Family violence continues to increase in New Zealand, with police investigating 118,910 incidents of family violence last year - almost 9000 more than in 2015.

But police are encouraged by the numbers, saying it showed more people were willing to call for help.

Latest statistics from the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse reveal that in 2014 police attended 101,955 call-outs and in 2015 the number rose by 8179 - just over 8 per cent - to 110,126.

In 2016 the number leapt by another 8784.

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"We don't know whether this is due to an increase in violence or an increase in people coming forward," said Dr Pauline Gulliver from the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse.

"However it is clear that demand on services continues to increase."

Last year the Herald launched a campaign called We're Better Than This, focusing on New Zealand's biggest social issue - family violence.

Our campaign, which started with a week-long series in May and a second just before Christmas when family harm is at its worst, aimed at raising awareness by taking an in-depth look at the issues, the victims, perpetrators and solutions.

Despite the campaign, and the work being done by the Government, police, refuges and countless other agencies, the harm is not abating.
Responding to family violence accounts for 41 per cent of a frontline police officer's time.

"Intimate partner violence and child abuse do not just affect a few 'vulnerable' individuals, but are problems that need addressing in every community," Gulliver said.

She is calling for better resourcing for specialist family violence services and prevention programmes.

"Police and the criminal justice system have received increased funding for responding to family violence in the last 12 months, however this needs to be matched by resourcing for specialist family violence services and prevention programmes in the community," she said.

"Currently just 1.5 per cent of government spend goes on violence prevention."

Police attended almost 9000 more call-outs to family violence in 2016 than the year before. Photo / John Borren
Police attended almost 9000 more call-outs to family violence in 2016 than the year before. Photo / John Borren

Police family violence team acting manager Inspector Morgan Gray said the issue was "complex" and the increase in call-outs was encouraging.

"We want to see an increase in reporting.

"Reporting incidences of family harms allows police to work with families and vulnerable people, as well as referral to other relevant agencies to help get people the help and protection they need.

"If these incidents are not reported to us, it can be difficult for police and other agencies to know what is going on behind closed doors.

"Family harm is not something to be kept a secret, and we urge anyone with concerns about their own situation or someone they know to call police."

Gray said family harm touched "all sectors of our communities".

"Reducing harm is of a very high priority to police, particularly the effects on children.

"We know that children exposed to family harm are more likely to be involved in violent and abusive relationships as adults, and can have adverse life outcomes - and stopping this cycle is key to changing behaviour".

Shine spokeswoman Jill Proudfoot said the latest figures were not a surprise - but they were still disappointing.

"We know it's happening," she said.

"We also know that we can only deal with one in seven referrals from the police with our current resourcing."

Proudfoot said part of the reason for the growth in family harm was the increase in population.

"But there are no new trends, there's just an awful lot of people phoning the police," she said.

"And sadly, the people that do phone the police are just the tip of the iceberg.

"You have to be so desperate before you call the police, it's a danger in itself for these victims - to make that decision people have to be in pretty dire straits."

Proudfoot said there was no "quick fix" for family violence.

"It's not a little issue that we can fix with a few campaigns or projects, it has to be a concentrated, well resourced and consistent approach - a long-term effort.

"Until we have an overarching strategy that all parties sign up to that we know we can carry on over a generation - it won't change.

"It's got to be a huge change."

Justice Minister Amy Adams, who is spearheading a Ministerial Group on Family Violence, said reducing incidents was her "top priority".

Earlier this year Adams introduced the Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill, proposing to amend the Domestic Violence Act and six others.

"As part of our reform programme, we're working hard to raise awareness around family violence and the support that is available in the hope that more victims will report the abuse they're suffering and get the help they need," she said.

"What the [NZFVC] report shows is that more victims are reaching out for help by reporting family violence."

Police data questioned

Dr Gulliver also questioned whether police data on offences is accurately capturing the amount of family violence.

"In 2014-15, police introduced a new data collection system which in theory improves our ability to see how much crime is family violence," she said.

"However, this is currently compromised because the victim's relationship to the offender is not being recorded in the majority of cases: in over half of physical assaults against women, and more than 80 per cent of sexual assaults.

"We know from other research that the vast majority of assaults against women are carried out by partners, ex-partners, family members and others known to them.

"So we need to ask why the police are not capturing this information."

Gray said while police data "can help paint the picture of serious physical and sexual assault" it could not provide a complete picture alone.

"For a range of reasons, offenders will often not be recorded in police data on serious physical and sexual crime.

"Police data can only ever capture matters police become aware of.

"Many sexual assaults are never reported to police, and those that are can be difficult to prove."

He said police statistics include matters reported as crimes unless there is credible evidence to the contrary, even if the victim does not wish to identify the offender.

"Investigations into serious offending can take many months to conclude, so some of the instances in which an offender has not yet been identified will have an offender identified at some point.

"Police publishes considerable crime data at policedata.nz.

"Consistent with research findings, data published by NZ Police data on instances where an offender is identified shows that the majority of assaults against women are carried out by partners, ex-partners, family members and others known to them."

New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. A shocking 80 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 three 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.

Family violence - the hard truth

• Between 2009 and 2015, there were 194 family violence deaths.
• Of those, intimate partner violence deaths made up almost half.
• One in three New Zealand women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
• When psychological abuse is included, 55 per cent have experienced IPV.
• In 2015/16 Women's Refuge received about 73,000 crisis calls; 11,062 women accessed advocacy services in the community; 2446 women and children stayed in safe houses.
• In 2016, 5461 applications were made for protection orders - 89 per cent were made by women.
• In 2015/16, Child, Youth and Family received 142,249 Care and Protection notifications.
• Of those notifications 44,689 were deemed to require further action, leading to 16,394 findings of abuse or neglect.
• In 2015, police recorded 10 homicides of children and young people under 20 by a family member.
• The same year, 63 children aged 16 years or under were hospitalised for an assault perpetrated by a family member.

Types of abuse

• Physical: including but not limited to punching, bashing, choking, slapping, pinching, kicking, hitting, biting, burning with cigarettes, throwing things, strangling, pushing, pulling hair, spitting, urinating, tying up, holding down, locking in a cupboard, using a knife/gun/belt or any kind of weapon

• Psychological: the most common form of domestic abuse in New Zealand and can be subtle and hidden so is often not recognised. Abuse includes manipulation, mind games, hurting or threatening pets, causing fear, stalking, taking away the capacity to make decisions, controlling or stopping outings/contact with friends or family, personal criticism, racism, lying, swearing, humiliating, brandishing a weapon, name calling, controlling what you do or wear.


If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or 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 crisis line 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. Crisis line 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.

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