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

Helping hand for abuse victims

Exclusive: Hundreds safe in their homes behind new locks and doors.
Some of the practical measures taken include replacing glass-panelled entrance doors with solid wood, installing security lights. Photo / Getty Images
Some of the practical measures taken include replacing glass-panelled entrance doors with solid wood, installing security lights. Photo / Getty Images

More than 750 victims of family violence have had their houses fitted out with alarms, locks and other security features in the past year as part of a government-funded programme to keep them safe from their abusers.

The Herald can reveal that during the first year of the National Home Safety Service 237 homes were fitted with better locks, stronger doors, window stays and alarm systems, meaning 750 adult and 517 child victims of family violence were living in more secure properties. A further 31 homes are being assessed for security upgrades.

The NHSS began nationally in March last year. A pilot programme started in Auckland in 2008 and was later picked up in Tauranga and Christchurch. The programme went nationwide last year.

Its aim is to help victims stay in their own homes with a "significantly reduced risk" of being harmed by the violent family member.

Some of the practical measures taken include replacing glass-panelled entrance doors with solid wood, installing security lights, providing monitored personal panic alarms and replacing locks and broken windows.

The NHSS is funded by the Government and the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges last year won a $3.6 million contract to roll the programme out.

In the next 12 months 350 more homes will be upgraded, and 400 the following year.

"For hundreds of family violence victims, moving on with your life no longer means having to move out of your own home, thanks to the success of the programme," said Justice Minister Amy Adams.

"Too often, victims [have] to move house to escape violent perpetrators, uprooting children and disrupting families, schooling and routines."

Adams expected the number of victims to benefit from the programme to reach 2000 in the next two years.

Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury said she was "very happy" with the results so far. "It's always better if you can keep women at home - but you need to do it safely," she said.

Most of the victims helped were women, but there were a small number of men.

Jury shared some of the comments from victims who were part of the programme.

"I don't worry any more about the ranch slider being lifted off," said one.

"I am now able to feel comfy at home," another said.

And the teenage daughter of an abuse victim also shared her thoughts. "Now that mum has an alarm and her home is safe, I feel like I have my mum back again."

Victims have to meet a very strict criteria to get an upgrade.

"If they want the person [who abused them] back in the house we certainly don't want to make the house stronger so they can be locked inside with that person. They need to be committed to wanting to keep themselves safe," Jury said.

"And you have to remember, these are women who are right up there at the top of the risk ladder. They are very unsafe women."

Detective Inspector Dave Greig said police fully supported the NHSS.

"It closely aligns with our work to protect victims and reduce the harm caused by family violence."

'Prisoners in their own homes'

A Women's Refuge advocate who works directly with victims said most were not in a position to relocate to get away from family violence.

Housing shortages meant those living in Housing NZ properties had a long wait, and those paying mortgages or with a rental lease were stuck.

"They are prisoners in their own home ... they just don't have another choice, it is not an option to move."

She said some women had "safe rooms" set up where they could lock themselves in and call for help in an emergency.

Others had locks replaced on doors they had no keys for, or window stays installed.

"It's little things that might make someone who isn't in that situation think 'how's that going to help?' But to people in the situation it does make a huge difference," said the advocate, who did not want to be named.

Panic alarms were also installed.

"They are silent and the client can trigger them in an emergency ... when you're in a controlling or abusive relationship, trying to call the police when you're confronted by a violent person is hard."

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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- NZ Herald

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