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

Family violence: 24 hours on the front line

New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. Eighty 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 six 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.

Live chat at 11.30am: Former abuser speaks out

Anna Leask spent time with police, Shine and in the Family Violence Court in Auckland City speaking to those tasked with responding to family violence on the front line, to give readers a ground-level insight into what is happening behind the doors of far too many New Zealand homes.

In a room at the Avondale police station, three women sit down. They do this every weekday.

Each has a report in front of her. Today it's 11 pages.

They've scrawled notes next to names, circled details and jotted down ideas.


One woman works for police, another for Child, Youth and Family and the third for Shine.

The report lists all the family violence call-outs for the Auckland City area in the past 24 hours.

There are 15 incidents to discuss, with decisions to be made on each regarding follow-up action.

Today's a quiet day; sometimes the list can be 27 pages long.

"The more pages, the worse it is," one of the women says.

While the list is "short", it's extremely grim.

At the table, after each call-out is discussed, the women make a call on who to refer each victim to.

Shine will contact some of the women and offer help, advice or refuge services. CYF get involved with any cases involving kids, and there are a variety of other agencies within the Auckland area that can be called on to provide support and assistance.

But they can only help where they're wanted. None of the women involved in the overnight incidents would engage with the police, and most have a history of refusing help from anyone.

These three women know this all too well.

And in 24 hours' time, they'll sit down and do this all again.

Police family violence call-outs

"She doesn't need help"

The woman in Panmure is heavily pregnant with her second child.

She calls 111. He's hurting her again. This time he's punched her and kicked her in the stomach.

Police arrive at her home in Panmure and are quickly told she "doesn't need help".

It's the sixth time the cops have answered a call for help from her. It's also the sixth time she refuses to speak to them when they arrive.

Neighbours call 111

The same night, over in Mt Roskill, someone calls 111 -- the neighbours are fighting again.

Police arrive and find them in the street. She has bite marks on her back and scuffed knees.

He also has bite marks -- on his arm, from where she's tried to fight back.

The couple's young child has witnessed the ugly incident.

She refuses to speak to police and goes back inside.

An unusual call

An unusual call comes from a man in St Johns. He's called 111 because he's had an argument with his wife of 30-odd years. She took off and he, worried about her safety, has called police. She eventually comes home and the police call around.

She tells them: "Sometimes he can't control his anger so I leave."

55 visits

For the eighth time this year, police have attended a call for help from an Onehunga house. In total they've been here 55 times.

The couple here are fighting over a vehicle. When police arrive, she says it's "just a minor argument".

"A very long history"

Soon after, police head to Hillsborough. This couple have been married for 20 years and a nasty fight has erupted over a T-shirt.

He put it on the table. She got mad. He slapped her on the back. She called police.

There's not enough evidence for an assault charge, so police issue a safety order for five days, meaning he can't come home during that time.

He's got two previous charges of assaulting her on his record and the couple have been on the high-risk list in the past.

"He's got a very long history with her, and with a former partner."

When victims won't talk

"This is your opportunity. This might be the seventh domestic you've been to at this house -- but this is your opportunity to make a difference in their lives." That's what Sergeant Tracey Sarich tells frontline cops when they're heading out to a family violence incident.

She's been working in the family violence team for eight years and knows better than anyone how frustrating it is to go to the same house time after time; to see women hurt and suffering; to have to walk away and leave them there.

Most women either won't engage with police, or, fearful of the repercussions, get cold feet when it comes time to follow up the initial incident.

"It's a frustrating situation, but I still see it as an opportunity every time we attend. You've just got to do everything you can. Today might be the day they listen," she said.

It's the little wins she strives for. Police cannot simply arrest a violent man, send him to court and "fix" the situation. It's complex.

"There's one couple I worked with and he used to give her absolute hidings. She had a protection order but she never used it ... never wanted to engage with us. He was still giving her hidings. We worked with her off and on over a couple of years. Eventually we got her to use the order and make the call to us, it was a start," she said.

Ms Sarich works alongside Sergeant Brendon Muir, a former frontliner and community constable who is now charged with overseeing all family violence incidents in the Avondale area, from Ponsonby to Sandringham and Mount Eden.

He is used to people refusing help. But he refuses not to.

"But we are going to be persistent. We're not going to go away. We'll just keep working away," he said.

"Some women say 'I love the guy, I want to be with him'. That's fine, let's work around that and see what we can do to make everything safe for you," he said.

"Sometimes they don't want to engage ... You've got to find another approach. It's not going to happen overnight. You've just got to chip away at the edges, break down the walls. We're working towards helping people have a life as free from violence as possible."

Ms Sarich encouraged anyone experiencing family violence to speak up.

"It doesn't need to be police. But tell someone," she said.

"And if someone confides in you, you are now their guardian angel. If you go home and do nothing about that, you have failed them. If you walk away, you're carrying that whole load on your shoulders.

"If you tell police, we've got wider shoulders. And if not us, tell a doctor, a support agency, tell someone you trust -- just do something. I know it's a breach of someone's confidence, but it's the best thing you can do."

The Family Violence Court

When police attend an incident and there is enough evidence to charge an abuser, the accused ends up in the Auckland Family Violence Court. Set up to offer a specialised, holistic approach to the exploding numbers being prosecuted over family violence incidents, the court has a focus on providing rehabilitation for offenders.

The Herald sat in for a day.

Three times within a couple of hours the same explanation from lawyers representing those in the dock was given for their behaviour: The defendant "just snapped".

The similarities ended there.

For anyone who thinks family violence happens only in certain parts of the community, the Family Violence Court is the place where they're proven wrong.

The group waiting for their case to be called were as diverse as our community walking the CBD outside the walls of the court.

European, Indian, Chinese, Tokelauan alleged offenders all waited their turn; from teenagers to those so old they required sticks.

Some wore basketball jerseys and looked as though they had rolled out of bed minutes earlier; others were in sharp suits with trendy haircuts.

And it wasn't only men.


The first defendant to plead guilty was a mother of three, a slender pounamu around her neck and embarrassment etched into her face.

It was her first time before the court, her lawyer explained.

She admitted charges of assault with a weapon and possessing an offensive weapon, "namely scissors".

The victim was the father of her children, from whom she was separated.

"It's a snapping situation, if you know what I mean," her lawyer told Judge Ema Aitken.

The woman had recently moved into emergency state housing in Mangere with her kids and though working full-time, was committed to finishing her anger-management course by July.

Next up, a middle-aged man, who stood poised in the dock like a bouncer, tattoos on his scalp just visible through his receding hair, had done half the one-on-one sessions required of him before sentencing for assaulting his partner.

Then, a lanky Chinese man who listened to proceedings intently via a Mandarin interpreter.

He had been under pressure to pay the staff at his plastering business and finally recovered money from a long-standing debtor.

But his wife had other plans for the cash. He assaulted her.

"He just snapped because he'd been under such a lot of pressure," his lawyer said.

He had no previous convictions but, due to the seriousness of the assault, a discharge without conviction was not an option.

A well-dressed man in his 40s -- wearing a sky-blue dress shirt and looking as though he was in between meetings -- was next on the list.

An engineer for a pharmaceutical company, he was charged with dealing his teenage daughter a backhand slap during a blazing row while they were in a car. Angry that she had been wagging school and spending the night at a boyfriend's, he then dragged her to the house and pinned her to the wall by her throat.

These cases may shock you but they, and much worse, are going on all around you. For the police, courts and help agencies, it's just another day on the front line.

• 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
• 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.

How to hide your visit

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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