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Dealing With the Denials: Exploring John Setka’s Refusal to Take Responsibility

By Jacqui Watt

NTV has spent 25 years working with men. At NTV we seek to engage men respectfully on their journey of change.  We seek to do that holistically in a human way.  We believe this has the best chance of success in engaging men in the change journey to assist them and their families.

Denials and justifications for abusive behaviour are commonly heard in NTV’s work, but they come not just from men who use violence, but across society.

We were deeply concerned when we heard union leader John Setka minimise his recent criminal conviction for harassing his wife.

When stories of high-profile men like Mr Setka become public, it often polarises the public conversation that either minimises or justifies the behavior or individualises incidents as a problem with the particular man or the particular relationship, when in fact it reflects a deeper truth about patterns of violence against women in society.

It lends itself to public conversations that either thoroughly vilify, or justify and minimise, the abusive behaviour of the man involved. Neither of these approaches are particularly helpful.

In our experience engaging with violent men every day of the week, Setka’s words had a familiar echo when it comes to mutualising or minimising the problem.

“Me and my wife were having an argument and we sent some bad texts to each other and used some bad language … and we are not that proud of it,” he told ABC Radio National.

“Couples all have arguments. Some of them go a bit further than others. In the end, while we might have hurt each other’s feelings we never physically harmed each other. We used some bad language. I’m ashamed of it and not proud of it.”

Physical harm is only one means by which someone can exert control or dominance over their partner, but it is by no means the only one.  When we invite men to take responsibility, a starting point is to move away from language that implicates both parties (mutualisation) and away from the idea that abusive behavior was an ordinary fight that ‘went too far’.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, academic Jenna Price writes that Mr Setka repeatedly refuses to take responsibility for his actions.

“It’s always someone else’s fault,” Jenna Price writes. “John Setka refuses to take responsibility for his actions,” she says.

NTV understand that accepting responsibility for personal and public behaviour is only the beginning of the man’s journey – and men need to recognise that.

Further, we believe that men in public life have a responsibility to model respectful and positive leadership.

John Setka is certainly not the only person in public life to use minimising language when it comes to family violence and we find when we speak to men that they often pick up this language a means of justifying their own behaviour.

Men in public life have careers and a public image to maintain but they also have a responsibility to reflect the values of their organisation.

In the radio interview, Mr Setka expressed frustration that there is still media and public interest in what he considers to be just angry words in an argument between himself and his wife.

However, a man’s journey of accountability takes more than words; it requires reflection and action.

An apology needs to be followed by serious and sustained reflective work on behavioural patterns and underlying beliefs.

It requires a commitment to act on and consider deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour as well as the systems and policies that support them.

After he was convicted of harassing his wife, John Setka was ordered by the court to complete a Men’s Behaviour Change Program.

Asked on Radio National if he had attended this program Mr Setka replied: “Yes, yes. I am still receiving counselling, we are both receiving counselling. We have come a long way.”

While Mr Setka did not confirm whether a behaviour change program was part of this counselling, it is clear from his words that he has not yet taken responsibility.

NTV engages with men to recognise how their behaviour has impacted their family and to hold themselves accountable.

Men who take responsibility for their behaviour are starting a long and ongoing journey. It takes constant vigilance. If he has not already done so, we would invite Mr Setka to engage with our members and undertake a men’s behaviour change program to begin this journey.

It is only by having the courage to self-reflect and begin this work on ourselves, our institutions and our communities that we can create a society where men stand in solidarity and respect with women.

If you need help addressing your use of family violence, call the Men’s Referral Service is at 1300 766 491. Lines open 24/7.