Tens of thousands of New Zealanders are victims of mental manipulation and digital stalking while living under their partner's iron grip but many won't seek help, a new survey has found.
More than 60 per cent of adults who experienced controlling behaviour from an intimate partner - but not an offence such as violence - do not seek help from family or support services because most think it's "normal" or they can handle it themselves, the Ministry of Justice Crime and Victims Survey found.
The survey collated data collected between 2018 and 2020.
Christine, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, told the Herald it took her years to seek help to leave an abusive partner.
"I was telling people he was really, really lovely, he's a good guy. I felt embarrassed," Christine said, recalling how she would convince herself it was normal behaviour.
"I didn't think I could do better. I thought this is how relationships are, this is what happens."
The survey, released today, shows 82,000 people fall victim to controlling behaviour from a partner, such as having their location tracked, being prevented from seeing friends and family, or having access to a mobile phone, internet and transport limited.
But only 29,000, 37 per cent, of these people received help. Almost 70 per cent of male victims did not seek any help.
"Coercive control, the mental manipulation, the digital stalking, the fear ... is not always traditional violence that would end up in a hospital callout," independent victims' advocate Ruth Money said.
"While we dumb it down with the terminology of 'family harm', coercive control is particularly violent. It has a horrific mental effect on people to the point where they might self-harm physically."
The most common reasons for men and women not seeking help included thinking the behaviour was normal or that help was not needed, the survey said.
Others were uncertain how to access help or thought it was a private matter.
"These findings suggest that violence is normalised to an extent in Aotearoa New Zealand, and there are social barriers to help seeking," the survey said.
Men were significantly less likely to seek help, as well as adults with a personal income over $60,000, compared to the average person in Aotearoa.
The survey did not include statistics for non-binary adults and of other genders "due to a large margin of error" and the sample size. The report stated there is a "priority for future research" in this area.
Significantly more victims – 79 per cent - sought help if they were experiencing controlling behaviour and family offences, such as physical or sexual assault, harassment or damage to their property.
Money said it highlights the urgency in educating communities to recognise what controlling behaviour looks like.
"A number of survivors I work with don't understand what they are being subjected to is unhealthy, or is actually harm, or a crime.
"They've grown up in a household where maybe Mum and Dad's behaviour was quite dysfunctional and then that's repeated and repeated."
Money said education needs to start in schools, something the survey also recommended and Christine agreed with.
"Children need to be aware it's not normal because they go home and see this behaviour and they think it's normal, and then they go on to having their own relationships and it's just normal."
Before leaving her partner, Christine said she educated herself and urged other survivors to do the same.
"I started making little changes, like I started going to group courses and started doing some empowering in myself, and I got a little bit of strength back and that's when I left him."
The survey also pointed out the importance of education among whānau too.
Ninety-four per cent of adults received help from family when they asked and rated their support higher than support from formal services such as Victim Support and Whānau Ora.
This finding identified that family is a significant channel for sharing knowledge, the survey said.
"Nearly 50 per cent of victims knew someone else experiencing family/whānau violence in the past 12 months; this rate is much higher than the New Zealand average, and most of these adults had further involvement," it said.
Money said resources are stretched among support services and men and the LGBTQI+ community, for example, find it difficult to find support.
"The funding needs to be at the frontline. There's way too much money sitting in joint venture groups and consulting groups at a ministry level when the people doing the mahi in the communities need the funding," she said.
Minister for the prevention of family and sexual violence, Marama Davidson, told the Herald a key goal in the country's first national strategy to eliminate violence is an investment in prevention.
"This includes a range of initiatives such as developing tools to support healthy relationships, refreshing the health and physical education curricula, and supporting our communities to lead these conversations," she said.
"Te Aorerekura also recognises the need to strengthen our workforces so they are trauma informed and have the skills and knowledge to assist those in need of help.
"Te Aorerekura is a 25-year strategy focused on the wellbeing of all people in Aotearoa.
"We expect this will significantly change individual and community attitudes and behaviours, making violence less likely to occur."
Where to go for help or more information
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women www.whiteribbon.org.nz
How to hide your visit
If you are reading this information on the Herald website and you're worried that someone using the same computer will find out what you've been looking at, you can follow the steps at the link here to hide your visit.
Each of the websites above also has a section that outlines this process.