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Story: Domestic violence

New Zealand has a long-running problem with domestic violence. Although surveys show women can be violent to their partners, it is men who show up most in the criminal justice system for vicious abuse of women and children.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
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Story Summary

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Violence at home

The mental, physical or sexual abuse of people within their homes is known as domestic violence. Victims of abuse may be children or adults.

It is mostly men who appear before the police, courts and social services for violently abusing women and children.

Family and friends may not know the abuse is occurring. Victims can develop trauma symptoms such as depression.

In 2008 police attended 72,482 incidents of domestic violence.

19th century

In the 19th century women were considered inferior to men. Many people thought a husband had the right to physically discipline his wife. Domestic violence was widespread. Some women took their husbands to court for abusing them, but most married women were dependent on their husbands financially, and would have no money if the man was sent to jail.

Changing attitudes to violence

Domestic violence was tolerated by society and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. One organisation which spoke out against violence was the Society for the Protection of Women and Children, formed in 1893.

In the 1970s the women’s movement identified domestic violence as an important issue. Feminists set up women’s refuges and rape crisis centres. From 1973 women with dependent children could receive the domestic purposes benefit. Women with violent partners could leave and support themselves. In 1985 rape within marriage became a criminal offence.

Law and policing changes

Under the Domestic Protection Act 1982 a person who used or threatened violence against their partner or children could be arrested and held for 24 hours. If a separated person stalked their ex-partner, the ex could get a protection order from the courts.

In the 1980s police began to arrest violent offenders rather than wait for their victims to make a complaint.

In 1995 law changes extended domestic-violence offences to include abuse by same-sex partners, flatmates, carers and other family members.

But legislation did not always protect people from domestic violence – between 1995 and 2007 over 200 women and children died in domestic-violence incidents.

Early 2000s

In the 2000s domestic violence remained a major problem in New Zealand. There was considerable research on domestic violence, and there were groups committed to ending it.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Domestic violence', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 February 2018)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 May 2011