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

Family Violence: Home in NZ not so sweet

The Herald is continuing to focus on family violence as part of our We’re Better Than This campaign. New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate partner violence in the developed world. We aim to raise awareness, educate and give insight into the victims and perpetrators.
"Growing up I remember he would yell and yell at my mum and threaten her with knives and tell her he was going to kill her." Photo / iStock
"Growing up I remember he would yell and yell at my mum and threaten her with knives and tell her he was going to kill her." Photo / iStock

It is estimated that 80 per cent of violent incidents in Kiwi homes are seen or heard by children.

Even if a child is not physically hurt, living in a home where family violence occurs - where they can see and hear it - can cause permanent damage.

Today people who were raised in homes where violence was the norm, where being terrified of their fathers, mothers and other adults was part of daily life, speak out.

They have shared their stories in a bid to raise awareness of family violence and how it affects the lives of every person living in a home where it happens.

Later in the campaign we will take a more in-depth look at the correlation between intimate partner violence and child abuse.

But today, we hear from people who have lived through the violence.

Names have been withheld.

'He would beat my mum'

"When my mum was pregnant with me my father wanted to try and kill her and me. He would beat mum and lash out at her verbally, he threw knives and plates and punches at her stomach to try and kill me," said the woman who the Herald has agreed not to name.

Her mother left her father when she was young and started a relationship with another woman.

"My stepmother was no better, although there was never any physical abuse to my mother - she would mentally and emotionally drag her down."

She grew up and started a relationship with a controlling and violent man.

"I told him one night I wasn't ready to have a family, he spat the dummy. He went to the kitchen and grabbed a pan, he then came over to me, crowding over me and told me that I must give him what he wants or I'll be sorry.

"He slammed the pan in the side of my head and then punched me in my face a few times ... I told him someone would hear and call the police. He gave me one final hard punch in my eye ... I had a golf-ball size eye and fractured eye socket but I couldn't tell (anyone) what happened."

The woman said she felt that because she had lived with abuse her whole life, she was the problem. She shared her story to raise awareness about family violence.

'No one knew'

"Nobody ever really thinks about the impact domestic violence has on the children," a 19-year-old student told the Herald.

Her parents came from violent homes, and continued the cycle of abuse when they had kids of their own.

"We were the typical working-class family. The house, three kids. Picture perfect. What no one knew about was that my father would come home from work, and take his anger out on my mother.

"There were the screaming matches, the violence. I remember my mother being taken to the doctor in an emergency in the early hours of the morning for a severely lacerated foot from where my father threw a glass at her. I was 4 at the time. It got worse."

As the years went on her father and eventually her mother began beating her and her sister.

"It was the teenage years that were the worst. The understanding that there had to be something fundamentally wrong with me to deserve such 'punishments' from my parents," she said.

She was 11 when she attempted to take her own life for the first time. She was desperate to escape her violent home.

"My mother would try to leave. She packed our clothes in suitcases and took the car ... only to sit down the road for a few hours before returning."

She continued to self-harm and became addicted to prescription medication - she used it to "numb" herself to what was happening at home. At 15, she'd had enough.
"I had to leave now ... before I killed myself. I packed my schoolbag full of clothes and ran."

She went to a friend's house, where she has stayed ever since. The friend's parents became her guardians.

She wants people to know what children go through when they hear, see and suffer abuse in their home.

"I am not the only person my age that had a violent upbringing. But ... it does get better. You just have to ask for help."

'I remember'

"My father was abusive, verbally and psychologically and eventually physically. I loved my dad, but I don't know why he wasn't a very nice man to us and he was a pretty shit dad.

"Growing up I remember he would yell and yell at my mum and threaten her with knives and tell her he was going to kill her," she recalled.

"My brother and I would lock ourselves in our rooms, praying for it to end or for him to leave.

"My parents had already separated because of the abuse but my dad liked to make sure my mum knew he was always watching."

She said the worst incident was when her father turned on her brother. He was in his early teens and she was just 6 years old.

"One night my dad beat my brother so badly. I will never, ever forget that night as long as I live," she said.

"It was the most terrifying night of my life. I tried to help my brother and stop my dad but I was only six."

She said the hardest thing to comprehend as an adult, looking back at the abuse, was that no one came to help.

"All our neighbours would have heard and not one person came to help.

"Eventually my dad moved away with his new family but the damage was done.

"I would like to say my mum broke the cycle but she didn't. She met a new man who was also abusive."

Intimate partner violence

IN 2013 the Family Violence Clearinghouse published an issues paper on the impact intimate partner violence had on children who were exposed to it in the home.

"IPV can profoundly affect children by disrupting their relationships with their primary caregivers - most often mothers," the paper stated.

"Children's exposure to violence against a parent or caregiver is both an adverse experience itself, and a risk marker for experiencing of other types of violence and adversity."

The paper stated that children can be negatively impacted by family violence from the start of their lives.

"They may be conceived when men who use violence refuse to use contraception or as a result of rape. Pregnancy and the time immediately after birth are known times of heightened risk of IPV.

"In New Zealand, children are present at about half of all family violence callouts by police. Police report that in approximately 70 per cent of family units where IPV exists, the children are also direct victims of some form of violence.

"Despite mothers frequently making concerted efforts to shield children from knowledge of IPV, research consistently reports that children are aware of the abuse at an early age and in much greater detail than parents realise."

It was estimated that almost half of young New Zealand people reported being exposed to some form of violence in their homes and a national survey of about 10,000 secondary school students revealed that within the previous 12 months:

• 48.2 per cent had witnessed adults yelling or swearing at each other
• 45.9 per cent had witnessed an adult yelling or swearing at another child
• 16.6 per cent had witnessed an adult hitting or physically hurting another child
• 10.4 per cent had witnessed adults hitting or physically hurting each other
• 12.3 had themselves been hit or physically hurt

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
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

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- NZ Herald

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