Violence in families is not OK, and it should never be ignored because “it’s just a domestic”. Statistics show family violence accounts for more than half of all violent crime reported in New Zealand.
The numbers don’t make good reading. They reflect a sad situation for too many New Zealand families.
Family violence affects everyone. Even if they’re not being physically abused, children are often victims, not only because of what they witness, but also because they have to endure the consequences of dysfunctional and destroyed relationships.
The Police and courts take family violence seriously. Police will act when they suspect or uncover incidences of family violence. New powers (see under Police Safety Orders) allow them to remove an offender, or even a suspected offender, to remove the immediate risk and to give everyone an opportunity to assess their situation.
When they attend an incident, they also use an internationally recognised scoring tool to assess partner risk. They also have a Child Risk Factor Tool, which helps them predict the risks for children.
However, international research indicates only about 20 percent of family violence incidents are actually reported. So a lot is happening in our community that the Police don’t know about. Whether we’re a victim, neighbour, part of the extended family, teacher, carer or just a member of the community, we can help make it stop.
Reporting family violence
In a recent analysis of family violence statistics, for 21 percent of children’s cases and 35 percent of women’s cases, family and friends were aware of the violence but did not report it. In 64 percent of all cases the family had prior contact with the police.
The Police make every effort to protect people from family violence, but they need to know it’s happening. So why isn’t it reported?
In many cases, the victim is too scared to speak out, fearing more violence. But in most cases, someone else knows it’s happening and does nothing to stop it because they don’t want to get involved or they don’t want to be seen to be interfering.
The attitude that it’s matter that should stay in the family no longer washes. Recent high-profile cases have shown that children – and adults – have died because no-one reported the violence.
Stick up for the victims, and report any instance of family violence to the Police. They are skilled at dealing with these situations, and will take appropriate action to protect victims.
If you or anyone in your household is being abused or in any danger, don’t hesitate to call 111. Police will respond quickly to help.
Police Safety Orders
Since June 2010, the Police have gained powers that have had a positive effect on dealing with family violence. A new Police Safety Order (PSO) gives Police the ability to make someone leave the premises for up to five days (usually one or two days) if the Police have reasonable grounds to believe that family violence has or may occur. They don’t need consent from the person at risk to issue the order.
Public Safety Orders allow police to remove a person from a property where there is sufficient reason to believe a failure to do so may result in a serious incident, but not yet enough evidence to make an arrest.
It protects members of the household who are at risk by imposing conditions on the threatening person similar to those in Protection Orders. These conditions apply for the duration of the PSO. For example, this person:
- Must not assault, threaten, intimidate or harass the protected person (the person at risk) or encourage anyone else to do the same.
- Must not follow, stop or contact in any way the person at risk in any place, either at home, at work, or anywhere else the person at risk visits often.
- Must surrender all firearms and their firearms licence to the Police for the period of the PSO.
The PSO also protects any children living with the person at risk, and any conditions of parenting orders or agreements giving access or care by the threatening person are suspended. The Police can detain this person for up to two hours to issue and serve the PSO. There is no right of appeal.
If conditions are breached, the Police can take the person into custody and put them before the court.
The court might:
- release them
- direct the Police to issue another PSO
- issue a Temporary Protection Order (if the person at risk does not object).
It gives everyone an opportunity to calm down and meet with Police and other agencies to talk about improving their situation – and could save a person’s life. No criminal convictions result from the issue of a Police Safety Order.
If you need to be protected from an abusive member of your household and you’re not in immediate danger, talk in confidence to someone who can help you apply for a Protection Order. Some of these organisations are listed at the end of this section, or look at the front of the White Pages phone book under Emergency Services or Personal Help Services.
Some organisations can help by:
- arranging to pick you up if you don’t have money or a car
- arranging emergency accommodation if you need to get out of your home
- providing welfare or support services
- discussing what legal, housing and financial assistance you can get
- helping you understand the legal process
- arranging an appointment with a lawyer.
A lawyer will help you prepare your application to the Family Court, take down your statement and apply for free Legal Aid if necessary.
Children can also apply for a Protection Order with the help of an adult.
Family violence defined
As the ongoing advertising says: “It’s not OK”. Your partner or any member of your family should never use violence to hurt or control you.
Violence can be physical, sexual, psychological or financial and can include neglect. The Ministry of Social Development’s Family and Community Services, on its website www.areyouok.org.nz defines the various forms of family violence as follows.
Psychological violence to adults or children, which can have long-lasting effects, includes:
- making you feel like everything you do is wrong
- constantly criticising you or your friends
- humiliating you in front of your friends
- using unsafe driving to frighten you
- damaging property/walls/possessions to scare you
- making you isolated and alone
- blaming everything on you
- threatening to take the children away or hurt them
- stalking, following, checking up on you
- harming pets to punish you
- making you feel scared of what might happen next.
Sexual abuse includes:
- forcing you to have sex or do other sexual acts you don’t want to do
- touching you in a way you don’t want
- frequently accusing you of sleeping with other people
- forcing you to watch porn.
Physical abuse includes:
- hitting and punching
- biting, pushing, choking or pulling your hair
- making you drink or take drugs when you don’t want to
- using or threatening to use weapons.
Financial abuse includes:
- taking your money or property
- running up debts in your name
- misusing power of attorney
- pressuring you into paying money.
- not providing food, clothing and warmth
- leaving dependants alone or with someone who is unsafe
- not providing comfort, attention and love
- not providing medical treatment.
If you feel any of these apply to you, contact any of the agencies listed at the end of this section.
It’s worth noting that the facts about family violence are often distorted. In a guide for journalists, www. areyouok.org.nz provides some interesting insights, which include the following myth-busters.
It’s an unpredictable private tragedy
Not true. The victim will almost always have suffered violence for a long time. Family violence is almost always a series of tactics used to gain and keep control. It‘s a pattern of behaviours that increases in frequency and severity over time. Murder is the extreme result, and we know most murders happen following the most dangerous time for a victim – after a separation. Domestic deaths are planned. The killer has commonly obtained a weapon, made threats to kill previously, knows where the victim is and when to strike.
Caused by substance abuse, stress, poverty and failed marriage
Not true. Many people who experience these do not hit, stalk or murder their partners or children. It’s true that substance abuse can make the violence worse, but it’s not the reason for it. People use violence in the domestic setting because they believe they are entitled to use violence to get what they want.
The victim’s to blame
Implying the victim is to blame by using phrases such as “why did they stay”, “they had relationship issues”, “she had a habit of getting involved with men like that”, imply the victim is to blame or “asked for it”. People choose to use violence to control and dominate other family members. Victims are not to blame because they stay. They are often afraid of leaving because of isolation, lack of funds and housing, and fear of the perpetrator.
Violence and love go together
It’s not normal behaviour to bash or murder someone if you love them. Jealous, threatening and intimidating behaviour is not love.
The abuser is a lovely person
It is not unusual for media reports to say that the murderer/abuser was a model employee, a good neighbour or “pillar of the community”. Abusers show a different face to the world. Can someone still be “nice” if they murder their partner or child?
How to get help
In an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 111 any time and ask for the Police. See their website – www.police.govt.nz – for useful information about family violence.
Other agencies that can help are listed at the front of the White Pages phone book under Emergency Services or Personal Help Services.
Some useful contacts:
www.areyouok.org.nz – full of information for families experiencing violence.
www.familyservices.govt.nz – Family and Community Services, includes a directory of social services in your community.
www.justice.govt.nz – Ministry of Justice, with useful information about Protection Orders.
www.nnsvs.org.nz – National Network of Stopping Violence Services, with a directory of services near you.
www.womensrefuge.org.nz – Women’s Refuge.
www.ageconcern.org.nz – Age Concern
www.cab.org.nz – Citizens Advice Bureau
www.2shine.org.nz – Shine (Safer Homes in NZ), crisis assistance and support for adult and child victims of family violence. 0508 744 633 for a 24-hour toll-free helpline (09 815-4601 in Auckland).
www.victimsupport.org.nz – Victim Support, 0800 842 846 for a 24-hour toll-free helpline.
www.rapecrisis.org.nz – Rape Crisis
www.courts.govt.nz/family – Family Court
Maori Women’s Welfare League – see the Yellow Pages phone book.
You might also consider talking to someone in your church group, your doctor or your lawyer.