Victims of violence, abuse 'can be heard'

By Kristin Edge

Kate McGrath and Karen Edwards know from personal experience how helpless victims can feel during the court process.Photo/Michael Cunningham
Kate McGrath and Karen Edwards know from personal experience how helpless victims can feel during the court process.Photo/Michael Cunningham

The first Glenn Inquiry report into child abuse and domestic violence gives victims a voice that has been long overdue, according to two Northland women who have experienced the devastation caused by domestic violence.

The $2 million inquiry, set up in late 2012 with funding from millionaire Sir Owen Glenn, aimed to address New Zealand's appalling record of child abuse and domestic violence by giving a voice to those most affected.

The People's Report, released yesterday, summarised the experiences of about 500 survivors of abuse, frontline workers, and offenders who told their stories to the inquiry.

The report said perpetrators were often seen to be more believable and "played the system" in order to not be held accountable for their actions and suggested shifting the burden of proof in "domestic" cases so alleged perpetrators were considered guilty unless they could prove they were innocent.

Karen Edwards, whose 21-year-old daughter, Ashlee, was found dead beside a Whangarei river on July 2012, said the report reflected the true raw reality of the "rampant" domestic-violence issue.

"It's about time the victims were listened to. Alarmingly, generational abuse has become normality for many. It has got to stop because the ripple effects of domestic violence touches everyone in the community," Mrs Edwards said.

"I really do think this report will finally send a shock wave through the systems and agencies that we've heard having difficulties and failings all too commonly. I really hope this does happen as a result of this report."

The report also said "alarming dysfunction" in the courts meant incidents of assault were not linked to earlier or successive incidents of child abuse and domestic violence, and women struggled with the court process and having to "prove" their situation.

Kate McGrath, whose sister-in-law Patricia "Wowo" McGrath died from a blow to the head by her partner, was relieved victims were finally getting a voice and their stories were being heard.

What was needed was education so that violent cycles could be broken, she said.

She agreed with the report which said an overwhelming number of people told how their domestic violence was treated as a "game" by lawyers, who unnecessarily lengthened proceedings for what appeared to be their own benefit.

"In our case it felt like all the power was in the hands of the lawyers.

"Quiet often we learnt on the day what was happening with the case and the details were sketchy," she said. Northland police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said there had been an increase in call-outs to domestic incidents, but a drop in serious assaults as a result of family violence incidents.

"This is because people have more trust and confidence in calling the police before a domestic incident escalates and someone gets seriously hurt. Neighbours, friends and family are calling us, which shows that campaigns such as "It's Not OK" are working," Mrs Kennett said.

Formal analysis was not in yesterday's report, and was not likely to be released until the end of the year as part of the blueprint for change that is hoped to form the basis of a national strategy.

The People's Report is online at: https://glenninquiry.org.nz/

- Northern Advocate

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