To change our domestic violence rates we need radical change
Opinion contributed by Domestic Violence Survivors Coalition
The only way domestic violence / intimate partner terrorism will be solved in NZ-Aotearoa is by the legislature and policymakers listening to, and acting upon what victims tell them.
Currently the Government’s actions, and inactions, shut down victims’ voices and are leading to NZ’s “worst-in-the-OECD” domestic violence rates. This government, and those governments before them, has been a disaster for violence against women.
The narrative seems to be that all women need to do is reach out for help and they will be safe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For some women, when they do reach out for help they are subjected to a range of state-inflicted trauma including being under court orders to hand over their children to the abuser, police breaking into their home and taking their children by force, subject to criminal charges, under threat of having their children removed to name but a few.
When women reach out for help, the only chance of safety is when the police bring criminal charges against the perpetrator. Charges are only laid for 12% of reported DV and according to recent reporting by Newshub some regions are as low as 8%. Even when police lay charges the chances of a judge handing down a sentence that provides any protection for the child and adult victims is negligible. If there is any protection it is short-lived.
If women have child/ren with the abuser, it is somewhat guaranteed that the family court will order the woman and children to live where the abuser says they can live. Victims are then subjected to the perpetrator’s daily battering. The few women that are not subject to such court orders, at best live in hiding, waiting for the day that the abuser hunts them down and kills them. What the public might not be aware of is that it is very difficult to keep your location hidden in NZ, and victims are left with curtailing their engagement with the world at large to do what they can to stay hidden.
No-one will help these women.
Let us be very clear, there is nothing in the state’s response to domestic violence (including state-funded NGOs) that enables victim safety.
On the occasions the victim does manage to reach relative safety, a likely outcome is that the victimisation is just transferred to the next victim. The perpetrator does not stop abusing – just changes victim.
There is nothing in place to protect future victims.
Practice in the domestic violence sector, both within government and government funded agencies, is often unsafe and unfortunately, many working in the sector carry a range of myths and prejudices. Views like blaming domestic violence on alcohol, drugs, poverty or stress are unhelpful and indicate unsafe practice. Suggesting couples counselling to DV victims is acutely unsafe practice. There is no domestic violence qualification in NZ and no-one working in the sector is required to have DV specific qualifications; they are not accredited or monitored in relation to DV practice in any way.
In 2018 the United Nations directed the NZ Government to “Establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry with independent mandate to engage in wide-ranging evaluation of the drawbacks and obstruction of justice and safety for women inherent in the Family Court system, and to recommend necessary legislative and structural changes necessary for making the Family Court safe and just for women and children, particularly in situations of domestic violence.”
Instead, our government undertook a review into the family court 2014 reforms. This review further perpetrated the false equivalency between abusers and victims; merely holding us out to be two imperfect sides of the same coin – with abusers’ perspective being equally as valid as the victims. The review certainly did not address the harmful culture in our courts which ignores, minimises and reframes domestic violence – and orders child and adult victims into very dangerous, demeaning and distressing living situations. This review has further entrenched the family court’s “…. root causes of the systemic lack of trust and insensitivity to women victims of domestic violence”.
Government claim they “consult” with victims, but we have to say their consultation is cursory at best. Government has no policy about consulting with victims and it tends to be undertaken in an unsafe manner, with no mechanism in place for victims to challenge what government publish as the victims’ voice.
What this current government, and in actual fact any government, needs to do is meaningfully engage with victims at large and prioritise victims’ voices. Until this happens and we have a response system that is accountable in the first instance to victims, NZ will continue to top the world in domestic violence.
Until then, the NZ government are just as culpable for every single person harmed in this country by domestic violence as the perpetrators.
Domestic Violence Survivors Coalition
We are a coalition of domestic violence survivors who have been, along with our children, victims of state-inflicted trauma because we reached out for help.
Attached: CEDAW 2018 Concluding Observations