Bill to extend abuse definition

By Amy McGillivray


A new bill before Parliament aims to extend the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act to include economic abuse.

Age Concern Tauranga elder abuse and prevention co-ordinator Jane Broughton said between 40 and 50 per cent of the issues she dealt with related to the financial abuse.

"It's a huge problem," she said.

The Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill, introduced by the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, got its first reading in Parliament yesterday.

One of the proposed changes would see the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act extended to include economic abuse.

Ms Broughton said the bill would be hugely helpful in allowing cases to be dealt with by the Family Court.

"A lot of the elderly stuff goes unreported because the people are too scared to speak up because they are very vulnerable."

"There's a power imbalance as there is with all abuse. The older person feels very powerless."

Lawyer Alan Tate, of Harris Tate, provides Age Concern with legal advice, agreed the change would be positive.

"It's surprisingly common out there. It can be quite subtle in some cases and very blatant in others."

Mr Tate said he would welcome the reform as "another string in the bow" to help deal with such issues.

"It gives the courts the ability to get in there and do something about it. If it can be recognised early enough, before there's too much damage occurred or too much financial loss suffered, it could be very useful," he said.

"If someone gets prosecuted as a result of this people are more likely to put their hand up and say something has happened to them too."

This comes on the back of last year's changes to the Crimes Act which also benefited the elderly, he said.

The changes allowed anyone who did not report the abuse of children or vulnerable adults to be prosecuted.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill was the first important step to creating a modern and accessible family justice system that was more focused on the needs of children and vulnerable people.

"We are also improving support for vulnerable victims of domestic violence by increasing the penalty for breaching a protection order, recognising 'economic abuse' as a form of psychological abuse, and improving stopping domestic violence programmes," she said.

The changes would make the Family Court a more efficient and effective part of the wider justice system, she said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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