Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

New family violence offences to be created

New family violence offences including assault on a family member will be created as part of more than 50 changes to the current Domestic Violence Act.

However, the Government has declined to make coercive control and psychological violence stad-alone family violence offences, saying evidence from Britain where such offences existed was they had not proven as effective as hoped for.

Prime Minister John Key has announced a raft of changes in a speech to justice sector groups at Te Papa in Wellington.

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In a strongly-worded speech, he directly addressed family violence perpetrators.

"To the perpetrators of this misery I say this - recognise what is going on in your home and take responsibility for it.

"A good father, a good step-father and a good man does not hit, intimidate or control his spouse, partner, ex-partner or her children.

The same goes for women who are abusers.

"If you act in a violent and controlling way, you can change this behaviour. Own the problem. Nothing will get better until you do. Ask for help. There is no shame in that."

Today's overhaul of the law has thrilled non-government organisations that are working to cut family violence rates.

Jane Drumm of the Auckland agency Shine, who travelled to Wellington for the speech, told the Herald she had never heard a prime minister speak so strongly about the issue.

"I have been doing this work now...for 33 years, and I have never in all that time heard such a strong statement from a politician. And talk about so many things that we have been pushing for, for many, many years.

"I just feel like we have a real opportunity that we can make a big difference."

Women's Refuge said the changes were a "giant step" in the right direction.

Changes announced today include:

• Creating new offences of non-fatal strangulation, coercion to marry, and assault on a family member.
• Making the safety of victims a principal consideration in all bail decisions, and at the centre of parenting and property orders.
• Flagging all family violence offences on criminal records. This will be done so the courts and police know when a person has such a history.

The changes come after nearly 500 detailed submissions from individuals and groups were received after the Government released a discussion document last August.

New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world.

Other changes announced today include:

• Allowing others to apply for a protection order on a victim's behalf, and better providing for the rights of children under protection orders. This could happen when a victim is too scared of a perpetrator to apply for an order herself. Police officers could already initiate a protection order, for example when a police safety order was breached. But the law change announced today would enable others to initiate that process.

• Making offending while on a protection order a specific aggravating factor in sentencing.

• Letting people refer themselves to services to help stop violence, such as giving the perpetrator access to non-violence programmes, without them having to go to court.

• Make it easier for the sharing of information between the courts, police and the agencies and community organisations that deal with families.

The announcement follows a Herald campaign ran earlier this year addressing family violence.

READ MORE:
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Key said the changes would cost about $130 million over four years. That would help fund 66 new police officers to cope with associated demand.

Legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament early next year.

"These changes have the potential to significantly reduce family violence.

"New Zealanders generally resist government interference in their private lives, and I get that.

"But let me say straight up that in households where anyone is being assaulted, threatened, intimidated, belittled or deprived, the perpetrator has no right to expect privacy so they can go on being a bully."

Key said the increase in protection orders expected under the changes is expected to lead to 12300 fewer violent offences each year.

The increased imprisonment of violent offenders is expected to prevent another 1100 violent offences each year, he told the audience.

Key said the increase in protection orders expected under the changes is expected to lead to 12300 fewer violent offences each year.

The increased imprisonment of violent offenders is expected to prevent another 1100 violent offences each year, he told the audience.

Plunket welcomed the new laws, saying children thrived when the people around them were in positive, non-violent relationships.

"Children who have a parent who is or was abused have a higher risk of being abused themselves," Plunket general manager of clinical services Helen Connors said.

"Even if the abuser is not directly violent to the children, children may be seriously affected by seeing or hearing their parent being hurt...

"Plunket nurses are among the health professionals here to help. We can connect you with the services to support you to become violence free, or get out of a violent situation."

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

- NZ Herald

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