Steps to combat family violence

Columns
Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Southlanders should feel safe in their communities and especially in their homes with their families. But sadly, for some people, this is not the reality. It is sad that while crime in New Zealand is at a 30-year low, the rate of family violence is disgracefully high.

Family violence can result in long-term effects for the victims, their families and society, and family violence has a significant economic cost, from the impact on the healthcare system to the cost of lost productivity.

Although several steps have been taken throughout the years to address the situation, family violence continues to be one of the country’s most significant social issues. About half of all homicides in New Zealand are a result of family violence, and we have the fifth-highest rate of child abuse and child death in the OECD. Figures on family violence (which include charges such as male assaults female) compiled by Police show 254 people were convicted in the Invercargill District Court in 2013 of a family violence offence. This is unacceptable and more needs to be done to address it. We need to continue spreading the message that family violence is not ok and will not be tolerated.

It is often reported that more people in Southland are speaking up and accessing family violence services and I am pleased about this. This is credit to the agencies in the region working together to address family violence and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hardworking and dedicated staff of these agencies who work tirelessly.

Last month (August) Justice Minister Amy Adams launched a discussion document which takes a hard look at the way the law prevents and responds to family violence, and proposes a comprehensive rethink to strengthen the country’s legislative response. The discussion document is open to everybody and raises a number of topics for discussion, including establishing a set of standalone family violence offences and ideas about improving the accessibility and effectiveness of protection orders. It also looks at whether it’s time for the definition of family violence to be updated to support our modern understanding of family violence and improve responses.

Public consultation runs until September 18 and as part of this process I invite you to a public meeting on Monday, September 14 at the Stadium Southland Legends Lounge at 10.30am.

Not withstanding this, as I mentioned above, several steps have been taken over the years to address family violence. Just last year the Government took action with a family violence package and is making progress across a range of initiatives, such as working on intensive case management, looking into improving information judges receive about defendants and their histories, and exploring the possibility of establishing a family violence criminal disclosure scheme. Earlier this year, the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence commissioned a stocktake of family and sexual violence services across all Government agencies. The stocktake found that while a lot of good work is being done, there is room for improvement. 

There is duplication of some services and fragmentation of others. So a new work programme is being launched to ensure government agencies respond better to family and sexual violence. The Government spends an estimated $1.4 billion each year responding to family and sexual violence, so we want to make sure we are getting it right and providing the best services we can for families.

We need to take a hard look at the way agencies work together and what improvements can be made to help break the cycle of violence.  Laws alone won’t solve this problem, but they are the cornerstone we can build on. People deserve to feel safe in their communities.

A copy of the discussion document is available at www.justice.govt.nz