Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence

Pictured: Katrina and Alphonse Balacky (photo credit: Centre for Stories)

“I’m not trying to impress anybody in the sector, I wanted to get help and make changes for me and for my family. What I did was personal. If you really love your kids and wife, then you need to make some big changes in your life and take responsibility for your actions,” Aboriginal Cultural Program Advisor Alphonse Balacky said.

Alphonse and Katrina have a beautiful connection. When Alphonse looks at his wife of 15 years, his eyes light up and he radiates happiness. Talking to Alphonse, he is a kind, caring, considerate man who is a good listener and an articulate conversation-holder. He is warm, nurturing and loves his family. Alphonse is also an ex-perpetrator of domestic violence. Five years ago, the violence stopped after Alphonse realised he needed to make a change and sought help with counselling through the Men’s Outreach Service Aboriginal Corporation in Broome.

 “When I look at my wife Katrina, I take more notice of her than I ever have before – she is my cure, my family and my kids, and we have broken our own cycle of domestic violence.”

Alphonse Balacky

“There’s no direct cure for DV, we can only educate people in the community around the effects, what it causes and how it brings families down.”

Pictured: Alphonse and Katrina

Together, Alphonse and Katrina co-facilitate ‘Change Em Ways’, a recently created Men’s Behaviour Change Program (MBCP) group in Broome through the Men’s Outreach Service Aboriginal Corporation. Recently Katrina has branched out into ‘Strong Women, Strong Families,’ a women’s support group for victims of family and domestic violence (FDV). 

Alphonse said the community has mostly responded positively to having an ex-perpetrator and a victim, sharing their story and helping the people.

“The clients are more switched on when they hear someone like me telling my story. As an ex-perpetrator, I’m passionate about delivering positive messages,” he said.

“The things I’ve done to my wife, and the trauma I’ve put her through when she’s had to go to hospital… I can’t ever change it, but I can move forwards knowing that’s not our life anymore and we can continue to focus on ours and our children’s healing.”

Alphonse Balacky

“My father was violent, and that’s how I grew up too. I just didn’t understand the difference or how I should be different. What children see, children do – it’s just that simple.”

“It’s important to turn that masculinity around and by being a good husband and father, and taking notice of your wife, her needs and your family, it makes you a better man.”

Katrina said from a survivor’s perspective, people wanted to hear from the two of them, ask advice and to know how they healed their relationship.

“They have showed a great deal of respect for us in the community, as we are coming from lived, personal experience, but also professional too,” she said.

Challenging times

Katrina and Alphonse have had their fair share of challenges within the community as well, as they have built up their reputation and program.

Having a brother who is an FDV perpetrator in the program, Alphonse stated that there were numerous issues with having relatives and friends so closely connected between their private lives and their profession.

“Boundaries are very important to us and we have had to learn to discuss things during debriefs, so we can disconnect, especially as we work with clients who are our friends and family members.”

Katrina Francis

“We make this clear that during work hours, we are their facilitators/support workers, and they are our clients of ‘Change Em Ways’ as they participate in the MBCP from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. After those hours, when we switch off and go home, we don’t want to discuss these work issues once we leave for the day – even when our clients are family member and friends, we have to set boundaries as it can get overwhelming and lead to burnout. It can be a challenge for us to balance this, but it’s so important,” Katrina said.

Pictured: Some men in the program with program facilitators (photo credit: ABC Kimberley – Chris Meldrum)

Stopping Family Violence Project Coordinator Dawson Ruhl, supports an Aboriginal co-designed FDV/AOD project in the west Kimberley community of Derby and he has seen close up the impact of these two intersecting issues on the lives of Aboriginal families.

Dawson said male and female co-facilitators of MBCP’s is considered best practice and it’s a bonus having a couple like Alphonse and Katrina who have lived experience and formal training in FDV and group facilitation.

“The fact that they have lived experience with FDV, resolved it and gone on to work with other Aboriginals in a professional capacity has made them positive role models within the Aboriginal community,” Dawson said.

“Their lived experience, and their Aboriginality gives Alphonse and Katrina an extra level of credibility for engaging and working with Aboriginal men who have been violent in their intimate relationships”.

“Aboriginal FDV has many unique dimensions related to culture, in particular to colonisation, one of the principal social determinants underpinning Aboriginal FDV, which is something non-Aboriginal workers will never fully understand.”

“Katrina and Alphonse and the ‘Change Em Ways’ program in general works with a cultural lens and in a holistic way that involves the whole family network. It is the family and the broader Aboriginal community that provides the space for healing and change to take place.”

Dawson Ruhl

Things couldn’t be more different for the husband and wife team, from when they started out to now. Katrina said it was easy for them to do their work now and do it alongside people that know and understand their story.

“Understanding our story, as AOD users and as a perpetrator and victim, is a pivotal part of reaching the community,” she said.

“At a local level, we don’t have to prove ourselves and we feel that people are more comfortable, and they are program-ready when they know they have facilitators that have been there and done that and the connection begins from that point.”

Alphonse said Men’s Outreach gets referrals from other organisations within the Broome community and outside the community and the message was starting to get out.

“Broome is so privileged to have us and it makes a huge difference in the sector and for the work we do,” he said.

According to Our Watch, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women report experiencing violence at 3.1 times higher rate compared to non-Indigenous women. In 2014–15, they were also 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-Indigenous women.

The problem of FDV in our rural communities is a scourge on society and having crusaders like Alphonse and Katrina, are an essential part of solving the domestic violence epidemic.

Katrina said as an Aboriginal woman, she sees other women like herself in the community who are strong, cultural people who didn’t deserve the violence.

“The wounds are raw for these women, and physically and mentally, we just can’t cope with that anymore.”

Katrina Francis

“It’s a big relief knowing our kids won’t be growing up thinking FDV is a normal way of life. We are changing that for them, and I’m so happy we could.”

Katrina and Alphonse are travelling around Australia, speaking to people wherever they can and telling their story. They are in the process of getting their Diploma of Community Services, to deliver the best practice they can and support the community in a DV-informed way.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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