Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Family violence: Why does New Zealand have such a huge problem?

New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. A shocking 80 per cent of incidents go unreported — so what we know of family violence in our community is barely the tip of the iceberg. Today is part three of We’re Better Than This, a week long series on family violence. Our aim is to raise awareness, to educate, to give an insight into the victims and perpetrators. We want to encourage victims to have the strength to speak out, and abusers the courage to change their behaviour.
Emily Longley was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Elliot Turner, soon after she broke up with him in 2011. Photo / Supplied
Emily Longley was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Elliot Turner, soon after she broke up with him in 2011. Photo / Supplied

One in three Kiwi women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime. That's a third of our female population. 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, it is predominantly women who bear the brunt of this abuse.

Police attended 105,000 family violence incidents last year. On average, they took a call for help every five minutes - 279 each day in total.

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."

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 a case where people are 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 stats shocked her.

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

"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 front-line 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."

Helen Meads, 42, was shot to death by her husband. Photo / Supplied
Helen Meads, 42, was shot to death by her husband. Photo / Supplied

Family violence: Our lost women

On average, 13 Kiwi women are killed each year by their partner or ex. A break-up or separation is the most dangerous time for women and children who are the victims of family violence. The risk of a woman being killed by her partner quadruples when she tries to leave.

• Emily Longley, 17 - murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Elliot Turner, soon after she broke up with him in 2011.

• Helen Meads, 42 - shot to death by her husband, Greg Meads, soon after she ended their marriage in 2009.

• Sophie Elliott, 22 - stabbed 216 times and murdered in her own home by ex-boyfriend Dr Clayton Weatherston in 2008.

• Virginia Ford, 20 - beaten to death by her boyfriend, Jesse Ferris-Bromley, after months of violent abuse in 2015.

• Ashlee Edwards, 21 - killed by her ex and father of her children, Jimmy Akuhata, who threw her over a bridge then forced her head under the water until she struggled no more.

• Carmen Thomas, 32 - murdered, dismembered and buried in the Waitakere Ranges by her ex-partner, Brad Callaghan, the father of her son, in 2010.

• Ranjita Sharma, 28 - murdered by her estranged husband, Diwesh Kumar, in 2011. He poured accelerant over her and set her alight days after she got a protection order against him.

• In tomorrow's Herald: The victims. Three women subjected to horrific violence and abuse by their former partners speak out. And the harrowing story of a woman who tried desperately to get her sister away from an abusive relationship. Later this week, we speak to victims and perpetrators of abuse and look at solutions. #BetterThanThis

If you're in danger NOW:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you
• Run outside and head for where there are other people
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you
• Take the children with you
• Don't stop to get anything else
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisisline operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice:
• National Network of Stopping Violence:
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

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If you are reading this information on the Herald website and you're worried that someone using the same computer will find out what you've been looking at, you can follow the steps at the link here to hide your visit. Each of the websites above also have a section that outlines this process.

Take a stand - NZ is #BetterThanThis

New Zealand has the worst rate of family violence in the developed world. One in three women will be subjected to physical or sexual violence from a partner at some point in their lives.

Take a stand. Change your social media profile picture to demand that we are better than this. Right-click on this image below (or press and hold on your mobile device) to save, then upload to your social profiles. Or you can download the image here.

- NZ Herald

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