Kōrero: Domestic violence

Whārangi 5. Domestic violence – 21st century

Ngā whakaahua

In the 21st century domestic violence remains a major problem in New Zealand.

Protection order breaches

Many men continue to breach protection orders. For some, being served with a protection order acts as the spur to even greater violence, and domestic homicides continue to occur. It is now recognised that without a specific safety plan and support systems for the woman under threat, a protection order is ‘just a piece of paper’.1 Used wisely, however, protection orders can be effective.

Sounding the alarm

Emergency pendants (with a button to summon emergency services) for victims of serious domestic violence can save lives. This was the case in 2009 when a woman’s former partner threatened to kill their children. He tied her up, and removed the phone and cell phone. She was able to summon police and the man eventually gave himself up. Unfortunately there were not enough funds to supply the pendants to all who needed them.

Barriers to escape

Many women do not apply for protection orders for the same reasons that they remain in abusive relationships. These include shame, dread of losing custody of their children, and above all else, fear. Having a low income but not qualifying for legal aid may prevent some from applying for a protection order. Lack of money limits options for women wanting to escape a violent situation and make a new life for themselves. Women in some ethnic and religious groups can find that they are condemned rather than supported by their families and communities.

Whānau violence

Violence within whānau is a major concern in Māori communities. While this was unknown before European settlement, Māori men are now almost five times as likely to commit a homicide as men of other ethnicities. Māori intimate partner violence is frequently associated with poverty, poor housing, unemployment and marginalisation. This is an international trend among indigenous people.

Most of the women attending hospital emergency departments or Māori health providers after an experience of intimate partner violence have children living with them. Children’s exposure to violence among adults in their homes increases the possibility of intergenerational transmission of family violence.

A response to whānau violence

In 2001 Māori health reformer Mason Durie wrote: 'There is no historical support for claims that traditional Mäori society tolerated violence and abuse towards children and women, or that some members of the group were of lesser value than others. An unsafe household demands a whänau response and, as an immediate priority, an assurance that safety can be provided – elsewhere if not at home. Then, safety guaranteed, the way is clear to embark on a journey which will relieve hurt, restore healthy relationships, and, in the process, strengthen personal and group identities.'2

Tikanga Māori specific frameworks for understanding and addressing whānau violence have been developed and the inadequacies of mainstream western approaches to domestic violence identified. Action in Māori communities to address whānau violence is directed not only on keeping women and children safe, but also using a kaupapa Māori (customary knowledge) approach to support mothers as parents of children who have been exposed to violence.

Interventions also focus on Māori working with Māori to change the behaviour of men who use violence or threats of violence to control family members. Men’s responsibility to intervene and change the behaviour of other men is a major focus of stopping violence programmes among Māori.

Pacific Islands and immigrant women’s issues

Refuges and safe houses have been established specifically for Pasifika women where people from their own communities support them. Immigrant women also face particular difficulties, including language problems and separation from family and their familiar culture. If their abuser is also the sponsor of their application for residence, they are especially vulnerable.

Shakti New Zealand has been established as an organisation that responds to the needs of immigrant women from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who are experiencing intimate partner and family violence. It has campaigned to prevent forced and under-age marriages in New Zealand.

Outing violence

Recent research has highlighted the need to support people in a range of sexually and gender diverse relationships who are experiencing intimate partner violence. Because they may have struggled to gain acceptance from others of their life choices, those who are sexually or gender diverse may be cautious about talking about coercive control in their relationships with partners or ex-partners. This may contribute to the invisibility of abuse in Rainbow relationships among those who identify as aka’vaine, asexual, bisexual, fa’afafine, fakafifine, fakaleiti, FtM, gay, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, hinehi, hinehua, intersex, lesbian, mahu, MtF, pansexual, polysexual, queer, takatāpui, trans man, trans woman, transgender, transsexual, whakawahine and more.

To find out more about experiences of unsafe relationships and issues with accessing support, seventeen hui were held across the country with members of the Rainbow community. An anonymous survey was also distributed in New Zealand through Rainbow community print and online networks in late 2015 and early 2016. Information from the meetings and the survey suggest that abuse is present in relationships in this community and most frequently takes the form of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. There was little awareness of support services and an assumption that they were only available to cis (non-transgender) women. Sex-segregation of family violence services (only for women or men) were often a stumbling block for those who did not identify with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.

Hohou Te Rongo Kahukura – Outing Violence was set up in 2015 as a central hub for information and resources that can be used to improve responses for Rainbow community members experiencing violence.

Tolerance for violence

A key issue is the entrenched belief of some people that violence is acceptable or excusable behaviour and that husbands/partners or former husbands/partners with a history of intimate partner violence can be good fathers. Domestic violence is not just the responsibility of the perpetrator. It has been suggested that ‘men’s violence against women is largely sustained by the way the community and the state collude with the abuser.’3 An example of this is the court-ordered name suppression that has been granted to prominent men convicted of assaults.

Coercive control

There is increasing recognition that intimate partner violence is not confined to physical violence, but includes the use of psychological, economic and emotional violence to control or coerce a partner or former partner. The exercise of coercive control has been documented among couples using the Family Court to resolve issues relating to the custody of their children and access arrangements.

Contestation about children following separation can involve ongoing legal disputes which are emotionally challenging and also financially costly. This may occur alongside harassing texts or emails, stalking and action that makes a woman fearful about her safety. Legal documents that threaten to disrupt current arrangements for the care of children and involve negative statements about their parenting can also be experienced as threatening. This has been identified as a form of 'paper abuse'.4

Support agencies

A range of agencies provide counselling and support for victims to enable them to leave violent situations. These include women’s refuges and Shine (formerly Preventing Violence in the Home). Visitors to the Shine website can access information about services to help victims of domestic abuse and also hide the history of their online access to the site. Shine also seeks donations and provides information on creating safe workplaces for staff experiencing abuse.Support programmes, first introduced under the Domestic Violence Act 1995, provide information and assistance for protected persons and their children.

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse

In 2005 the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, a partnership between the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges, Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/National Network of Stopping Violence Services, Jigsaw and the Ministry of Social Development, was set up. It was an outcome of Te Rito: New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy, developed in 2002 by the Family Violence Focus Group. The Clearinghouse coordinates and distributes research on domestic violence.

Why doesn’t he stop hurting her?

Many people who do not understand the complex nature of domestic violence ask, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ But it is more to the point to ask, ‘Why doesn’t he stop hurting her?’

Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families

The Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families, a group of decision-makers from organisations working to prevent domestic violence, was established in 2005. It promoted the Family Violence Interagency Response System to build stronger links between groups including the police, Ministry of Social Development and women’s refuges. Another initiative was the Campaign for Action on Family Violence, which started in 2007. It used a website and television advertisements to spread the message that violence is not OK, using as presenters men who had made the decision to become non-violent.

Family Violence It's not OK

This community driven, government supported campaign directed at changing violent and abusive behaviour in intimate relationships, whānau and families grew out of the Campaign for Action on Family Violence in 2007. It stresses that family violence is not OK, that seeking help is OK and that it is also OK to help. The focus is not just on physical violence, but on the damaging effects of one person using power and fear to control another.  

A range of information has been developed to help people in diverse communities run campaigns. It's not OK is administered by the Ministry of Social Development. A website provides information about what to do if you are experiencing any form of abuse. Those experiencing family violence can also access the stories of those who have had similar experiences.

The White Ribbon Campaign

The White Ribbon Campaign in New Zealand  is a branch of an international movement that began in Canada in 1991. It seeks to change men’s attitudes and behaviours through men taking responsibility for their own actions and those of other men. Men and women work together to challenge violent behavior.

The White Ribbon Campaign began in New Zealand in 2004, and since 2006 has been funded by government agencies and other groups working to overcome violence against women. On 25 November, International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women, supporters wear white ribbons to show their support for non-violence and respectful relationships between intimate partners. White Ribbon organises workshops and prepares public information directed at improving relationships between women and men and protecting children from the effects of violence in the home. 

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Kerry Williamson, ‘We need to all have our eye out for violence’, Dominion Post, 4 July 2009, p. D3. Back
  2. Mason Durie, Mauri Ora: the dynamics of Māori health. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 208. Back
  3. Quoted in Neville Robertson and others, Living at the cutting edge: women’s experience of protection orders, Vol. 1. Hamilton: University of Waikato, 2007, p. 8. Back
  4. Quoted in Vivienne Elizabeth, 'From domestic violence to coercive control: towards the recognition of oppressive intimacy in the family court'. New Zealand Sociology Volume 30, no. 2 (2015): 26. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Domestic violence - Domestic violence – 21st century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/domestic-violence/page-5 (accessed 18 July 2019)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 19 Jul 2018