I was really fortunate a few weeks ago to see an Advanced Screening of a documentary titled “Call me Dad”. It will debut nationally on the ABC from 8.35pm on 26 November 2015 and the Director is an exceptionally talented professional by the name of Sophie Wiesner.
“Call me Dad” focuses upon a group of men undertaking an aggression management style program over a period of time. All concede having acted abusively towards their partners. The program is powerful in two respects particularly. First, it has the capacity to generate enormous compassion for these men, perpetrators of something which is so widely and rightly despised. It provides a clear context in which abusive behaviours can gestate and emerge. This is without painting a picture of excuse or tolerance for violence. Rather, the focus is very much on allowing these men to understand the nature of their own behaviour, and why they have perpetrated violence and aggression in the past.
The second powerful aspect of the documentary is the transformation that is evident in at least two of the men the subject of the program. The epiphany to the damage they have perpetrated is moving, and you’re left with an overwhelming sense that their behaviour cannot surely be repeated in the future where they have that insight into their own behaviour and the damage it does to those they love. And these men have loved intensely.
I suspect that often we fail to appreciate the complexity of violence. It should not be tolerated in any respect, but it is only with an appreciation of the context of aggressive behaviour that change can be effected. The sense of loss that the men have suffered as a result of behaviours is confronting for the viewer, but you’re left with a sense that good things can happen where there is such a willingness to take responsibility and importantly, a willingness to identify the triggers for behaviour and set about reforming one’s own core instincts.
False allegations of violence do occur. The manipulation of the domestic violence legal system for tactical advantage where there is no abuse is an offensive thing and as an experienced family lawyer, I despise the attitude shown by some professionals in recommending a Protection Order application as a matter of course and in the absence of actual family violence.
But, there is the other side of the coin. As lawyers we are notoriously defensive when it comes to allegations of violence made against our clients. Often our clients will automatically deny behaviours, largely out of a fear that any concession will cost them dearly when it comes to contact with their children or financial outcomes. As lawyers, I think we do a major disservice to our clients in rushing beyond an opportunity our client may have to both acknowledging past abusive behaviours and genuinely commit to addressing that behaviour and avoiding any repeat of same in the future. I think we also often fail to challenge our client about behaviours which are abusive by their nature, but dismissed as something other than abusive given that they don‘t fit the traditional model of physical violence. For example, controlling behaviours, isolating behaviours, the manipulation of children to be aligned with a parent and reject another parent… it is all family violence at the end of the day. The tragedy is that many perpetrators have lived childhoods where the above was abundant in their home, and normalised in the sense that it’s not seen as being `as wrong’ as physically hurting someone.
As a lawyer, it is personally challenging to confront a client about their abusive behaviour and many lawyers don’t believe it’s our job to discuss with a client the need to seek help and address behaviours. It can be a highly emotional discussion and obviously as professionals we do need to be conscious of our own exposure to risk. That said, I believe it is absolutely our job to confront family violence and prompt change. Surely we should be encouraging a legal and therapeutic culture where genuine acknowledgment and commitment to change is valued by our system and supported. Only then, do I think we can break the cycle of violence for many families.
“Call me Dad” should be compulsory viewing for anyone facing or working with the spectre of family violence, and particularly the professionals who have the opportunity to effect real change for these men, women and children.
I think it’s time to exhibit some courage – in open and blunt condemnation of those that perpetrate violence, coupled with an open and courageous commitment to supporting a perpetrator to take responsibility and to effect real change in their life.
“Call me Dad” can be viewed on the ABC Thursday 26 November at 8.35pm.