhaps trite to say, but if nine New Zealanders were killed every year in acts of terrorism politicians would never stop talking about it and it would be priority number one.

In an election year, that’s exactly where this issue should be. If the kids in violent homes had a voice, that’s what they’d be saying.

But if the details of such deaths don’t move our political leaders to urgent action, I rather fear nothing will. Maybe they should be made to look at the photographs.

• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions.

Family violence: How you can save a life. 

New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the developed world and over the Christmas and New Year period the number of incidents spikes dramatically. Less than 20 per cent of incidents are reported to the police – so what we know of what we know of family violence in our community over the festive season is barely the tip of the iceberg. Today we have a simple message – every Kiwi has a right to a safe, fear free and happy holiday. 

NZ Herald 

How 77 kids have died in NZ state care in 15 years. An average of five a year.

38 children died of natural causes while in state care, 19 died in accidents, 14 committed suicide and six were victims of child abuse, homicide or manslaughter.

The deaths are just the tip of a larger iceberg of children abused while in state care. The data disclosed 550 cases of substantiated abuse of children while in CYF care in the five years to June last year, an average of 110 cases a year.

The abuse was committed by CYF-appointed foster parents in about a third of the cases (187).

Other perpetrators were biological parents and other family members while their children were home on contact visits (164), staff of contracted support services (44), CYF staff (6) and “others” (149), who included the children’s friends and relatives and other children in their foster homes.

NZ Herald 

The reason I became a police officer — the police saved my mother’s life. 

“I know personally that it’s not just as simple as walking out the door,” says a policewoman with personal experience growing up in a violent home.

Coming from a violent home myself I have seen the devastating effects it had, and is still having on my family. I get that it can be a challenge to leave because my mum tried numerous times before she finally got away from my dad.

I know personally that it’s not just as simple as walking out the door it’s far more complicated and I understand that these challenges can stop people from asking for help.”

Sergeant Tania King. 

NZ Herald