Women are having to return to their violent partners and face ongoing abuse because they have nowhere else to go due to the housing crisis, a women's refuge says.
Rotorua's Mihi James – a family lawyer and legal director for Mihi James Legal – said the issue was becoming more common as the housing supply dwindled.
James, who is also the deputy chairwoman of Waiariki Women's Refuge, said a woman recently got a protection order, and escaped with her children but felt forced to return because of the housing crisis.
"Because of the housing shortage and the large number of families sharing homes, she felt she had no choice but to go back to her abuser."
The woman was one of many being forced to stay in bad situations, she said.
She was also concerned about the safety of children going back to violent homes.
James said the level of violence was also increasing with a rise in strangulations and rapes.
Beatings were also becoming more severe and longer - women were being trapped and locked in their homes for "days on end".
However, James said the housing shortage had also seen more people calling the refuge crisis line and lying about domestic violence to get into the safe houses to get a roof over their heads.
Some were women trying to use the house for respite, others homeless with mental health and addiction issues.
"The safe house must be available for those in crisis, and we can't take in people where there are no immediate risks."
The house is available for victims for up to a week, while staff work with the women to find suitable accommodation.
"If that hasn't been achieved in that time we can extend their stay.
"Sometimes it just doesn't happen and women just go back."
Emergency housing had increasingly become a port of call to keep women away from abusers.
In the last two months, 30 per cent of James' family law clients were in emergency housing.
It brought its own issues, including being around others with mental health issues, addiction, violence, and gang members.
"We have victims of violence leave those motels and go back to their abuser because emergency housing was unsafe for them and their children," she said.
"It literally is that whole, 'better the devil you know.'"
A few nights ago, a woman did not meet the safe house criteria as her abuser wasn't in the city, but she was stranded so the refuge paid to put her into a motel.
"We're doing the best we can, but we're limited and we can't keep doing this on our own."
Rotorua Salvation Army corps officer Kylie Overbye said women trying to leave violent relationships could find it difficult to get to house viewings without their partner knowing, or because of a lack of transport or feelings of being discriminated against as solo mums.
Overbye said a woman, not on a benefit, had returned to her partner as she couldn't find accommodation and also feared being unable to afford the basics.
Family violence was linked to money stress, and more people were under pressure as rentals dwindled and those available became more expensive.
If the abuser is the income-earner, financial abuse becomes the weapon, and if they're a beneficiary, they dictate how the money is spent, she said.
She said the unknown could seem more frightening for women who struggled to find accommodation and were afraid of the consequences of leaving.
"Abusers know the city is in a housing crisis... their victims are stuck. Victims either stay in the relationship, or they will commit to poverty for the sake of themselves or tamariki," she said.
She said they were seeing more women, and some men, sustain potentially life-threatening injuries.
Last week, Housing Minister Megan Woods announced the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) had directly contracted 12 motels for the exclusive use of emergency housing for 200 whānau with kids, with full wrap-around support.
James hoped the move would include domestic violence victims.
Ministry engagement and communications manager Dennis de Reus said the Ministry of Social Development and service providers would keep assessing women referred by refuges, looking for the most appropriate accommodation to keep them safe.
"The 12 motels the ministry has contracted for whānau and tamariki could be considered for Women's Refuge clients if there were no other suitable accommodation options available."
The ministry funded the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges Inc to provide some transitional housing places and work with refuges to see how they could support them more.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry had specialist staff able to help those experiencing family violence connect to the right services.
This included benefit payments, help with accommodation costs, and special needs grants.
Emergency housing is available when victims have nowhere to go, local housing options can be provided, and a social housing assessment can be complete if needed.
Police declined to comment on questions of increases in rates or severity of domestic violence in Rotorua.
According to Trade Me's latest figures, the median weekly rent in Rotorua in May was $485.
Addressing the housing supply
Last week, a Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesman said the Government was taking a deliberate, Māori and iwi housing innovation and place-based approach in Rotorua after investment in "critical" collaborative planning with Te Arawa and Rotorua Lakes Council to develop and create housing solutions.
Intensification and opportunities to build more public housing would be possible through recent district plan changes, supported by an urban growth partnership.
Local authorities and developers in the Bay could also seek funding through the recently announced Infrastructure Acceleration Fund. Expressions of interest opened on June 30.
If you're in danger NOW:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you
• Run outside and head for where there are other people
• Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you
• Take the children with you
• Don't stop to get anything else
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• 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, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz