Shane was once dubbed Australia’s 'most evil husband'. Now he runs DV help groups.

Shane Cuthbert was once dubbed Australia’s “most evil husband”.

A current affairs program that ran a story alleging serious criminal allegations including rape, deprivation of liberty, and grievous bodily harm gave him the title. When the charges against Cuthbert were dropped, media outlets quickly removed their articles, but the damage was done. And while he wasn’t found guilty of the offences reported, Cuthbert wasn’t innocent either.

"I have perpetrated violence and have been convicted of domestic violence-related offences, such as wilful damage and breaching domestic violence orders," he admits.

Cuthbert has been imprisoned four times, spending 12 months in jail for multiple offences that he says he didn't take seriously at the time – even turning up to court wearing a clown suit on one occasion.

Shane Cuthbert. Image: Supplied.


A lot has changed since then. 

"I never wanted the ‘Australia's most evil husband’ label, but a few years ago I figured, if I was going to wear it, maybe I could do some good with it," says Cuthbert, who is now seeking election to the Cairns Regional Council and completing a combined law and psychology degree. He channels his remaining energy into domestic violence and youth crime prevention.

After spending a few months attending court and men’s behaviour change programs to encourage male perpetrators to catch up and support one another, COVID hit. Cuthbert used this time to build a dedicated website, Domestic Violence Anonymous, and began hosting online group Zoom sessions, enabling him to work with men from all over Australia.

"What I noticed, being a male victim and perpetrator, is that we don’t adequately support men at any stage of the process. However, I think it is the early stages that must be our focus in order to minimise and reduce domestic and family violence," he says.

Cuthbert says current men’s behaviour programs are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough.


"After completing a 12-week men’s behaviour change course, for example, you walk away and there’s no follow-up, no ongoing support. It’s often court ordered... and that’s what it is, a box-ticking exercise. It's expected that now, miraculously, you have changed because you completed this program."

Shane Cuthbert is now actively involved in several social justice issues. Image: Supplied.


Why perpetrator-facing programs matter.

Jolene Ellat is the Director of DART (Domestic Abuse Resource and Training Centre) and has worked across mandated services with high-risk clients. She agrees that a deeper look into the content, delivery and facilitators of perpetrator-facing programs is required.

"Australia has national and state-based standards for men’s engagement programs, yet they are not nationally monitored," Ellat says. 

"Here at DART Institute, over the last year, I have had several men contacting me advising that they are desperate to get into a program and yet have been unsuccessful due to waitlists.

"Similarly, I have had survivors contact me advising that they feel let down by the system, as their partners could not get into any programs. There seems to be a higher demand than services available."

Cuthbert says follow-ups and check-ins are critical, and that the impact of having someone prepared to listen and understand has had a powerful impact on participants. 

Read more: Tara Brown, Thomas Kelly and the devastating ripple effect of male violence.

"[DV] is often kept in the dark – we don’t want to share this kind of thing with our workmates, our families, and even our parents because of the shame and guilt, so men bottle all of that up.”

As someone who has covered domestic violence, specifically male violence against women, for several years, it's difficult it is to muster up sympathy for perpetrators, even potential perpetrators.


Read more: 'I spent a day inside a family violence refuge. What I heard from women was chilling.'

But while sympathy isn't required, according to Ellat, perpetrator-facing systems are, in order to properly focus on women and children’s safety.

"Early intervention programs [are] crucial in supporting young boys and men when they identify unhealthy behaviours," she says. 

Limited resources leave many young boys and men slipping through the cracks, ultimately entering the justice system and mandated to attend a program.

"Having greater investment in men’s programs, particularly men’s voluntary programs, can provide earlier opportunities for change, early visibility on perpetrator behaviours, and opportunities to disrupt coercive control behaviours."

Tackling unhealthy masculinity.

According to Cuthbert, the stigma attached to being an offender prevents offenders from seeking help. But there's a stigma attached to seeking help too, he says, evidenced by the frequent trolling he experiences in relation to his sessions.

"[They] call us 'wife basher anonymous' or say we are 'a group of wife bashers sitting in a circle', and that’s just not helpful. We should encourage men to change and do the work."

This is where what's commonly known as toxic masculinity comes into play. Ellat believes there are many layers within society that perpetuate unhealthy versions of what it is to be a man.


Watch: We lose one woman every week in Australia to domestic violence, but that's just the tip of a very grim iceberg. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

"For a long time, help-seeking behaviour has threatened masculine societal status and we need to shift beyond the stigma," she says.

"Whilst not all men are bad and not all men do bad things, there is a version of what it is to be a man that we need to work on. We must support young boys and men in emotional literacy and deconstruct the negative stereotypes that sit within the understanding of what it is to be a 'real man.'"

While problematic male behaviour is often called 'toxic' masculinity, White Ribbon Australia National Director Allan Ball says 'restrictive' or 'unhealthy' masculinity sends a clearer message, by identifying the problematic aspects of signing up to a single notion of masculinity without condemning all forms of masculinity.

Read more: 'I teach young men about respect. Here's what I tell them about domestic violence.'


Ball says reframing how we view masculinity leaves room to discuss and promote positive aspects of masculinity, and reduces defensiveness. 

"If men can’t talk about their feelings, how can we expect them to speak about their domestic violence?" says Cuthbert.

"Let’s bring it out of the dark and the shadows. If more men learn to do that, it will encourage others to do the same, and then perhaps we will start preventing domestic violence."

Breaking the cycle.

Earlier this year, Cuthbert presented at a Queensland Government Inquiry into Support provided to Victims of Crime.

Shane Cuthbert presents at a Queensland Parliament Inquiry. Image: Supplied.


"Victims, when not given the right support, can become perpetrators. This is true not only in the domestic violence space but also in the youth crime space where I also do a lot of advocacy work," says Cuthbert.

"Domestic violence offences are going up. We are also seeing domestic violence-related deaths going up, and that’s something I believe we can do something about."

Ellat agrees.

"Violence against women is preventable and we need to consider how to stop domestic violence at the start. 

"So whilst having an understanding of the thought processes of a user of violence has relevance to individual work and change, on a deeper level, we need to ensure we have a deep understanding of the gender drivers, structural and systemic discrimination and inequality that influence the prevalence of violence against women."

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature image: Supplied.