Māori women in violent relationships say they are not seeking help out of fears their tamariki will be taken off them by the state.

The findings are in a new report, E Tū Wāhine, E Tū Whānau: Wāhine Māori keeping safe in unsafe relationships, which found Māori women felt judged and guilty when accessing help from the very agencies that were supposed to be helping them.

Auckland University of Technology Professor in Māori Health Denise Wilson (Ngāti Tahinga/Tainui) said these experiences often forced the women back to the very situations they were trying to escape.

"There is invariably this idea they are not protecting their children, are neglectful mothers, or privileging the needs of their partner over their children.

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"But in reality they just want to keep their children safe. And their biggest fear is that if they ask for help, their children might be removed."

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While family violence is estimated to affect one in three women over their lifetimes, for Māori women it was close to 80 per cent, Wilson said.

Māori women were also three times more likely to be killed by a partner than non-Māori.

In her research Wilson interviewed 28 Māori women who had all experienced psychological violence and, almost all, family violence.

They reported negative interactions with agencies and services ranging from Oranga Tamariki, NGOs to the police - including unhelpful staff, judgmental and racist attitudes, and denied entitlements - which left them feeling unsafe, defensive, disregarded and discouraged.

Auckland University of Technology Professor in Māori Health Denise Wilson said agencies dealing with wāhine Māori in violent situations needed to show more compassion. Photo / Supplied
Auckland University of Technology Professor in Māori Health Denise Wilson said agencies dealing with wāhine Māori in violent situations needed to show more compassion. Photo / Supplied

All participants had personal experience of having tamariki taken into state care, or knew other wāhine who did, and had been disempowered and silenced through the process.

One woman spoke of why she didn't seek help from the violence: "I knew I wouldn't be welcome and the people in them were always quick to judge me.

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"Besides they have taken my kids away. I didn't feel vulnerable getting the bash or being scared. I felt totally vulnerable having to go to organisations and ask for help. I no longer had a choice if I wanted to be in my child's life."

One woman in an abusive relationship recalled how she was delivered a court notice by an Oranga Tamariki social worker for her unborn baby.

"Of all these years you know, even the things that I've had done, that [ex-partner]'s done to me, never have I actually been psychologically, emotionally and physically impaired as I had been from her."

Wilson said Māori women should never need to fear asking for help – they should have access to a system that enables them to get the support they need.

"These negative attitudes reinforce the notion that they are the authors of their own fate – that they choose to live with a violent partner and, as a consequence, neglect the wellbeing and safety of their tamariki."

For wāhine who grew up with violence, in state care, and had partners with gang associations, leaving and moving forward for them was not straightforward and more complicated, Wilson said.

Wāhine would return to relationships with a partner who used violence because the options available to them were few or none.

"Leaving an unsafe relationship without money or secure housing would only compromise the safety of their tamariki with unknown people in unfamiliar environments.

"They are not passive recipients of violence – they are intelligent and resourceful wāhine, who are highly motivated to keep their tamariki safe."

Wilson said along with services and agencies showing more compassion and empathy, strengthening cultural identity as Māori was a crucial component in healing.

Providers that took a kaupapa Māori approach had proven particularly effective, she said.

Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert said the research was "invaluable", and acknowledged the "courage" of wāhine to share their stories.

"Of particular concern were the barriers participants reported to engage with Government agencies, for fear of judgment and being treated poorly.

"It is important that Oranga Tamariki, along with all Government agencies, works to ensure all people who need help, receive help they need.

"Oranga Tamariki is working hard to increase its focus on partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations, particularly in the provision of early and intensive intervention services."