Family violence is our most serious crime type in New Zealand. By definition it is "physical, sexual or psychological abuse against any person by someone with whom they have a close and personal relationship".

The most common type of family violence is perpetrated by men against women and children, but it also includes violence by women against men, violence in same-sex relationships and elder abuse.

NZME spent time with support agencies and in the Family Violence Court to give readers an insight into what is happening behind the doors of far too many New Zealand homes.
We spoke to those tasked with responding on the frontline.

Police callouts

In a room at the Avondale police station, three women sit down. They do this every week day. Each has a report in front of her. Today it's 11 pages.

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They've scrawled notes next to names, circled details and jotted down ideas. One woman works for police, another for Child, Youth and Family (CYF), and the third for Shine.

The report lists all the family violence callouts for the Auckland City area in the past 24 hours. There are 15 incidents to discuss, with decisions to be made on each regarding follow-up action.

Today's a quiet day - sometimes the list can be 27 pages long. "The more pages, the worse it is," one of the women says.

The woman in Panmure is heavily pregnant with her second child. She calls 111, he's hurting her again. This time he's punched her and kicked her in the stomach.

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Afraid to stay but terrified to leave

Police arrive at her home in Panmure and are quickly told she "doesn't need help".

It's the sixth time the cops have answered a call for help from her. It's also the sixth time she refuses to speak to them when they arrive.

The same night, over in Mount Roskill, someone calls 111 - the neighbours are fighting again.

But they can only help where they're wanted. None of the women involved in the overnight incidents would engage with police, and most have a history of refusing help.

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Police arrive and find them in the street. She has bite marks on her back and scuffed knees. He also has bite marks on his arm from where she's tried to fight back.

The couple's young child has witnessed the ugly incident.

She refuses to speak to police and goes back inside.

An unusual call comes from a man in St Johns. He's called 111 because he's had an argument with his wife of 30-odd years. She took off and he's worried about her safety.

She eventually comes home and the police call round. She tells them: "Sometimes he can't control his anger so I leave."

For the eighth time this year, police have attended a call to an Onehunga house. In total police have been here 55 times. The couple are fighting over a vehicle. When police arrive, she says it's "just a minor argument".

Soon after, police head to Hillsborough. This couple have been married for 20 years and a nasty fight has erupted over a T-shirt. He put it on the table. She got mad. He slapped her on the back. She called police.

There's not enough evidence for an assault charge, so police issue a safety order for five days, meaning he can't come home for that time. He's got two previous charges of assaulting her on his record, and the couple have been on the high-risk list in the past.

At the table in the police station, after each callout is discussed, the women make a call on who each victim will be referred to.

Shine will contact some of the women and offer help, advice or refuge services. CYF get involved with any cases involving kids, and there are a variety of other agencies that can be called on to provide support and assistance.

But they can only help where they're wanted. None of the women involved in the overnight incidents would engage with police, and most have a history of refusing help.

The Family Violence Court

When police attend an incident and there is enough evidence to charge an abuser, they end up in the Auckland Family Violence Court.

Set up to offer a specialised approach to the exploding numbers before the court on charges arising from family violence incidents, the court has a focus on providing rehabilitation for offenders.

NZME sat in for a day.

Three times within a couple of hours, the same explanation from lawyers representing those in the dock was given for their behaviour. They "just snapped".

For anyone who thinks family violence only happens in certain parts of the community, this court is the place where they're proven wrong.

The people waiting for their case to be called were as diverse as our community outside the walls of the court. European, Indian, Chinese and Tokelauan alleged offenders all waited their turn, from teenagers to those so old they required walking sticks.

Some wore basketball jerseys and looked as though they had rolled out of bed minutes earlier, others donned sharp suits and trendy haircuts.

And it wasn't only men. The first defendant to plead guilty was a mother of three. It was her first time before the court, her lawyer explained.

She admitted charges of assault with a weapon and possessing an offensive weapon, "namely scissors". The victim was the father of her children, from whom she was separated.

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"It's a snapping situation, if you know what I mean," her lawyer told Judge Ema Aitken.
The woman had recently moved into emergency state housing in Mangere with her kids and though she was working full-time, she was committed to finishing her anger-management course.

Then, a lanky Chinese man who listened intently to a Mandarin interpreter relaying the content of the hearing to him. He had been under pressure to pay the staff at his plastering business and finally recovered money from a long-standing debtor.

But his wife had other plans for the cash. He assaulted her.

"He just snapped because he'd been under such a lot of pressure," his lawyer said.
He had no previous convictions but, due to the seriousness of the assault, a discharge without conviction was not an option.

A well-dressed man in his 40s - wearing a sky-blue dress shirt and looking as though he was in between meetings - was next on the list.

He was an engineer for a pharmaceutical company, and was charged with dealing his teenage daughter a backhand slap while they were travelling in a car, during a blazing row.

Angry that she had been wagging school and spending the night at a boyfriend's house, the defendant proceeded to drag her from the vehicle to the house and pin her to the wall by her throat.

These cases may shock you but they, and many worse cases, are going on all around you. For the police, courts and help agencies, it's just another day on the frontline.

350 reports of family violence received a month

Family violence co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Jason Perry. Photo / John Borren
Family violence co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Jason Perry. Photo / John Borren

The number of reports of family violence to police in the Western Bay of Plenty has more than doubled in the past 12 years, but police say this is because of changing attitudes.

Is family violence worse? No, I think that the reporting is different. People will report it more now than they used to in the past.

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Family violence co-ordinator Detective Sergeant Jason Perry said in 2004 the Western Bay of Plenty received about 150 reports of family violence a month. They now received between 350 and 400.

"Is family violence worse? No, I think that the reporting is different. People will report it more now than they used to in the past," Mr Perry said.

The approach police took to dealing with family violence had developed drastically.

"Back in the 80s, when I joined the police, we had minimal training around how to deal with those situations. We had minimum tools and resources and we lacked some emphasis around treating it seriously and preventing more family harm.

"It was a different world back then, compared to now."

Mr Perry said prevention strategies continued to be developed and were influenced by previous cases.

Tauranga's Women Refuge manager Angela Warren-Clark said the police worked alongside them when they are helping women and their children escape family violence from the first point of call, which could be on the crisis line.

"We ask them if they are safe to talk. If they are not safe to talk and we can hear something happening, we will call the police on their behalf."

Depending on the situation, they would usually do an assessment with an immediate safety plan for the woman.

"We don't go combat rolling out of cars and rescuing these women. If they don't have a way of getting out of the property safely, then we will get the police to support us, they're very helpful around that."

Mrs Warren-Clark said depending on the situation, they would go through a "full and thorough assessment", looking if they needed assistance including help with financial, housing and legal issues.

They also completed a needs and risks assessment for each child, which covered what they had witnessed and their family violence experiences.

- Anna Whyte