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Violence prevention is everyone's business
Mike Wassing admits he is not an expert on violence prevention, but as a father of three girls and a man shocked by the statistics that one in three women has experienced physical violence, he could not sit back and say it was someone else’s responsibility.
That is not in the nature of the North West Region’s Assistant Chief Officer who has thrown his support behind violence prevention, and in particular violence again women.
“We have a responsibility to be aware of what is occurring in our communities. For me, as a community representative, in my role in CFA I can support prevention and promote awareness through 245 brigades, 11,500 volunteers and 350 staff,” Mike said.
Mike heads the NWR Violence Prevention Advisory Group. His involvement in Bendigo’s White Ribbon march in November, and as an ambassador for Bendigo’s Violence Prevention - It's Everybody's Business Conference, was the catalyst for the group’s formation.
Its mission is to develop a culture of non-violence and support gender equality (gender inequality has been linked to higher incidence of violence against women).
Other group members include representatives from Women’s Health Loddon Mallee (WHLM) and Macedon Ranges Shire Council.
“We have partnered a number of initiatives including celebrating International Women’s Day, presentations at a number of regional and state forums regarding violence prevention and are currently contributing to regional action plans throughout the North West,” Mike said.
He said taking localised action was the key to success.
“It is our ability to create ongoing awareness through ‘245 touch points’ (brigades) across the North West region which is one of our greatest strengths to help drive change,” Mike said.
“True to being a volunteer and community based organisation, there is an obligation on us to take action when we know we can make a difference.”
To help arm members with information on how to become involved, Mike is working with WHLM to deliver ‘bystander training’ to all District headquarters. It will also be piloted with a couple of brigades.
This training will equip members with the skills to take a stand against attitudes and behaviours that contribute to violence – both in the community and within CFA.
“Our new CFA values highlight that safety is our number one priority – every one of us has the right to be safe at work, and that includes safety from violence or threatening behaviour,” Mike said.
“I want all members to speak up against attitudes or behaviours they see that are disrespectful and contribute to gender inequality.”
This means not only intervening in violent behaviour but in the wide range of other behaviours which sustain violence, such as sexist and violence-supportive jokes and comments relating to domineering and controlling behaviours in relationships.
The good work being done in the North West Region is also spreading, with information now shared with the South West Region.
Mike added that violence against women was a key focus, but there was also the opportunity to increase the scope of the group to cover other forms of violence, including the growing number of drug-related incidents.
He said while it was part of Aussie culture not to get involved in other people’s business, as trusted and respected members of the community, CFA members had a responsibility to do something if they saw or experienced violence.
“The more the community takes a stand, the greater chance we have of broader acceptance that any form of violence isn’t appropriate.
“If you are able to do so in a safe environment, take action at the time. But sometimes that is very difficult. At the very least, contact the police and make sure it is reported so it is not gone unnoticed and un-actioned,” he said.