Family violence reports in Whanganui have increased significantly, but police say this could be a good sign.
Police data shows there has been a 45.4 per cent increase in reports of family violence in the Whanganui area - from 2209 reports in 2018 to 3212 in 2021.
Whanganui Area Commander Inspector Ross Grantham said police had expected the increase.
This was due to the introduction of the Police Family Harm Team (Flow), comprised of police and Tūpoho Iwi partnered with community agencies and providers.
Flow was introduced in Whanganui in 2018 to work towards detecting family violence earlier and increasing people's confidence to report episodes of family violence.
"The front team [of Flow] meet with all our partnering agencies and iwi to discuss each family involved in every case," Grantham said.
"From there, they establish the best opportunities to get better outcomes for the families."
He said it was no longer about helping just the victim, but about helping the whole family.
Grantham said despite the increase in reports, police knew there would still be cases going unreported.
This was due to a range of factors including fear, shame and people not wanting to get involved or report suspected incidents - all of which prevented police and their partners from intervening, he said.
"It may be hard for people to call for help as the person who harms them is constantly nearby and controlling their means of communication."
Grantham said he believed the increase in reports could be a sign that more people felt they could reach out, and demonstrated a strengthened relationship between police and the community.
A recent Whanganui Family Violence Intervention Network (VIN) survey showed 11 per cent of those surveyed said they would go to the police for help with family violence.
Whanganui VIN co-ordinator Lorraine Sheenagh said she was surprised at the low number.
The results showed 65 per cent of the 123 people surveyed said they would go to their friends and family for support, but 65 per cent of people also said they didn't feel they had the skills to support someone who disclosed violence.
"A lot of people want to help, but they don't know how to," Sheenagh said.
"It can also be a really overwhelming space for someone to be in if they are the only one who knows what's going on with someone, especially when a victim has been isolated from the wider community."
Forty-five organisations in Whanganui had completed the VIN training, which helped a range of organisations be better equipped to handle family violence occurring to their employees.
Sheenagh said she would like more businesses to do the training.
"The more businesses who sign up for the training, the more people who have that base knowledge to help employees if they disclose family violence to them, and the more people who have a basic understanding the better," she said.
Life To The Max Trust Whanganui service manager Annie Firaza said family violence permeated every area in life, and the approach to reduce it had to be a community one.
"We're all dealing with family harm because you can't separate family harm from other aspects of life," Firaza said.
"It permeates education, social services, [Department of] Corrections, alcohol and other drugs, and mental health."
Life To The Max Trust Whanganui works with children aged 5 to 13 to stop them from going into the court system.
Like the police, Firaza said it was about working with the whole family and not just the child.
"When there are cycles of abuse in families, it affects everyone and then those behaviours are passed down," she said.
"So you have the belief systems of the parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents, then society fighting what some families have always believed is right."
She said often the violence and trauma had formed during war times and colonialism.
"Then you throw drugs and alcohol in with poor mental health and you've got this recipe for poor parenting and poor outcomes for children.
"It's about how we break that cycle."
Firaza said the focus was on creating non-judgemental spaces where the programmes "walk alongside" victims.
"Instead of coming in and saying 'you need to do this', we focus on helping them to help themselves."
It was hard to know how many people were experiencing family violence, but it seemed more people were seeking help, Firaza said.
"It takes a lot of courage for families to reach out. They're putting themselves out there and are afraid of being judged."
The 2021 New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey results were released on June 29 and showed only 8 per cent of sexual assaults were reported to the police and 24 per cent of all offences by family members were not reported because of "shame/embarrassment/further humiliation".
Drawing from nearly 30,000 interviews with randomly selected New Zealanders, police deemed it New Zealand's largest released crime survey.
It showed the most prevalent controlling behaviour by a partner, ex-partner, family or whānau member was "keeping track of where you went, or who you spent time with".
The most common harm experienced was because of a partner, ex-partner, family or whānau member and the most common behaviour was "being made to feel ashamed or bad about yourself".
Firaza said if family violence only encompassed physical assault, it would be much easier to leave abusive relationships.
"But it's the whole psychological side of abuse that can happen well before physical abuse that can make people feel trapped and like they can't reach out for help."
If you are experiencing family violence, or know someone who is experiencing family violence find more information on what you can do https://familyviolencewhanganui.org/need-help
Police encourage anybody who is in immediate danger and cannot call 111 to leave their house and get out of harm's way. Once at a safe distance, ask a neighbour or a passerby to call 111 for you.
Family harm - do you need help?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that 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:
• Shine, free national helpline available 24/7 - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz