Fresh start after a life of violence

BREAKING FREE: Vic Tamati has been in Manawatu this week speaking out to inmates at Manawatu Prison and others against family violence.
BREAKING FREE: Vic Tamati has been in Manawatu this week speaking out to inmates at Manawatu Prison and others against family violence.

Vic Tamati considers his work recounting a life spent beating up his wife and kids as penance for 38 years of violence.

One of the faces of the It's Not OK campaign against family violence, Tamati has been in Palmerston North this week speaking to a men's group, Queen Elizabeth College pupils and inmates at Manawatu Prison.

Tamati was brought to Palmerston North by police family violence co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Dave Wishnowsky, who had a local man approach him about wanting to share his family violence experience with others.

Wishnowsky thought Tamati was someone the man should meet, and it was also a good opportunity for him to talk to local groups about his experience.

Of the family violence callouts in Palmerston North, 80 per cent of offenders are men, he said.

Tamati has been doing talks around the country since 2007, becoming involved with It's Not OK after he was approached by a film crew looking for someone who had perpetrated family violence and changed their lives to make an advertisement for the campaign.

Growing up in a God-fearing Samoan household in South Auckland, violence was his father's way of showing "love". Why? Because he was a "devil" and he deserved it.

It was a tradition he carried on - thinking he was different from his father because he didn't "dropkick" his children or "hit them with a machete", instead using a piece of old garden hose.

It wasn't until Tamati beat his 8-year-old daughter with a platform shoe and sent her to school covered in bruises that his life came to a crossroad.

When his wife came home and saw what he had done, she took their children and left. A week later, she returned and told him she was leaving him before he killed one of their kids.

The breaking point came when his daughter started taking the blame for the beating. It was then he made his family a promise that he would "sort himself out".

A month later he found a stopping violence programme and, when it finished a year later, he was living free of aggression. He remembers his first It's Not OK talk vividly.

"I just cried. I thought I was a tough guy and ‘I can handle this s..t". It was a public meeting in Porirua and I just got up and just cried, and I looked at the back and all I could see was my wife crying. I was standing there for 20 minutes just showing them I could cry. I don't remember anything I said."

It hasn't got any easier, he said.

"When I tell my story, I don't think they're hearing my story, I think they're playing their own tapes. Like when I talk about being bashed up by my dad and screamed and yelled at and belittled by my mum, they go through their own [mental] video tapes."

Tamati said the answer was knowledge, and he's seen this realisation dawn after his talks, often in those who have had the worst histories, like his.

"There's a quote, it says; ‘If you don't know what you don't know, you'll always do what you've always done, and you'll always get what you've always got'. And I say to them, ‘That's us bro. We don't know any other way. Until we're taught something else, we're always going to do it this way'.

"When I got that knowledge, my whole life changed."

Manawatu Standard