When a room full of people are inspired to stand up in public and man up to their demons, you know you are witnessing something big.
Yesterday, that “something big” came in the form of ‘It’s Not OK’ campaigner Vic Tamati, who visited NZMA Auckland South to talk to students about standing up to put an end to domestic violence. His visit was part of NZMA’s Phoenix Programme, which aims to support students and help them build valuable life skills. One of the areas of focus is domestic violence – an issue which Campus Manager Katie Worthy says is prevalent within their South Auckland community.
“We are aware that many of our students are exposed to domestic violence in some way, shape or form. Vic Tamati’s message is very real, very powerful, and very relevant to our students, so I asked him to come and speak.”
His talk was compelling. Vic fired questions at the 100-strong crowd. Were you beaten as a kid? Have you ever beaten anyone? Was the home you grew up in violent and abusive? Were you ever cruel to your pets? Have you been abused? Have you ever abused, violated or assaulted your partner? Your children? The list was long, and harrowing, and Vic stood up for them all – part of his journey of facing up to his past and keeping his commitment to live a violence-free life. Lots of students stood up too, finding courage through his story, which resonated with many in the room.
“I am responsible for all of these things, and at the time, I never thought anything was wrong,” said Vic. “This is my story. This is my journey.”
Violence was just a normal part of Vic’s Samoan upbringing. With eight kids in the family, and very staunch church-going parents, beatings were a regular occurrence. As the oldest son, Vic endured the worst of it – “Dad was setting the benchmark”. From punching and kicking, to bashings with a Bible and even the blunt side of a machete, he was frequently knocked unconscious, squashed inside the fireplace, and made to sit for hours in a cold bath, to try and hide the bruising.
Hidings were often followed by rewards.
“I’d get hot chips if I’d been beaten round the legs, or if I’d had a bad beating on my torso, I’d get fish as well as chips. My mum and dad were staunch about their culture and very staunch about their church. But they were also the most violent people I knew. My dad would hit me, boot me, knock me out, and when I’d come to, he’d say he was giving me a hiding because he loved me. I believed him. I got my right hand tattooed with ‘LOVE’ when I was a teenager, because the fist was the only love I knew. That’s how I grew up – and it was normal. It wasn’t just our family. Everybody I knew grew up the same way.”
Trouble in school, and involvement with gangs seemed inevitable. When the family shifted from Central to South Auckland, Vic left Mt Albert Grammar and started at Aorere College. He was later expelled. He also formed the South Auckland chapter of the Polynesian Panthers. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t take drugs. The only thing Vic got high on was fighting.
At the age of 16, after a particularly violent pub fight put him in hospital (and led to another beating from his father when he got home), Vic ran away, vowing to kill his dad when he was big enough and old enough. By the time they saw each other again Vic had three of his own children and was following in his footsteps, as the head of a violent household.
“If you don’t know what you don’t know, you will always do what you have always done, and you will always get what you have always got. I brought violence into my home. I beat my kids with a hose and told myself I was better than my dad because I wasn’t using a machete."
One day though, he went a step too far, bashing his eight year old daughter with a platform shoe because she didn’t want to go to school. His wife and kids escaped to a Women’s Refuge and he smashed the house up. When they returned five days later, his eight year old took responsibility for his violence. It was a gesture that hit him like a tonne of bricks. It was the trigger he needed to turn his life around.
“I signed up for a 20 week stopping violence programme – which I failed because I threatened to kill any of the other participants if they touched my family!”
His second 20 week programme was more successful. Now the father of six and grandfather of nine has been violence-free for more than 20 years. He works full-time as a speaker for It’s Not OK, and has also set up the Safe Man, Safe Family organisation, running weekly meetings with men, who like him, are striving to sort out their issues.
“To me this issue of family violence is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue. Fourteen women and numerous children each year are killed mostly by men in their families. I ask all you men in this room to stand up and declare Aotearoa NZ, this school, your home, your family and yourself violence free. Don’t wait until you hurt someone. Don’t wait until you end up in court. Do it now.
“My dad loved me, but his love was a bit different. He wanted me to be the meanest, toughest son of a bitch that walked the earth. That was the benchmark he set for me. But I have to set a new benchmark, and I need all you men out there to help me. I can’t do it alone.”
For more information about Vic, and domestic violence go to www.areyouok.org.nz
Vic is pictured here with NZMA students Tuaine Marsters and Taitoko Horne.