by Jan Logie
At the end of last year I spoke at a rally in remembrance of two migrant women who were murdered in Wellington while having protection orders in place. While standing in front of the crowd I was recalling all the similar rallies I had been to over the years remembering all the women and children we have lost through domestic violence and all those who have survived and endured such hardship/torture. It’s not that I believe domestic violence is inevitable. I absolutely don’t.
It is gutting to start the year with the death of two children being murdered by their father while protection orders were in place.
At one time we had a world leading justice system with a good model of support and rehabilitation based on the very successful Duluth model but slowly over time it seems the structures haven’t been reviewed and have actually been eroded/undermined.
This government has shifted the focus from domestic violence to vulnerable children despite domestic violence being one of the most significant risks for children in NZ.
Domestic Violence was not mentioned once in the white paper, despite a large number of submissions raising this issue. There is nothing in the legislation to progress our response to Domestic Violence. In fact it may well move resources away from domestic violence.
The police have changed their reporting measures and response model relating to domestic violence without consulting other departments including women’s affairs who hold the policy expertise within government.
There is also a problem with the protection orders and reporting breaches. Police should, be acting on and arresting men for ALL breaches no matter how small but the courts are throwing these back. I was told of this happening in the courts in Wellington and the police being reprimanded for bringing something so trivial to court. So the result is the police aren’t acting on all breaches only those that they assess serious enough for the courts to act on.
The welfare reforms also impact on women’s ability to leave violent relationships. I heard just recently of a woman in a violent relationship looking at the entitlements and work testing obligations on the Work and Income website and then talking to an advocate about the impossibility of managing and looking after her children if she left. There is of course a work test exemption for victims but people aren’t informed about this and very few women manage to access it.
Further the government has gutted the family court protections. In the law changes last year they’ve reduced counselling and removed the Bristol clause which was put into law in response to the murder of children by their father who had been given custody of them despite a history of domestic violence.
The government also brought in fees for accessing the family court. Increasingly also decisions being made by the judges have moved away from the intent of the legislation and women are being held responsible for ensuring shared parenting even when a protection order might be in place and some women are having problems accessing supervision for their partner’s access.
Progressive cuts to legal aid mean that women are now often putting themselves into financial hardship to get these protection orders. I was told recently of a woman who had to pay $20,000 to get a protection order. I met another woman, while I was out campaigning, who told me she’d had to put a lien on her house to get protection orders.
It is completely unacceptable that a woman should have to pay thousands of dollars to secure a document that will provide a modicum of protection for herself and her children.
So where is the monitoring and leadership on this issue? The taskforce on family violence is a shell of its former self. The papers I got under OIA last year showed they were still, after 9 years, discussing definitions and trying to ascertain the resources available around the country.That is surely a reflection of political priorities.
We need to rethink how the system, including protection orders is working.
Domestic Violence is preventable. Abusers aren’t born abusers and with the right approach we can turn things around BUT this government is taking us in the wrong direction.