There is a woman in Auckland who could be in danger from her partner. She has been subjected to all kinds of violence and abuse. It escalates constantly. She won't engage with authorities -- chances are she's too scared of enraging her husband and suffering worse abuse as a result. SPEAK UP: SHARE YOUR STORY HERE
Police have been called to her home countless times. She is known to local refuges, but no one has been able to convince her to seek help. She is one of many victims of family violence that authorities and agencies are battling every day to help. Every five minutes police are called to a family violence incident in New Zealand. Every six-and-a-half minutes the Women's Refuge get a call on their crisis line and an average 201 women and children stay in one of their safe houses every night. Every day men are appearing in court on a raft of family violence-related charges. Many have been there before. Many will return. As part of our series We're Better Than This, the Herald
spent time with some frontline police, crisis line staff and in family violence court to give our readers insight into what is going on in too many homes. We spent time with responders in the Auckland city area and the work they do is mirrored in all towns, cities and districts around the country. Family violence never sleeps or takes a break and those on the front line know that better than anyone, in particular Senior Sergeant Gerry Whitely. He is the officer in charge of the Auckland city district family violence teams, coming from years of experience as a detective with the criminal investigation branch.
Mr Whitely used to attend family violence homicides, now he's driving the ambulance at the top of the cliff. "Instead of being there after the homicide occurs, I now have a golden opportunity to stop it happening," he said. Mr Whitley said police -- and other agencies involved in the response to family violence like Shine and Women's Refuge -- could only do so much. They could not make victims leave, or stay away after the fact. That was one of the biggest challenges and frustrations for frontline staff. "This is one of the biggest reasons we want to be police officers. Some people's lives are just horrible. We live in a beautiful country but unfortunately we have the unbelievable ability to bash our kids and bash one and other and it's just got to stop," he said.
Taking painful calls for help
In their office in Kingsland, Auckland, Shine advocates are taking calls. They're from women in violent relationships who are reaching out for help, or are ready to leave. Shine gets about 30 calls a day in the Auckland office alone. One of the call-takers spends about 20 minutes on the phone with a woman. She's asking for advice on how to leave an abusive relationship. You can hear the concern when the call-taker asks, "Where are you now?" and "Is he there?" "She was very distressed, questioning whether she was doing the right thing," the call-taker tells the Herald afterwards. Thursday nights and Friday mornings are busy, with women calling ahead of a potentially violent weekend. "She wants to leave and wants to go into a refuge before the impending weekend and the drama that's likely going to ensue," says the call-taker. "Monday mornings are busy, too, with the aftermath. It's a power-and-control fire -- drinking, anger, stress and poverty just fuel the fire."
The call-taker, a highly trained social worker, has to leave the office in a hurry. She has two women to see urgently. Their partners were arrested the night before and police have referred them to Shine. "We have to get there before the men come out of custody. They are usually released from about 11am. "If he finds out she's engaged with us, that could earn her a hiding." The call-taker says the job is frustrating and often she feels powerless. No one -- not police, family, friends, health workers or advocates like her -- can make women leave. They have to be ready, and only they know when the time is right. "I never feel like I've done enough," the call-taker says. "You've got to meet her where she's at, or you're going to lose her completely. You can't say, 'Just leave him'. It's totally not what she wants to hear. "There's a part of her that knows she wants to do that, but that's not where she's at. It's so complicated; there's a billion factors involved in when she's going to leave." The Shine teams hear more often from women suffering psychological abuse than physical. "Psychological abuse is debilitating and it's harder for people to understand. If he punches her it's very easy for her to say, 'That's violence and it's not okay.' It's easier for her to seek help. "But psychological abuse is sick and twisted, manipulative and subtle." The call-taker says that often, just being believed is a major milestone for women. "I had one client say, 'It's like you know him.' For us, the details vary but the pattern is always the same." The call-taker leaves the office, laden with files and determination across her face. "Good luck," a colleague says. "Fingers crossed," she replies. That reminds someone of a client they dealt with a while back. Her husband broke her finger. Deliberately. "For years after that, he would take her hand and slam that one finger in the door. It was his way of punishing her." • In tomorrow's Herald: How do we reduce, prevent and address family violence in New Zealand? Is there a silver bullet or will it take decades to stop violence against women?
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