Protection order breaches rise

By Lydia Anderson, Teuila Fuatai

Tauranga Court House.
Tauranga Court House.

Breaches of protection orders are rising in the Western Bay, with victims commonly at risk of stalking or text and cyberbullying from offenders.

Living Without Violence Collective manager Mary Beresford-Jones said, based on anecdotal evidence, women were reluctant to report breached orders for so-called nice actions such as texts from an offender saying "I just think you're so beautiful", or flowers turning up on the doorstep.

"[It] comes across as 'Mr Perfect' and that confuses women who feel mean reporting those breaches."

The number of protection orders issued in the Tauranga District Court had risen from 96 in 2008 to 115 in 2012.

Reported breaches in that time had risen from 113 to 144.

Mrs Beresford-Jones said orders were a useful tool for protecting women and children as long as they were used and enforced.

The most chronic type of breaches she had seen involved stalking, with repeated phone calls or drive-bys by offenders.

"Stalking is actually an indicator of high risk, so we say to women to always listen to their gut ... even if they're just asking police to keep a record.

She said some women had come home to find their household objects moved around.

"It's quite nasty mind games stuff that when asked he will completely deny it and it becomes really difficult to prove it's a breach."

Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Angela Warren-Clark said women with protection orders should enter a free domestic violence programme to understand how to use orders.

"We think, basically, a protection order will only ever be a piece of paper unless they are empowered to use it and understand how to use it."

Most of the women coming through the Tauranga safe house had experienced physical violence, along with emotional and financial abuse, she said.

Many women were experiencing "really horrible" cyber or text-bullying.

Ms Warren-Clark said one positive development was the number of community members stepping up to report violence in their neighbourhood.

Police family violence co-ordinator for the Western Bay of Plenty, Detective Sergeant Jason Perry, said the increase in protection orders and breaches was likely because judges in a criminal court now had the ability to issue the orders, where previously they were able to be obtained only through the family court. "Police have a focus on family violence as it's one of our five drivers of crime.

"We have put resources into trying to reduce the harm - one of the ways we've been trying to do that is being active around breaches of protection orders."

Another reason for the increase in protection orders issued was the increased awareness thanks to campaigns in the media such as "It's Not OK", Mr Perry said.

"If people are able to seek help there are a lot of agencies active in the community trying to reduce family violence.

"People at risk are now getting that help and are being supported through the process of applying for protection orders. There's a real awareness in the community now about family violence."

While the number of orders imposed nationwide during the past five years increased by 14 per cent, the high rate of convictions and overall breaches - there were 3005 in 2012 - suggests long-standing concerns around the effectiveness of orders have not been addressed.

Family law expert Ruth Busch, a former associate law professor at Waikato University and co-author of the 2007 state-funded Living At the Cutting Edge report on protection orders, told the Bay of Plenty Times trivialisation of breaches in the court system was a major factor in the high breach rate.

Tougher penalties had to be imposed on those who breached to protect New Zealand's vulnerable women, children and men, she said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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