I write in response to Doug Laing's editorial on May 30, where he suggested that the Family Violence Summit in June is an event that focuses only on what to do once the violence has happened.
He also makes a cynical suggestion about the summit being three months out from the election and ends by saying: "Serious subject, but who's taking it seriously?"
I can tell Mr Laing now that the Government is taking family violence very seriously.
That's why we have a wide-ranging reform programme to address the issue, led by the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence formed in 2015 which I co-chair with Social Development Minister Anne Tolley.
As part of that, we've introduced the Family and Whanau Violence Legislation Bill - the biggest reform of family violence laws in two decades.
The bill overhauls the Domestic Violence Act, amends six other Acts and makes consequential changes to over 30 pieces of law.
Some of the changes include:
- enabling victims to get the help they need without having to go to court.
- allowing others to apply for a Protection Order on a victim's behalf.
- putting the safety of victims at the heart of bail decisions.
- creating three new offences of strangulation, coercion to marry and assault on a family member.
- ensuring all family violence is clearly identified and risk information is properly shared.
The bill passed its first reading in Parliament unanimously in April, and although we know that laws alone cannot solve our horrific rate of family violence, they are a cornerstone element in how we respond to the issue.
Another part of our work programme is the introduction of the Integrated Safety Response (ISR) pilots, which test a new on-the-ground approach for preventing family violence and reducing the harm it causes.
The ISR involves core agencies and NGOs teaming up to ensure that families experiencing violence get the support they need to stay safe. They do this by getting around a table, sharing information and developing family safety plans targeted to people and households that they know are at risk of violence.
It has been running in Christchurch since July 2016 and in the Waikato since October 2016, and already more than 28,000 people have been supported through the development of over 9000 family safety plans.
There have been cases where serious harm or death was prevented as a result of the information sharing and inter-agency collaboration that the ISR enables.
Another potentially lifesaving service that we've implemented as part of our family violence reforms is the Family Violence Information Disclosure Scheme.
This scheme makes it easier for police to disclose a person's violent past to a partner or concerned third party. Between its introduction in December 2015 and April 2017, there were 158 requests for information, of which 74 per cent were approved.
In one case, police made a disclosure to a young woman who was in a relationship with a man known to have relationships with younger women where he used emotional abuse like threatening suicide if his partner left him. The man's behaviour was escalating and police believed his partner to be at risk. As a result of the disclosure, the woman made the decision to leave the relationship.
Contrary to what Mr Laing suggests, everything we're doing is about both preventing family violence and reducing the harm it causes - not simply the latter. Of course we want to prevent family violence from happening in the first place, but we cannot shy away from the fact that it does happen, far too often.
The way we respond to incidents of family violence is critical - we want to minimise the harm that this form of abuse causes and ensure that victims are well-supported to live a happy life, free from fear. So we must continue to find ways to achieve this.
The Government cannot tackle family violence alone, which is why we've involved the sector - agencies, NGOs, community groups, victims and former perpetrators - from the outset.
The Family Violence Summit will allow us to build on the conversations to date and share more ideas about ways to prevent family violence and reduce the harm. It comes at a time where there is already a lot of significant work under way - I've outlined just three examples but there are many more.
If, after reading this, Mr Laing still believes the Government is not taking the issue seriously, I suggest he head to https://www.justice.govt.nz/justice-sector-policy/key-initiatives/reducing-family-and-sexual-violence/work-programme/ to read about more of the work under way.
Amy Adams is Minister of Justice.