The case for action is clear and the political will is there
Family violence and sexual violence is a complex, multi-faceted, often inter-generational problem not unlike child poverty, but for this wicked societal problem there is political will to tackle the complexity head on.
In 2015 police responded to over 110,000 family violence incidents. This figure becomes more alarming when read against research that says 80% of family violence incidents are unreported to police. Children are present at nearly two-thirds of these incidents (NZ Crime and Safety Survey 2014). The case for action is crystal clear.
The recent announcement to overhaul family violence law is part of a new (systems) approach that will see data sharing, risk assessment, risk management and service intervention at the center, and a focus on early and effective intervention. All of the associated cross-agency work has value in its potential to address individual cases of violence in the home sooner rather than later. This work is to be supported.
Legislation changes include:
getting help to those in need without them having to go to court
ensuring all family violence is clearly identified and risk information is properly shared
putting the safety of victims at the heart of bail decisions
creating three new offences of strangulation, coercion to marry and assault on a family member
making it easier to apply for a Protection Orders, allowing others to apply on a victim’s behalf, and better providing for the rights of children under Protection Orders
providing for supervised handovers and aligning Care of Children orders to the family violence regime
making evidence gathering in family violence cases easier for Police and less traumatic for victims
wider range of programmes able to be ordered when Protection Order imposed
making offending while on a Protection Order a specific aggravating factor in sentencing
enabling the setting of codes of practice across the sector.
The new measures will cost around $130 million over four years.
What about the causes of violence in our communities?
The rubber hits the road however when our focus shifts from individual experience to the causesof violence in our communities. Given the magnitude of this societal problem (across all socio-economic groups), it would be reasonable to assume there is much more to this issue than individual behavior, and that our prevailing values and social structures need also to be placed under the spotlight, alongside changes to legislation.
Valuing respectful relationships
NZCCSS believes any reduction to family violence must start with a whole of society conversation about what is a safe, resilient and respectful relationship. As Christian social service providers, our members place a strong focus on creating spaces to facilitate positive and respectful relationships within families/whanau. Members see both the positive outcomes that derive from adults and children having both a sense of safety, love and belonging within their family/whānau. Members also see the negative outcomes of violence that corrode relationships, often creating a cycle of abuse that spans generations of the same family/whānau.
A frequent companion to this cycle of violence is poverty and social exclusion as families genuinely struggle to meet their basic needs on a day-to-day.
The impact of poverty and social exclusion
NZCCSS’ Vulnerability Report series (2009-2016) captured the impact of external pressures of income poverty on families/whānau. Inadequate household income to afford basic living expenses (nutritious food, housing, health transport) causes real anxiety and also impinges of families to participate in social and educational activities many other families take for granted. This social exclusion adds to the vulnerability of families. Any effective strategy to reduce family violence must also include consideration of poverty and inequality, alongside a focus on individual actions.
“Equally disturbing, particularly in Waikato and the Central North Island .. a rise in domestic violence as families come under immense pressure from redundancies or simply the inability to cope with rent increases on subsistence incomes… For those earning the least, it only takes an unexpected cost or two or a redundancy to lose your accommodation, your credit rating, your good tenancy record, and then become effectively homeless“. Salvation Army.
While financial stress may not be the only cause of family violence, it may nevertheless exacerbate already vulnerable situations.
Alcohol and violence
Recent comments by Doug Sellman, Director of the National Addiction Centre, identify easy access to cheap alcohol as a further driver of violence in our homes. Sellman draws on evidence identified by the Law Commission in its review of alcohol laws that demonstrates alcohol is a major contributory factor to family violence and that any long term solution needs to involve a reform of alcohol laws.
Six years ago, the Justice Minister at the time, Simon Power, announced the following in response to New Zealand’s most comprehensive review of the alcohol laws in its history by the Law Commission:
“The statistics can’t be ignored and clearly show a problem with alcohol that must be addressed. Alcohol is a major driver of crime, being implicated in 30 percent of all police recorded offences, 34 percent of recorded family violence, and 50 percent of all homicides. What the Government has heard from the New Zealand public is that the pendulum has swung too far towards relaxation of the alcohol laws. Today we are responding to the public’s call for action.”
Addressing family violence is no mean feat but a case for change, political will and significant funding make for a great start and might just inspire a case for another ‘complex policy problem’ child poverty. In the words of Prime Minister John Key, “One thing that I’m proud about this Government is that we do not shy away from tackling complex problems, especially on behalf of those who need most help”.