Rotorua has one of the highest rates of family harm - per capita and per police staff member - in the country.

But it's hoped a $2.7 million, three-year pilot kaupapa Māori programme establishing eight new fulltime police and community paeārahi roles will keep more whānau safe.

Rotorua police received an average of 70 family harm calls per week this time last year across the district and Minginui, Ruatāhuna and Murupara.

Currently, the average is around 90 to 100.

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Family Harm Intervention Supervisor Sergeant Sam Parata, advisory board member Maxine Rennie QSM, Intervention Coordinator Cherie Lang and administrator Natalie Richards. Photo / Andrew Warner
Family Harm Intervention Supervisor Sergeant Sam Parata, advisory board member Maxine Rennie QSM, Intervention Coordinator Cherie Lang and administrator Natalie Richards. Photo / Andrew Warner

However, they estimate only one in five incidents are reported to police, based on supplementary reports from the Lakes District Health Board, Women's Refuge, Whānau Ora and other community partners.

In Rotorua Area Commander Phil Taikato's words: "If we don't get on top of our family harm now it's the generations in future who are going to suffer."

To ensure more resources were put into addressing the problem in Rotorua, Taikato led an application to the Ministry of Justice's Proceeds of Crime Fund for a tikanga-based, whānau-centred pilot programme last year.

He was successful in the October bids.

The fund is paying for six of the eight fulltime staff in the pilot and the other two are being funded by Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust.

The programme is being designed at the moment, with input from Te Arawa leaders and other community services. It is expected to begin taking participants in the next two to three months.

Taikato described it as "a novel approach".

The goal is to have the eight fulltime positions made permanent if the intended outcomes are met.

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"We really need to be pushing for this," he said.

Rotorua Family Harm Intervention Coordinator Cherie Lang said the programme will be education-focused for any perpetrator who wants to change.

However, the programme will also provide support for victims in whānau, such as partners and children.

It will be held on marae, and current Whānau Ora paeārahi navigators will help connect and support participants through education, mental health, addiction, housing, employment and other services to help them achieve their aspirations for themselves and their whānau.

"[We will be] asking them, what is it they need? Instead of government agencies telling them what they think they need."

Rotorua Family Harm Intervention Coordinator Cherie Lang. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua Family Harm Intervention Coordinator Cherie Lang. Photo / Andrew Warner

She said the programme was "long-term" because most families Rotorua police deal with "have a lifetime of trauma".

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"It is simply not possible to address a lifetime of trauma in the space of weeks or even months.

"We've got some women who are 48 years old who have just been born into it ... Some of these whānau are going to need five to 10 years of intervention.

"We have already had a gang president say that he is keen to end the cycle of violence for his mokos and [ask] how can we help," she said.

"We are extremely excited about that because we want to help."

Methamphetamine and alcohol use feature strongly in family harm reports, as well as mental health issues.

Family harm incorporates physical abuse, financial abuse, elder abuse, sexual abuse and psychological abuse.

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However, Lang said across the Bay of Plenty, people in Tauranga were much more likely to report family harm in the early stages, such as an argument, than in Rotorua, where often "community members don't call police until serious assaults have occurred".

Taikato said "in Rotorua, there is more of an acceptance of family harm" and a loud argument was often considered "business as usual - which is not acceptable".

He said already participants in existing programmes to stop family harm offending, such as the E Tū Matua, Pūwhakamua and Tū Tangata programmes, were also welcome to be included in the police pilot.

He is already in frequent contact with Pūwhakamua leader Billy Macfarlane about the progress of his participants and further avenues for them.

Te Arawa Whānau Ora chief executive Lorraine Hetaraka said the collective's service, Hapai Huānga, provided a strengths-based approach for whānau experiencing family harm.

She said it helped them "access the support that they need to enable them to achieve their goals".

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Recent family harm trends in Rotorua

• More first-time whānau calling police about their incidents
• More incidents involving Pākehā, currently approximately 80 per cent of those involved in incidents are Māori
• More neighbours reporting
• Increased severity of family harm episodes in some families

Do you need help?

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:

Ngā Wai a Te Tūī Māori and Indigenous Research Centre and the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse are partnering to provide information on preventing and responding to family, whānau and sexual violence during COVID-19.
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

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