Petition begins to introduce tougher laws
For Northland mum Karen Edwards, the call for tougher penalties for breaches of protection orders has come too late.
Her 21-year-old daughter, mother of two girls, was found dead beside a Whangarei river on July 2012.
Two months before her death, Ashlee Edwards made two complaints to police that former partner Jimmy Akuhata had breached a protection order, which had been in place since 2010, by sending text messages and voice messages. Akuhata is charged with her murder but is under assessment to see whether he is fit to plead and continue through the court process.
Now Mrs Edwards is urging people to sign a petition calling for a tougher stance, asking for the implementation of a "three strikes" policy for breaches of protection orders.
"I have been left angry, damn angry. We are appalled that Ashlee's complaints to Whangarei police about Akuhata breaching the order against him were not adequately followed through," Mrs Edwards said.
The first breach would result in a strike warning and confiscation of the offender's cellphone and computer; the second in three years would bring a warning, and a $5000 fine paid to the victim or a compulsory six-month jail term; and the third strike in three years would be a minimum of three years' jail time.
Currently a breach of a protection order is punishable by a maximum of three years' jail.
Mrs Edwards believes while protection orders needed to be better-enforced, the only way to stop the cycle of violence was to educate the offenders.
"I wish there was mandatory assistance for them with professional psychologists, mediators, life coaches and life-changing programmes to help improve their lives."
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Another Whangarei woman who knows the devastation of domestic violence is Kate McGrath.
Her sister-in-law, Patricia "Wowo" McGrath, died after being assaulted by partner Phillip Andre Mahanga. He was sentenced to three years' jail for the manslaughter of the 34-year-old mother of two. Mrs McGrath has joined with Mrs Edwards to spread the word about the petition.
She said the current law needed more teeth to make sure protection orders were not treated as just another piece of paper.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) found that complaints by Ashlee Edwards about protection order breaches were not properly investigated by police. It was found there was a failure among all of the police involved in the case to take ownership of Ms Edwards' first complaint and to appreciate the urgency and significance of the situation.
Since then, Northland police had made significant changes.
Criminal investigations manager Detective Inspector Kevin Burke said system changes included making breaches of a protection order a priority. If there was a breach and the offender had left by the time police arrived the case was deemed a "hot file" and given priority.
Police statistics show nationally 2063 final protection orders were issued last year. Police received 2819 calls about breaches, resulting in just over 1900 convictions.
In Northland last year, there were 347 recorded breaches of violence and non-violence restraining orders, up from 310 breaches in 2013, and 219 in 2011.
Mrs Edwards and Mrs McGrath hope to deliver the petition to Parliament in late July.
Members of the public can get copies of the petition to be printed, distributed and signed by emailing email@example.com or it can be signed online at: petition24.com/breach-of-protection-orders.
A JUDGE CAN MAKE A PROTECTION ORDER IF:
¦ domestic violence has occurred and the order is needed to protect a person and any children who usually live with them from the person who has been violent
¦ are breaking any of the conditions of the order
¦can include texts and phone messages
WHERE TO GET HELP
- It's OK to ask for help: 0800 456 450
- Northland DHB Child Protection & Family Violence Service: (09) 430 4100
- Women's Refuge Helpline: 0800 REFUGE
- For immediate help ring police: 111