Family violence rate in NZ 'horrific'

By Anna Leask

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One in three New Zealand women experience family violence. Photo / Thinkstock
One in three New Zealand women experience family violence. Photo / Thinkstock

Just under 115,000 people live in Tauranga. Imagine if every one of those people was the victim of family violence.

Imagine that every person who lived in Tauranga had been physically, sexually, emotionally or psychologically abused by a member of their immediate family. A husband, an ex-partner, a parent.

Imagine if every five minutes, the police were called in Tauranga because someone was beaten, tormented, bullied, tortured, abused or savaged in their home, by someone supposed to love and care for them.

While this scenario is imaginary, the statistics are real.

Last year, police around New Zealand attended about 105,000 family violence callouts. On average, they took a call for help every five minutes - 279 each day, in total.

If each of those incidents was represented by a single person, that's getting close to the population of Tauranga.

If you were to bump that number up by 80 per cent - to reflect the number of incidents estimated to go unreported each year - you reach 525,000. That's almost four times Tauranga's population.

One in three Kiwi women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime. These women are our mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, friends, workmates, neighbours.

They come from all walks of life, all economic and ethnic backgrounds.

No one is immune. New Zealand has the worst rate of family violence in the developed world. It costs us up to $7 billion a year.

A large proportion of family violence is inflicted by intimate partners, and by adults abusing and neglecting children. While men are certainly among the victims, women bear the brunt of this abuse.

In Tauranga, the Women's Refuge handled 1012 crisis calls, had 29 women who needed counselling and had 36 children take part in the children's programme in the financial year up to March 31, according to manager Angela Warren-Clark.

That's already 692 more crisis calls, nine more women in counselling and 20 more children in the children's programme than the refuge was funded for during the 2015/16 financial year, with three months to go.

Mrs Warren-Clarke said she had to raise $120,000 each year to cover the shortfall in funding.

Nobody can say categorically why family violence is so prevalent in New Zealand, but everyone agrees that it needs to stop. "It is by far our biggest crime type ... We have a problem. It's pretty well documented. Why? I don't know, I really don't," said Superintendent Tusha Penny, the police national crime prevention manager.

"Every time there's a family violence death, it's looked at, it's investigated and changes are made. And yet we still have them. We still have people getting maimed and seriously hurt."

The figure of one in three comes from a comprehensive study by Professor Janet Fanslow, co-director of the Domestic Violence Clearing House, and mirrors international victim statistics.

The study, Violence against women in New Zealand: prevalence and health consequences, also found that intimate partner violence, even if it happened in the past, was significantly associated with physical and mental health problems including depression, sleep problems and suicide attempts.

Ms Penny said there were many drivers of family harm - the umbrella term for intimate-partner violence and abuse, child abuse and general harm within the home.

Alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, financial stresses and mental health issues were among the main drivers.

But, no one could explain why the figures were so high.

Ms Penny said it could be that people were reporting more incidents. It could also be that, as a country, New Zealand was simply more violent.

"Are we getting more violent? I don't know. But more and more is getting exposed," she said.

"But it's predictable, stoppable and we can make a difference."

Ms Penny said it was a "fundamental right" for all New Zealanders to live in their homes safely.

"This is our challenge - to make people as safe in their house as they are on the street."
Justice Minister Amy Adams conceded that the rate of family violence in New Zealand was "horrific".

"Clearly something is not working. We can and must do better," she said.

Mrs Adams is leading a cross-government review of family violence measures that aims to reduce the rate, break the cycle of violence within families and across generations, keep victims safe and hold perpetrators to account.

When she took on the review, the statistics shocked her.

"I knew it was bad, but I didn't realise how bad it was," she told NZME.

"It's appalling to me that in a country as good as New Zealand, we are the worst in the world for this.

"We have a rate of family violence, predominantly against women and children, that we should be absolutely embarrassed about as a country."

Mrs Adams said 42 per cent of frontline policing was spent dealing with family violence.

"It happens in every street, and in every home. We need to make people think about this and talk about it. We have to acknowledge it and respond."

- Additional reporting Anna Whyte

Where to find help:

- Tauranga Women's Refuge, crisis line 541-1911 or 0800-867-33843
- Shakti 0800-742-584
- Tauranga Living Without Violence 577-9297
- Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust 571-0875
- It's Not OK helpline 0800-456-450
- Shine 0508-744-633

- Bay of Plenty Times

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