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

Family violence: 525,000 New Zealanders harmed every year

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.

• On average, police attend a family violence incident every five and a half minutes - that's 279 calls each day.
• At least 80 per cent of family violence incidents are not reported to the police.
• Last year, police attended about 105,000 domestic violence incidents.
• If all incidents were reported, they would have attended at least 525,000 calls for help.
• Children are present at about 80 per cent of all violent incidents in the home.
• On average 13 women and 10 men are killed each year as a result of family violence.
• One in three women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime.
• Family violence is estimated to cost the country between $4.1 billion and $7 billion each year.

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 who was supposed to love and care for them.

While this scenario is imaginary, the statistics are real.

In 2015, police around New Zealand attended about 105,000 family violence callouts. If each of those incidents was represented by a person, that's getting close to the population of Tauranga.

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

That's a lot of New Zealanders - mostly women - who are harmed and hurt.

We have the highest reported rate of intimate-partner violence and child abuse in the developed world and it is estimated that one in three Kiwi women during the course of their lives will experience either physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner or ex.

Among those victims was a Wellington woman who was beaten by her husband, a health professional. He has name suppression, but the court allowed the Herald to report that during an argument, the man threw a metal bar stool at the woman and when it missed her, he grabbed a wooden children's chair and hit her around her upper body. The chair broke and she tried to get away, going into a bedroom where one of the couple's children was.

The man walked in and twice slapped his wife's face, grabbed her hair, pulled her to the floor and kicked her legs.

Last month, university student Jesse Ferris-Bromley was sent to prison for eight years after beating his 20-year-old girlfriend, Virginia Ford, to death.

It was the last in a string of brutal attacks on the woman. Four days before she died, Ferris-Bromley subjected Ms Ford to an attack that left her with bleeding on the brain and fractured ribs.

The details of these incidents may shock many people, but for many New Zealanders, this kind of violence is part of daily life.

Virginia Ford, 20, was beaten to death by her boyfriend. Photo / Supplied
Virginia Ford, 20, was beaten to death by her boyfriend. Photo / Supplied

There is no one driver behind the problem, and certainly no easy solution. But one thing is clear - we can, and must, do better.

"The high rate of family violence in New Zealand is unacceptable," said Justice Minister Amy Adams. "It is one of our most significant social issues."

Mrs Adams is leading a comprehensive government cross-agency review of family violence laws in a bid to tackle the problem.

She said the issue was "horrific" and it was time for an "overhaul" - not just of the law and the way authorities deal with victims and offenders, but of how family violence was seen and considered within the community.

"This is not something that happens in some parts of New Zealand. This happens across every single social, ethnic, age and socio-economic group," she said.

"We have to acknowledge that. It happens in every street, in every community. To make people think about this more and talk about this more, that is part of our challenge. We absolutely can and must do better.

New Zealand hasn't really grasped the full extent of the problem.
Amy Adams

"Our biggest crime type"

If you ask Superintendent Tusha Penny why family violence is such an issue in New Zealand, she shrugs her shoulders. She worked on the front line for many years so she has seen it all - the wives beaten beyond recognition, the girlfriends strangled almost to death and the countless mothers, sisters, daughters lying dead in their own homes, killed by their partner or ex.

Why is it so bad? Who knows? I don't know.
Tusha Penny

"We have to peel it back and get to the 'why'. When we ask the 'why', and we still get a 'why', then we have a real problem. If we don't get the 'why', we will never change the landscape.

"We have a problem and that's been pretty well documented... Our goal in this country has got to be people go home, people are safe and the bogeyman's on the outside."

Ms Penny is leading a major overhaul of the way police respond to family violence. The overhaul is not just procedural. From the newest recruits to the most senior staff, she is determined to change the way the organisation thinks and speaks about family violence and broaden every officer's awareness and understanding of the issue.

"It is by far our biggest crime type," she said.

"Family violence is a huge priority. Every five minutes, our staff on the front line are going to an incident that involves family harm. On average, that's 279 calls for help every day.

"The first time a police officer walks through the door [of a home], it's definitely not the first time family violence has happened in that home."

Superintendent Tusha Penny has worked on the front line for many years and has seen wives beaten beyond recognition. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Superintendent Tusha Penny has worked on the front line for many years and has seen wives beaten beyond recognition. Photo / Mark Mitchell

One of Ms Penny's earliest callouts as a young constable taught her that lesson the hard way.

She responded to a family violence callout, and ended up holding a young mother in her arms as she died. The woman's children were nearby.

Police had been to that home "multiple times before".

Fast forward a few years and she has countless war stories from the coalface of family violence.

"I've stood by the hospital beds of women and heard them say, 'I just wish he'd done it this time, I wish it was over.'

"When I compare this to watching several of my best friends fighting terminal cancer and fighting to stay alive for the sake of their children, I think, what sort of violence do these mothers experience at home that makes them just want to die? How can that be an aspiration?

"So many women have said to me, 'If only he'd squeezed [my neck] that little bit harder, if only he'd done what he's said he was going to do for years, if only, because I live in constant fear. I just want it to be over.' They're just so over it.

"How the hell can it be that young parents say they just want it to be over. How much does a person have to be broken down for them to have that attitude?"

"We can do better."

Video

Booze, drugs, poverty and inequality

For Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury there are two strands to the biggest question around family violence - why?

"I think family and domestic violence is the biggest problem that we've got facing our society. Why? There are two schools of thought," she said.

"The first is that domestic violence is caused by alcohol and drug abuse and poverty - we have issues with all of these things.

"But I believe the other school, which is that in countries that have very, very strong gender-organised societies, that helps to create the problem.

"If you look at countries like Sweden or Norway, countries that put a lot of effort into gender equality, their rates of domestic violence are much lower. It seems to me that if we're going to make a difference, we have to get serious about women's position in New Zealand."

Sophie Elliott, 22, was stabbed 216 times and murdered in her own home by ex-boyfriend Dr Clayton Weatherston. Photo / Supplied
Sophie Elliott, 22, was stabbed 216 times and murdered in her own home by ex-boyfriend Dr Clayton Weatherston. Photo / Supplied

Dr Jury said that while many people thought New Zealand was a modern developed country, the ingrained attitude towards women and their role in society was antiquated and wrong.

The first thing that needs to change: the thought that it's okay to control women.
Dr Ang Jury

She said ordinary New Zealanders had no idea about domestic violence.

"We know it, but we don't understand it. I don't think you ever understand it properly unless it has actually happened to you," she said.

"Everyone knows what it looks like. With the money that has been poured into social awareness campaigns, you'd have to be someone living in a cave on an island to have missed it. So we know what it looks like, we know that it's bad but we don't make a hell of a lot of headway in addressing it."

30% experience violence

Professor Janet Fanslow is the co-director of the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse.

For years, she has been studying, surveying, questioning and collecting data around the issue. Her findings are, simply put, astonishing.

The umbrella term "family violence" covers child abuse, intimate-partner violence including sexual violence and emotional or psychological abuse.

What we know about intimate-partner violence in New Zealand is that one out of three women will report having experienced either physical or sexual violence or both in their lifetime.
Professor Janet Fanslow

"International literature shows that sadly, that's about the average around the world," she said.

"That means 30 per cent of women internationally are estimated to experience physical or sexual partner violence. That's a third of the female population. That is reflected in New Zealand. It's bad enough that we need to do something about it."

She said the figures were dramatically worse if you include the prevalence of "emotional violence".

In their lifetime, just over half of New Zealand women report that their partners have insulted them or made them feel bad about themselves, belittled or humiliated them in front of other people, or scared or intimidated them on purpose.

"I don't know if people really are aware of the severity of the problem," Professor Fanslow said. "We know we have a problem but we are often a little bit inclined to cite that problem in other people - it's that group over there.

"The scale of the problem is quite overwhelming. Part of our job is to break that down."

• Whether you are in a long-term or casual relationship, you deserve to be treated well and ensure that you are treating your partner respectfully. Take this quiz on from It's Not Ok to see how healthy your relationship is: Positive relationship quiz

• 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

What is family violence?

Family violence is physical, sexual or psychological abuse against any person by someone with whom they have a close and personal relationship.

Psychological abuse includes economic and financial abuse, spiritual abuse, controlling behaviour, threats of violence, property damage and causing children to witness violence.

A large proportion of family violence is inflicted by intimate partners and by adults abusing and neglecting children.

A distinguishing characteristic of intimate-partner violence and child abuse is that the violence can be a pattern of harmful behaviours occurring over time that can result in the victim's life being controlled by the perpetrator.

Family violence also includes abuse of parents by their children and covers abuse between siblings, and of older people by intimate partners and others.

The definition can also include violence by others who may share accommodation, such as flatmates.

Source: Ministry of Justice

Types of abuse

• Physical: including but not limited to punching, bashing, choking, slapping, pinching, kicking, hitting, biting, burning with cigarettes, throwing things, strangling, pushing, pulling hair, spitting, urinating, tying up, holding down, locking in a cupboard, using a knife/gun/belt or any kind of weapon

• Psychological: the most common form of domestic abuse in New Zealand and can be subtle and hidden so is often not recognised. Abuse includes manipulation, mind games, hurting or threatening pets, causing fear, stalking, taking away the capacity to make decisions, controlling or stopping outings/contact with friends or family, personal criticism, racism, lying, swearing, humiliating, brandishing a weapon, name calling, controlling what you do or wear.

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 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz

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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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