Reducing domestic violence in New Zealand

Today is White Ribbon Day in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and United Kingdom. It is the day when people come together to denounce violence against women across the globe. It is also the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The original White Ribbon movement came about as a result of the massacre of women by Marc Lepine of women at a polytechnic in Canada.

Domestic violence is an ongoing issue in New Zealand. Despite being one of the more advanced societies in the world, police investigated over 118,000 domestic violence incidents in 2016 or one every five minutes. Between 2009 and 2012 13 women, 10 men and nine children on average died each year from domestic violence.

One problem is offenders in high profile positions who have abused their spouses having trouble accepting responsibility for their actions and being backed by their employer. This is evidenced by the case of Tony Veitch, a former broadcaster who was convicted of injuring his wife Kristin Dunne Powell sometimes the remorse is not credible. Mr Veitchs apology referred to how he would suffer from loss of public face, how his social life would suffer. There was little acknowledgement of the significant injuries including a broken back that Ms Dunne Powell suffered, or the effects on her life, family and friends.

I have wondered what real progress the Ministry of Social Development can say it has made in supporting victims of domestic violence, as this can affect their jobs, their livelihoods. I wonder how much work has been done on improving communications with the Police, with medical staff who examine the physical harm. Have they learnt to have more empathy across the desk when dealing with damaged clients?

Perhaps it is because of how we raise our children. Children in their developmental years are heavily influenced by the environment around them. For example do parents drink excessively when around their children or do they have a glass of wine/beer at dinner and save for more social occasions? Do they see Mum and Dad arguing, especially if it turns violent? How does this affect them further down the road? When we take them to sport do we encourage them to applaud fair and good play or do we yell and scream abuse? Do we teach boys that it is not only okay to have empathy, but a good thing?

Much has been made of the serious level of violence against children, including serious cases resulting in murder or manslaughter charges, such as that of Lillybing.

Over the years the Police have much improved their response. Sometime ago in a newspaper Op Ed, I saw someone say that the police response in the 1960’s to complaints about domestic violence was “get a divorce Ma’am”. When the Louise Nicholas case about a lady who claimed to have been raped by three police officers was defeated in court, it was found that the claims had been covered up by another officer who was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Following this the Police instigated a raft of changes to their processes.

In 2017 it is clear that dealing with domestic violence is still a work in progress. The police might have made good progress changing how they deal with it, but the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Courts still have some distance to go.

Sadly so does New Zealand society.

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