COMMENT: In his August 30 report in the Taupo & Turangi Weekender, Sergeant Te Reipa Morunga reported on crime in Turangi, a town with 3300 citizens near the south end of Lake Taupo. "Our crime figures for last week are one burglary, one theft – a petrol drive-off – and 10 family harm incidents."
He added, "Our family harm numbers so far this month have been really high compared with last month's, at 32 for the month." He said he was "concerned about the repeat occurrences, the families we are seeing several times a month".
One family harm incident every day, and very little else. We know that's not the full picture of crime in New Zealand, but it's a pointer to what's typical.
Most of the offenders Sergeant Morunga's crew dealt with last week won't go to court. Lawyer Catriona MacLennan says only three in a hundred cases gets that far. Even so, says the office of the chief district court judge, in the year to July "one in five of the active cases before the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court were related to domestic violence" while 12.5 per cent of applications to the Family Court are also violence-related.
It's an awful crisis. Hamilton Judge Phil Connell said in July that every week 200 cases described as family violence come before the Hamilton District Court. There are huge delays which, he said, leads to reoffending, victims retracting their statements, more people being remanded in custody and offenders being imprisoned more than they should be. All of which creates more harm.
"Often dads who indulge in violence are not necessarily bad fathers and, in fact, they do have a bond with their child," he said.
"And as soon as you start putting people inside and remanding in custody you're breaking that bond. And that damages children badly."
Family harm overwhelms our cops and our courts. We also call it domestic violence. It is, overwhelmingly, violence against women by their male partners and ex-partners, and against children by those same men. A good deal of it is sexual violence.
Violence by men against women and children. If anyone wants to talk about a national crime crisis in New Zealand, this is what it is.
"Conflict can start from something really stupid," wrote Sergeant Morunga, "but a lot of the time it's alcohol, drugs, financial problems, jealousy. It can be a lack of skills and not knowing how to deal with situations or the only way they know how to deal with them is physically abusive."
Family harm is not okay, he said, help is available and please don't ever hesitate to ask.
Meanwhile, at the Government's recently finished criminal justice summit, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented some challenging statistics. Among prisoners in New Zealand jails, she said, 70 per cent have literacy difficulties, 62 per cent have had a mental health issue in the past year and 47 per cent have addiction problems. Over 40 per cent have a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD from abuse and violence and 53 per cent of women prisoners have experienced sexual assault.
Also, over half our prisoners are Māori. And there's another statistic that I think is just as telling. A Ministry of Health investigation in 2005 found that two-thirds of prisoners had suffered a head injury.
Mark that date: we've known about this for nearly 15 years.
As a young man you get beaten up in a fight. Or you're in a car crash. Or you've already been beaten, as a child, as a toddler, as a baby. Or you were born with foetal alcohol syndrome.
Crime is a police issue and a justice issue and a safety issue and a whole lot more. But beyond all of that, isn't it obvious it's a health issue?
National Party spokespeople held themselves aloof from the summit. Leader Simon Bridges, speaking to TVNZ about what Government policies would produce, said, "I think it will be more victims."
His justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell called the summit "nothing more than a public relations exercise to try to justify [the Government's] plans to go soft on crime".
He said of Justice Minister Andrew Little that "his attitude shows he's firmly on the side of offenders and doesn't want to know about victims of crime".
How does that even make sense?
It's not easy, to think of crime as a health and community issue. We'll need much better programmes for offenders to address mental health and other health issues, and literacy, employment skills, relationship and parenting skills and more. Programmes in the community that do the same. Homes that are warm and dry. A primary healthcare system with wraparound the services for our kids and for everyone else. Schools that don't marginalise Māori or kids with learning difficulties. Secondary and tertiary education and training that set up young people well.
A culture that doesn't keep telling us violence is great. A culture that builds respect for women.
It's a cloak to weave over society and you can't unpick the bits. Why would you want to?
And there's more: new kinds of policing, new roles for the courts, a new approach to how and why we lock people up.
Some of this is already happening. The Matariki Court in Kaikohe steers offenders to "culturally appropriate rehabilitation". Integration of police, iwi, goverment and private sector social services, focused on family health, is growing.
In Auckland two Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment courts use a high-engagement approach to "break the cycle by treating the causes of offending". The Government has said it will expand the programme this year.
As the criminal justice summit showed, while there's a lot of anger about speed of progress, there's not much disagreement about what to do. We understand what looking after victims really means.
So why are we moving so slowly? Because it hasn't been politically acceptable to go faster. Politicians have been happy to bang the law and order drum, just for the votes.
I said we have a national crisis on our hands but what I really mean is that we have a National crisis. Why are Bridges and Mitchell banging that drum? It can't be because they think having more prisoners is a long-term solution to crime, or because they're unaware of the ravages caused by family violence. It can only be because they believe there are votes to scare up. And meanwhile, the number of victims keeps climbing.
But I have a solution. Let's do what coach Steve Hansen suggested and give more money to the All Blacks.
Seriously. How about funding a full-on campaign to make the All Blacks and the Warriors and other stars of our contact sports ambassadors against family harm? Actively engaged ambassadors who front big marketing campaigns, wear the slogan on their shirts and, crucially, get involved in programmes locally.
Don't make it token. Make it integral to what it means to be a sports hero in this country.
Do it for the victims. For women, for kids, and for all those young men who right now barely get a chance.