Perpetrators of family harm get a turning point at Gandhi Nivas

Eight years on, the initiative has made more homes happy with safer men
Long Read

Our record of family violence is shameful and yet very few talk about it (Photo Credit: Newshub)

Malini Yugendran
Auckland, December 17, 2022

Family violence is at a crisis point and a social menace in New Zealand.

According to the Ministry of Justice, about one out of every three women is physically, verbally or sexually assaulted by a partner at some point in her life and one out of every five children in New Zealand is abused.

There were 175,573 family harm investigations recorded by the New Zealand Police in the year to June 2022. There were 68,500 reports of concern relating to 50,800 children and young people made to Oranga Tamariki (Ministry of Children) in the 12 months to 31 March 2022.

In 2018, the New Zealand Police attended more than 115,000 domestic violence cases and issued over 50,000 Police Safety Orders (PSO).

These statistics demonstrate the magnitude of the problem and the crucial need for effective interventions to address family violence in New Zealand.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said family harm is of concern.

“Family harm is often accompanied by wider harm and dysfunction that can include poverty, drug use, and intergenerational harm. When we attend a call for service, we look holistically at what is going on within the home and work to connect the family with the appropriate services to address the wider issues underlying the harm,” he said in his Annual Report 2021-2022.

Family Violence occurs everywhere, more so in New Zealand (European Council Image)

Family Harm and Violence

Family Harm and violence refer to any kind of abuse or violence that occurs within a family or domestic setting. Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial. It can impact people of diverse ages, genders, and cultural origins.

Family Harm and violence can have long-term adverse implications for the individuals involved.

The New Zealand government as well as other organisations and agencies are addressing this serious issue and assisting individuals and families who have suffered family harm and violence.

However, there is one organisation that has been working to offer free counselling to offenders and help them return to their homes as reformed people and promote safer families.

Gandhi Nivas, which recently completed eight years of operations, works closely with the New Zealand Police and several other organisations to promote safer homes and safer communities.

Jacinda Ardern (now Prime Minister) with (from left) Sucharita Varma, Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Ranjna Patel during her visit to Gandhi Nivas in Otahuhu in 2016. (INL File Photo)

Gandhi Nivas: Unique in approach and Service

Established on December 1, 2014, Gandhi Nivas is a crisis intervention service provided to individuals and families affected by family Harm and Violence.

It takes on a different approach to assist people and families in healing and rebuilding their lives.

Gandhi Nivas Chairman Ranjna Patel said that many intervention programmes focus on victims, who are often women and children but not on perpetrators or offenders.

“But we do not want a band-aid solution. We want to address the fundamentals and get to the root of the problem,” she said.

According to Dr David Codyre, Clinical Lead, Mental Health at Tāmaki Health (and a Member of the Advisory Board of Gandhi Nivas), early life adversity is the biggest risk factor for mental health issues, addiction disorders, education failure, long-term unemployment, and imprisonment. It can also convert one into a violent aggressor.

The intervention strategy of Gandhi Nivas focuses on the behaviour modification of the aggressor, particularly males and wraparound support for the families involved.

A key aspect of family violence intervention is engaging offenders in their own rehabilitation. Gandhi Nivas helps men take a positive role in stopping violence against women. These are men served with a Police Safety Order (PSO) which keeps them away from their homes, and prevents another violent incident perpetrated by them.

Counties Manukau Police Sergeant Gurpreet Arora (who is currently Family Harm Partnership Liaison Officer at Whangaia Nga Pa Harakeke-The Police Family Harm Team) said that a PSO can be in currency for up to ten days.

“This gives both the protected person and the person bound by the PSO, time to cool down and seek aid. The Police can charge a person who fails to comply with the provisions of the PSO and taken to a Court of Law,” he said.

Gandhi Nivas offers a range of services, including emergency shelter, crisis counselling by qualified and registered counsellors, legal advocacy, and support groups. It operates from three locations in Auckland- Otahuhu, Te Atatu and Papakura.

Gandhi Nivas has been at the forefront of reducing family harm

An Advisory Board, comprising the founders, oversees the working of Gandhi Nivas and provides advice and support through meetings and strategy development programmes. The Board includes Ranjna Patel (Chairman) Dr David Codyre (Consultant Psychiatrist, Clinical Lead Mental Health, Tāmaki Health; Auckland Wellbeing Collaborative Clinical Director), Rakesh Naidoo (Superintendent of Police and National Partnership Manager Ethnic), Senior Sergeant Sharon Price (Family Harm, Counties Manukau Police), Mark Vella (Chief Executive, Total Health Care) and Venkat Raman (Editor and General Manager, Indian Newslink).

They are supported with advice by Sergeant Gurpreet Arora and Sahaayta Counselling and Social Support Director Sucharita Varma.

From Violence to Volunteering: A true story

John (not his real name), the eldest of five siblings, perpetrated heinous family violence against his wife when she was six months pregnant.

“I punched her hard in the face, like a boxer, and there was a lot of blood,” he said.

His wife called the Police and he was served with a PSO.

John said that he opted to stay at the Otahuhu home of Gandhi Nivas.

“I was angry and began to talk. There is peer support here,” he said.

He stayed at the home for four days. The counselling services helped him to talk freely.

He realised that as a child, he had been subjected to family harm and violence, which had normalised his notions about violent perpetuation.

“The Counsellor helped me understand myself and why I reacted the way I did. I had to own my behaviour and then he gave me the tools to change it. I know now how to deal with conflict. I recognise the signs and I know what to do. I remove myself from the situation. I was on a pathway to prison,  but not anymore. I am accountable for who I am and how I act,” he said.

John and his wife now have their own home and a healthy four-year-old son. He has a full-time job and has completed a degree in psychology and is also a volunteer at Gandhi Nivas.

Another story of reformation

Mr M, who spent a few days at Gandhi Nivas, said that he realised the value of a safe and happy family from Councillors and other guests.

“We talked about our problems. I have learnt to understand and respect the other person’s perspectives, how they came to Gandhi Nivas, and their problems. I have learned a lot from them. It is up to us to make the change. I have learned to control my emotions. Patience and self-control can bring about a sea of change in us,” he said.

Another landmark for Gandhi Nivas on June 30, 2022, in the Executive Hall of Parliament in Wellington. The then Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa holding the Massey University Report on Gandhi Nivas. Others in the picture are (seated from left) the then Police Minister Stuart Nash, Gandhi Nivas Chairman Ranjna Patel, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster (Standing: from left Gandhi Nivas Advisory Board Members Inspector (now Superintendent) Rakesh Naidoo, Venkat Raman, Mark Vella; Deputy Commissioner Wallace Haumaha, Massey University Professor Mandy Morgan and Gandhi Nivas Advisory Board Member Dr David Codyre

Good Value from Gandhi Nivas

ImpactLab, a Wellington-based organisation that helps funders and service providers to make informed decisions, measured the social value of Gandhi Nivas, in its recent report.

The Organisation, chaired by former Prime Minister Sir Bill English and his daughter Maria English as the Chief Executive, assesses the social value and the impact on an individual’s well-being across various domains when they are aided by a programme to make changes in their lives of New Zealanders throughout the country.

It evaluates the impact in terms of both positive benefits and reduced costs to the government. The social value calculation assists in understanding how a programme or intervention works to improve people’s lives for the better. They analyse a programme’s social return on investment by combining social value and cost data.

An ImpactLab Report said that every dollar invested in Gandhi Nivas resulted in $12.80 of demonstrable benefit for New Zealand society.

Gandhi Nivas has facilitated more than 4383 men and their families since its inception on December 1, 2014, including 2271 in Otahuhu, 1151 in Te Atatu, and 961 in Papakura.

Ms Patel said that a majority of events occur after hours but intervention programmes are available only during office hours, causing a mismatch of services.

To address this need, Gandhi Nivas operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she said.

Ranjna Patel, Chairman Gandhi Nivas and Serenity Foundation (INL Photo)















The unnerving apathy

Why are families not reaching out for help?

“Ethnic women are silenced. They may be terrified because of employment opportunities, visa or monetary concerns, which prevent them from calling the Police. Although the Police are summoned to a location of domestic violence every three minutes, they say that only 20% of people impacted reach out to the Police” Ms Patel said.

Sergeant Arora said that cultural practices may impact reporting family abuse and violence.

“Some people may be hesitant to report incidents for fear of being discriminated against or stigmatised. Some individuals may believe that addressing family violence is taboo in their culture, or that reporting the violence would result in their family being ostracised,” he said.

The PSO and After

He said that intervention is not an arrest.

“Once a PSO is issued, the person removed cannot return to the address as it becomes a violation. We remove the individual from their homes to cool down. They can stay with their relatives or friends or go to places such as Gandhi Nivas,” Sergeant Arora said.

“At Gandhi Nivas, our guests are provided free accommodation and a pantry where they may prepare their own meals. Many women contact us to check on their partners. Many are surprised that their partners are cooking their own meals. They love them, but they have had enough of the abuse,” Ms Patel said.

Calling the Police does not mean that there will be a criminal record, Sergeant Arora said.

“Only PSO violations will result in disciplinary action. Though information about them will be in Police records for closer attention if a need arises. This is not a criminal record. I appeal to every person experiencing any kind of abuse anytime to call 111 or call me during office hours on 021-1910461. The New Zealand Police play an important role in responding to occurrences of family abuse and violence. The Police Department has a designated Family Violence Unit that is responsible for investigating occurrences of family harm and violence, offering help to victims, and collaborating with other agencies and groups to address the issue,” he said.

Sergeant Arora said that there is a pronounced need for more interventions and emergency housing and that he is particularly thankful for the partnership that the New Zealand Police has formed with Gandhi Nivas.

“Gandhi Nivas is a remarkable endeavour that has increased people’s faith in the Police,” he said.

Gandhi Nivas Governance Board Members with Advisors (from left) Sargeant Gurpreet Arora and Sucharita Varma (INL File Photo)










Our Appeal to You

If you or someone you know is experiencing family harm or violence in New Zealand, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. You can contact the New Zealand Police on 111 or visit your local Police Station. The Police can provide immediate assistance and support and can help you to stay safe. You can also contact Gandhi Nivas on 0800-426344 for support.

Gandhi Nivas is open to all ethnicities. Please remember that you are not alone and that there are many organisations and individuals in New Zealand who are dedicated to helping those affected by family harm and violence.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter in Auckland.

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