Congratulations to Justice Minister Amy Adams for making combating family violence her top priority. That's what's needed if New Zealand is to end the scourge of having the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world.

The minister last week unveiled plans for an overhaul of laws governing family violence.

Among the suggestions are creating stand-alone family violence offences; making it easier to apply for protection orders; requiring police to arrest for all protection order breaches; and updating the definition of "domestic violence" to include coercive control.

These are great ideas, as are the suggestions for a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation, and consideration of how to improve the law relating to family violence victims who commit homicide.


However, without two key criteria, the changes proposed by Ms Adams will not be effective: enforcement and resources are vital.

Our current Domestic Violence Act is excellent law: the problem is that for 20 years it has never been enforced properly. The act defines "domestic violence" to include psychological abuse. However, in practice, protection orders will not be granted unless there has been very recent physical abuse.

That is not what the law says, but that is how Family Court judges apply it.

Reasons I have encountered for judges not granting protection orders include the woman being in a refuge and supposedly therefore not needing protection; the parties being young; and physical violence being a week earlier, rather than within the past couple of days.

None of these criteria for refusing orders is set out in the act. Rather, the law says the act is to provide greater protection from domestic violence, while section 14 states that an order can be made if domestic violence has been used and an order is necessary for the protection of the applicant or children.

Police dealing with domestic violence sometimes do not recognise a pattern of violence and treat isolated events as trivial. In addition, the police are currently warning instead of arresting in some cases. Although the police conducted 101,981 family violence investigations in 2014, offences were recorded in only 37 per cent of cases.

The Livingstone Inquest tragically revealed how ineffective enforcement of protection orders can be. Edward Livingstone was twice found guilty of breaching an order, but the first time was given diversion, and the second time a discharge without conviction.

So, Ms Adams' suggestions are very welcome, but we need to take steps to apply our existing law properly, and to ensure that new laws will likewise operate as intended.
Secondly, we will not eradicate domestic violence without devoting significant resources to this goal.

Women and children need to be financially supported to permanently leave violent relationships. At the moment, economic imperatives mean that many victims cannot leave or, if they do, are forced to return.

However, we are far from seeing a commitment by the Government to provide the resources needed.

For example, in July 2014 the Government announced measures to help agencies work together on a co-ordinated system for dealing with family violence. But the funding provided was $9.4 million over four years. By contrast, $36 million was given to the 2013 America's Cup, and more than $300 million was spent on the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Since 9/11, Western governments have spent trillions on the War on Terror. Yet, the number of women who have died at the hands of their partners in that period is far greater than the number of Westerners killed by terrorism.

Until we stop calling domestic violence a "women's issue" and treat it instead as a pressing national and international problem, we will never eradicate it.

Millions of women have been working around the world for decades to end domestic violence. However, our focus - and that of many governments - has been on ambulance-at-the-bottom-of the-cliff responses. It's time for men to step up and solve the issue of prevention.

• Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and journalist and anti-domestic violence campaigner.