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

Women most often at risk of violence

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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. Photo / Shutterstock
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. Photo / Shutterstock

No one is immune to family violence. It can happen in the poorest of homes and the richest. Among the victims are our most educated people, and our most vulnerable. They are young and old. They are from all ethnicities.

The term family violence encompasses intimate partner violence, child abuse, elderly abuse and the abuse of disabled people within families. By far the most significant of all family violence is men abusing women.

According to a Ministry of Justice document supporting a review into current family violence legislation, some New Zealanders' characteristics, socio-economic status or environments may increase the risk, incidence and severity of family violence.

"Gender is a significant risk factor for victimisation and harm across all forms of family violence. The substantial majority of intimate partner violence involving coercive control occurs against women. Young women are particularly vulnerable, and the risk of victimisation is increased further when young women have children," the document revealed.

"Female victims are far more likely to report experiencing severe harm as a result of intimate partner violence, and report being significantly affected at twice the rate of male victims [and] women who live with gangs are at greater risk of more frequent and severe violence."

According to the report, Maori are "disproportionately represented" both in the victim and perpetrator statistics. Maori women are twice as likely as other women to experience family violence.

"The rates per year of Maori victims and offenders in intimate partner violence, and child abuse and neglect homicides were significantly higher than those of non-Maori," the document stated.

Pacific Island and ethnic migrant communities also experience higher rates of family violence. "These groups can face distinct socio-economic, cultural and practical barriers that may make it more difficult to seek help," the document explained.

"For example, migrants may feel trapped in abusive relationships by cultural expectations, if their residency status is connected to their spouse, or if they face language barriers. Victims from migrant families may also lack access to finances and be isolated from the community."

While the majority of victims are women, the report noted men also suffer abuse at the hands of a partner or ex.

The report acknowledged women often perpetrate violence towards their partners or ex.

Between 2009 and 2012, 24 per cent of partner violence-related deaths were perpetrated by women. But the more serious issue is violence against women.


Multiple reasons for not leaving

"Why doesn't she just leave?' is a common question posed from those who have never experienced abuse, violence and living in fear on a daily basis.

On average, when a woman leaves a violent home she will make between four and seven attempts before she is successful.

There are many reasons these women, and men, don't "just leave".

According to the Women's Refuge, the main reason domestic violence victims don't leave violent partners is because they simply do not feel safe enough to go.

Other factors that make escape extremely challenging include embarrassment, shame, financial dependence on their abuser, fear of what will happen to their children and a lack of support.

Many women also lack an understanding of domestic violence and perhaps do not realise they are a victim at first, or the ongoing torture has eroded their self esteem and confidence and they do not feel capable of leaving.

To put it bluntly, for women in a violent relationship, leaving takes planning, support and courage. It is not a case of packing a bag and walking out the front door.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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