With over 40 years working in healthcare, Ranjna Patel knows the reality of domestic violence in New Zealand communities.
A lifetime of helping others
Ranjna career started when she and her husband opened a surgery in South Auckland in 1976. Now she is the Director of Tamaki Health, the largest independent primary healthcare group in New Zealand, and has received a New Zealand Order of Merit.
Ranjna now also sits on several NGO advisory boards, including the Counties-Manukau Police South Asian Advisory Board. It was there that she was approached by the police to help tackle an issue facing her community.
“In the years 2012 and 2013, four out of 14 deaths (from domestic abuse) were Indian women,” she said.
That fact inspired Ranjna to create Gandhi Nivas in 2014, a home in Otahuhu where the police can refer perpetrators of domestic violence as a place to stay while they receive counselling.
While originally set up to help primarily members of the Indian community, Gandhi Nivas quickly evolved to offer support for all ethnicities.
They have also opened two further homes in Auckland, one in Te Atatu and another in Papakura.
Since opening their doors, 1,600 families have been helped by the service.
A good place to cool off and get help
How Gandhi Nivas works, Ranjna says, is: “When police are called to a place of family harm, they will turn up and if the woman makes it clear that she wants the man gone, instead of removing the women and children, the man will be removed and asked if he has anywhere to go.
“If he says ‘no’, then they will offer the service of Gandhi Nivas, which is a bed for the night, as well as a counselling service.
“Only about 11% of men actually are ready for change, so it’s a small percentage. This is a tiny drop in the ocean, but we’re hoping preventative will work far better than reactive.
“Another team the next day will go to the home to check on the women and children and offer counselling too.”
Stopping the cycle
Getting to the root cause of the violence is a key aspect of Gandhi Nivas.
“We can remove the women and the family from the house,” Ranjna says, “but then the man is just going to go to another woman. And so if we don’t look at the root cause and help change behaviour, we’re just repeating the cycle.
“Children in particular are what I really want to see change, because children will do what they see. That cycle has to be broken. That it’s not ok for anyone to hit anyone.”
The counselling is only as good as the counsellors
In order to make real change, Ranjna recognised that a counselling service was needed, and turned to Sahaayta, whose work and dedication Ranjna praises.
“Our point of difference is free counselling service, 24/7,” Ranjna says, referring to the fact that not only were most counselling services too expensive for people to use, but they were also not available when they were needed most.
“Most incidents that police attend Thursday and Friday nights and weekends, and from working in healthcare I knew that counselling within 24 hours when it’s raw is more powerful.”
And it works
While a more comprehensive three year qualitative study conducted by Massey University will be released later this year, the results are already making a statement.
Particular the stat that 93% of clients had not been involved in another family harm incident.
Another example that Ranjna shares is the fact that over 150 men have self-referred themselves back into the house voluntarily.
“This means they’ve recognised their trigger points, and they’ve removed themselves from the situation. To me that’s great change behaviour.
“And the men know that they can come back anytime without the police turning up. They’ve built that relationship with the counsellors.
“A cry for help can be, ‘Can I take your for a cup of coffee?’, ‘Can I take you to a movie?’ And these counsellors are so passionate, that they actually do do that.”