Step Up Mate

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The Step Up Mate – Men’s Behaviour Change Program supports men to step up and take responsibility for their use of power and controlling behaviours. We talk with Ulla Inki-Gilabert from the Port Macquarie Hastings Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service to find out more …

How do you define domestic violence?

Domestic and family violence takes many forms. It is behaviour that causes fear, hurt and harm. It can affect anyone in the community; however, women and children are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic and family violence, and perpetrators are overwhelmingly male.

We often think of physical abuse, but it also includes emotional, psychological, financial, sexual and other types of abuse. It can include constant name calling, put downs, destroying the home, denying one’s cultural values, isolating from family and friends, using any form of physical harm or forced sexual acts and “outing” someone. It can also take subtle forms, such as erosion of one’s confidence and manipulating someone into doubting their own sanity.

Many women who have experienced domestic and family violence describe it as a “vicious hurricane”, which can sweep up all kinds of intimate and other family relationships. The ongoing pattern of someone using power and control over another in a relationship can cause significant harm and trauma.

The Port Macquarie Hastings Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service (DFVSS) has been mainly known for its work with women and children. How did this program for men come about?

The DFVSS is primarily known for our work at the local refuge crisis accommodation, Galbaan House. The service was formed in 1980 as the Hastings Women and Children’s Refuge Inc.

We also operate an outreach centre at Liberty Cottage and provide a range of other programs and support services, including transitional housing services, community partnerships, homelessness support, educational programs, and support groups.

We had many resilient women come through our organisation who did not want their relationships to end – they wanted the violence and abuse to end. They wanted their partners, the fathers of their children, to take responsibility for the behaviour. And they wanted them to have the support to do that.

Two very strong and passionate leaders of our organisation began developing a program for men in response to the concerns many women were voicing and the increased demand for services aimed at men to tackle domestic and family violence.

What happens in a Men’s Behaviour Change Group?

The Men’s Behaviour Change Group program currently run by the DFVSS is called “Step Up Mate” and was formerly known as “Insight”.

Step Up Mate offers men the respect and dignity they need to begin the process of examining harmful choices in a space that is committed to safety for everyone.

It is a 12 week program that offers tools and strategies for men to become more self-aware of their choice of behaviour and the impact those choices have on their partners and children.

We use supportive strategies such as the “Traffic Light” tool, to support men to recognise their own personal physical responses to rising anger, and how to manage these responses without violence and abuse. Respectful communication, self-reflection and dealing with strong emotions are also important elements of the group work program.

We believe in providing a respectful and safe space to talk about violent behaviours, without judgement and shaming. Men take on the challenge of looking at their behaviours through the eyes of their partners and children. In this way they are able to step outside what they refer to as the “vicious cycle” to gain an understanding of the significant impacts violence and abuse has on their loved ones – and on the men themselves.

What is the process for getting into the program?

Step Up Mate is for men who want to stop using violent and controlling behaviour.

We encourage men to self-refer by contacting us if they are motivated to end their violent behaviour and wanting to explore preferred ways of being. We also receive referrals from other services and government agencies with the participant’s consent.

Our Men’s Behaviour Change workers meet with the men to learn more about their behaviours, motivation to change, risk factors and readiness for group work.

Men are then provided with information about the 12 week program. As a starting point, they are offered a valuable tool called the “Once Were Worriers” letter, which was written by previous participants to support other men on their journeys towards change – “to walk the walk and talk the talk”.

The voices of these men have made a significant contribution in encouraging men to take the first steps towards behaviour change, which are often the hardest steps to take.

Who delivers the program?

In Port Macquarie, the Step Up Mate program is delivered by our Men’s Behaviour Change workers at the DFVSS. We deliver and facilitate the 12 week program and also provide partner support as a core element of the program. In each group we have a male and female facilitator.

The DFVSS is part of a Mid North Coast Consortium with Kempsey Families Specialist Support Services and Warrina Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service. We have shared a strong partnership for many years in developing men’s behaviour change services, creating practice and helping women and children live free from violence.

The Step Up Mate Program is accredited by NSW Attorney General and Justice Department and holds membership with the NSW State Men’s Behaviour Change Network. It is part of the Engage to Change project and is a NSW Government funded initiative under the NSW Department of Women.

Where can people find out more?

We encourage anyone who is interested in finding out more information to call our Men’s Behaviour Change Workers on 6584 9102. Call us for a confidential, respectful conversation about how we might be able to help.

Keep an eye out for our Step Up Mate brochure, which we will be available soon through a range of services, such as the Neighbourhood Centre.

You can also find out more online at or 

Thanks Ulla.

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