Violent beatings, abuse and living in fear is hidden in the shadows of the picturesque lakes and beaches of the Bay of Plenty. While many flock to the region to enjoy the outdoors, thousands are stuck in a cycle of torment and suffering behind closed doors. Last year, more people in the Bay of Plenty than anywhere else in the country were taken to court following a family harm investigation. Those on the front line are saying it is only getting more and more violent. Cira Olivier reports
Six cases of family harm are appearing in Bay of Plenty courts every day - the highest rate in the country.
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Those on the front line say not only is the violence on the rise, but the severity of the violence is getting worse with drugs and alcohol thought to be the cause.
There were 13,219 family investigations carried out in the Bay of Plenty last year - nearly 1000 more than the previous year and about 483 more than in 2016.
Of these investigations, 2213 cases went to court, which is the highest number of family harm prosecutions of any region in the country and an average of six a day.
There were 67 more prosecutions than in 2017 and 187 fewer cases than in 2016.
Family harm offences, apprehensions and prosecutions are determined from police investigations or reports of family harm. Not all investigations lead to further action.
Bay of Plenty youth, community and family harm district manager, Inspector Phil Gillbanks, said a significant number of family harm incidents were reported with allegations of methamphetamine use or alcohol abuse as the cause of the stress in the relationship.
In 2017 police moved from a paper-based reporting to an online app on the phones for staff which resulted in a dip in 2017 and a sudden rise in 2018, he said.
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"Drugs, alcohol and mental health do play a significant part in family harm. Often there are children involved."
Gillbanks said the calls police received were often by neighbours who may hear shouting and police, who would be joined with other services, were often met with dismissals from the household.
In these instances, Gillbanks said police "have to keep going back and keep trying" until the victim felt they could reach out for help.
He said methamphetamine usage in the Bay of Plenty was high and many people from different walks of life used the drug.
It was an attractive drug to many due to the ability to hide it and the supposed enhanced awareness and ability to work longer hours.
He said paranoia and depression after the high and the desire to get back on top was what made the drug so addictive.
"The result is poor decision making, enhanced focus in negative areas, and sleep deprivation that lead to financial and relationship collapse."
Police have designated family harm teams in Rotorua, Whakatāne, Tauranga and Taupō who work closely with other Government agencies and non-government organisations to provide wrap-around services to families, victims and perpetrators in need.
Gillbanks said more funding was needed to deal with the volume of incidents being reported and tackled at all angles, including helping the offenders.
He said a deeply-rooted mistrust of police and other agencies, fear of retaliation and a loss of friends and family, and the belief it was normal were some of the challenges agencies faced.
A Rotorua community nurse who spoke anonymously said the number of domestic violence incidents was rising and the violence was intensifying.
She said it was rare for people to go to the medical centre to seek help and she had not noticed women being more open.
"It's going from a slap to a full-on beating, it's just getting a lot more violent and a lot more of our children are witnessing the violence.
"There's so many different prongs to family violence . . . Some of these children have grown up in that way of life sometimes normalises it for our babies."
She the violence came from a mixture of people not knowing how to deal with problems, bottled emotions and no resilience which, when mixed with drugs and alcohol, was "just terrible".
She said the stigma needed to be taken away because no help could be given to anyone if none of the services knew.
She said the victim fear of not being able to live without their partner added to the sense of shame of asking for help.
"And nobody wants to feel like a victim."
Family violence response co-ordinator Lisa Mackinnon said support services in the Western Bay of Plenty were working above capacity with the number of people seeking help.
Mackinnon worked to co-ordinate agencies including police, Oranga Tamariki and non-government organisations.
"The workload, in a nutshell, is huge.
"If people are willing to engage and calling out for help, you've got to open your doors but that means that staff are under immense pressure."
She said family harm reports did not scratch the surface of the number of incidents there were and she put this down to denial and a lack of education of what family harm was.
"The severity of some of the episodes are seemingly getting nastier and nastier.
"There's always been a level of violence but that is escalating . . . Drugs, alcohol and mental health issues are impeding on our reports a lot more because it's all linked."
She said other services, like the DHB mental health services, were strained which created a ripple effect on society.
"People are falling through the cracks . . . They turn to drugs and alcohol and taking it out on their families, it's just a snowball effect."
There is a Women's Refuge programme - the Shielded Site - created to make asking for help easier.
There is a list of websites for the shielded logo websites which victims of abuse can use to find short and long-term methods of getting out. It does not appear in the browser history.