Government response to domestic violence not good enough

Earlier this year the United Nations Human Rights Council raised serious concerns about the prevalence of violence against women in New Zealand. That is obviously a concern I share.
Yesterday the Minister of Justice sent out a press release responding to the report. It is titled NZ to build on strong human rights record and the Minister says “ she is pleased that other countries on the Council have recognised the investment the Government is making to better support and protect victims of domestic violence”
This sounds more like denial to me than a response that acknowledges the severity of the problem.
Just from media reports we know of 10 murders in the last six months that have been related to Domestic Violence. Of these I personally know that at least 5 have has protection orders in place. This should not be business as usual.
In her release she goes on to mention several things that the Government has done that she believes are really helping: increasing the maximum penalty for a breach of protection orders from 2-3 years; investing $1m in the Safe@home programme so survivors can install security; participation in programmes can be ordered when a protection order is issued through the Family court or Criminal court and she has asked for providers to improve the way they are delivered; and expanding the definition of domestic violence to include economic and financial abuse.
These changes need to be put in context:
• Increasing the penalty for protection orders – This should not have been a priority when we are having such a problem getting the courts to take “minor breaches’ seriously and we have no evidence that increasing the penalty will make a difference. In 2007 the University of Waikato released research that showed the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, and protection orders in particular, was failing women and children. This report recommended 47 changes. Very few if any of these changes have been made.
* Participation in stopping violence programmes – this is actually much more difficult than it used to be. I was at a seminar when the overseas educator mentioned the need for abusive parents to get into treatment and a participant raised her hand and said that was virtually impossible in NZ, there were murmurs of agreement all around the room.
Further I have been told the ‘improvements’ have been to take out power analysis from the courses. This is despite all the international evidence telling us that power is at the heart of domestic violence.
* Extention of the Domestic Violence Act – I absolutely agree that is a good thing but sadly again we know psychological violence is already in the Act and is virtually impossible to get the courts to act on and this change was brought in at the same time the government restructured the Family Courts and that reform will have a very negative impact on the ability of women and children to get the needed support and protection.
And then there are all the other things National has done to undermine our response to domestic violence:
Family Court reforms led by Judith Collins
* These  brought in many ideas that had been introduced in Australia in 2006 and then repealed in 2011 following “a raft of studies showing women and children were at greater harm of violence, abuse and death as a consequence of the changes”
*Access to counselling prior to proceedings was removed and a limitation put on access to lawyers and legal aid in the compulsory private, non-judicial mediation (except in cases of domestic violence) that will cost over $900 to access.
* There is no requirement for mediators to have DV training and no guarantee that victims will disclose and avoid this process.
* The threshold for the appointment of Counsel for the Child was raised so they can only be appointed when there are concerns for the safety of the child. Talk to any survivor advocate, and read the research and you will see the courts are often not recognising the danger to children of DV.
* The principles of child welfare and best interests of the child were defined as being cooperation between parents and the continuance of a relationship with both parents. The best evidence does not say that is in the best interests of the child. The evidence tells us that if a parent is abusing the partner that parent should lose custody and perhaps even contact until they can show they have changed their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. This is not happening at the moment and women and children are at risk because of it. It is also teaching our children that there are no real consequences for abuse. Safety is surely at the heart of child welfare; physical and emotional safety.
And there’s more:
* Chances to legal aid under this government have meant that many women are paying thousands of dollars to get protection orders, that because of the court’s response to breaches can’t even be guaranteed to keep them safe.
* Changes to  Housing NZ and Work and Income have made it increasingly difficult to get and stay safe. Police estimate that only 18% of cases come to their attention so we need to have the safety net to assist victims to leave even when we don’t know they’re victims.
* Without consultation, police  changed their risk assessment tools and have refused to release the findings of the first evaluation. They have also been unable to report on the prevalence of DV because of the change in the statistics they’re collecting.
* Funding was cut  for Women’s Refuge from $9.3m in 2009/10 to just $7.3m in 2012/13 and fudnign stopped completely for the It’s Not OK programme while the White Ribbon campaign has been told it needs to be self-funding.
* Funding for the treatment programmes the Minister mentions has also dropped from $8.7m to $6.3m over the same time-frame.
*The  Taskforce for action on Family violence has stalled to an almost complete halt and the government has refused to release the findings of the group set up urgently at the end of last year.
And This isn’t even everthing that is wrong about the Government response but I think it does show it up for what it is, a shameful abrogation of responsibility.

3 thoughts on “Government response to domestic violence not good enough

  1. And then why is she trying to keep this on the back Berner until after the election UNCAT looking into the Lake Alice issue and the Torture that occurred there?”what is she afraid off the public finding out I know the world will know how we really treat our children

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  2. I have mentioned before that we are well on the way to the old days when the police did not respond to domestic call-outs. On the way, but not there yet, since local police stations and staff seem to have a lot more compassion that the minister and her minions,
    Access to aid, is now well nigh impossible for low income men and women who suffer domestic violence.
    If this heartless political party is elected for another round, then I imagine NZ will be on a par with some of the poorest countries in Asia and Africa, as far as genuine help for families goes.

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  3. “Chances to legal aid under this government have meant that many women are paying thousands of dollars to get protection orders, that because of the court’s response to breaches can’t even be guaranteed to keep them safe.”

    Pity this is probably outside the Consumer Guarantee legislation, otherwise these victims might have a good claim to get their money back.

    Trevor.

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