Kōrero: Violent crime

Murders, rapes and assaults dominate newspaper headlines and outrage the public – but violent crime is only 14% of recorded offences. However, the number of cases of all types of violent crime has increased since the Second World War.

He kōrero nā Greg Newbold
Te āhua nui: Protest against family violence

He korero whakarapopoto

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Violent crime includes murder and manslaughter, robbery, assault, sexual assault and family violence. While violent crime gets media and public attention, it was just 14% of all reported victimisations in 2020. However, the annual number of violent crimes increased from 1,341 in 1950 to 61,967 in 2014. The New Zealand Police changed its crime statistics recording methods in 2014, so later data cannot be compared with earlier figures. The new statistics record victimisations of people, organisations and property rather than crimes. Reported violent crime victimisations increased from 55,079 in 2015 to 81,521 in 2023.


Prison sentences for violent crimes are harsher than those for other crimes and have increased since the mid-1980s. The public often wants longer sentences and longer non-parole periods (during which an offender cannot apply to be released from prison). Since a law change in 2002 made all sentences of over two years parole-eligible, the average proportion of sentences served before parole is granted has increased to 78%. The probability of an offender being recalled to prison for breaching parole conditions has also increased since 2002. In 2017, about 350 parolees were recalled to prison to continue their sentence.

Murder and manslaughter

Murder is when a person kills someone deliberately, or by acting recklessly, knowing that death is likely. Manslaughter is an accidental killing resulting from an unlawful act or failure to act.

Most people convicted of murder are sentenced to life imprisonment. New Zealand imposed the death penalty for murder from 1840 until 1941, and again from 1950 until 1961 – 85 people have been executed.

Controversial murder trials

Controversial trials have included:

  • Minnie Dean (1895), who was convicted of murdering a baby, and is the only woman to have been executed in New Zealand.
  • Lionel Terry (1905), who shot a Chinese man, Joe Kum Yung, as a protest against non-Europeans immigrating to New Zealand.
  • Teenagers Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (1954), who killed Pauline’s mother Honorah.
  • Arthur Allan Thomas (1971), who was wrongly convicted of murdering his neighbours, Harvey and Jeanette Crewe, and spent nine years in prison before being pardoned.

Mass murders

Mass murders, where four or more people are killed at one time, have been rare in New Zealand. Cases include:

  • Stan Graham (1941), a West Coast farmer who shot and killed seven people, four of them police officers.
  • David Gray (1990), who killed 13 people in the Otago settlement of Aramoana.
  • David Bain (1994), who was convicted of killing five members of his family but was released from prison after a retrial in 2009 which found him not guilty.
  • Brenton Tarrant (2019), who carried out the Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks in which 51 worshippers were killed.

Robbery and assault

The number of robberies rose from 27 in 1950 to 2,015 in 2014. In the 21st century there has been a decline in big robberies, but they have become more violent. In 2023 there were 2,193 victims of aggravated robbery in New Zealand.

The number of assaults and their seriousness have also increased over time. Changes in reporting methods make long-term comparisons difficult, but assaults causing injury increased significantly during the 1980s and 1990s, peaking at 11,900 in 2009. By 2014 assaults causing injury had declined slightly, to 9,900. Reported assault victimisations grew from 46,306 in 2015 to 69,394 in 2023. This data is not comparable with pre-2014 figures.

Sexual assault

The number of rapes reported to the police has increased since the 1950s. In 1985, after public pressure, rape within marriage became a crime, and other types of sexual violence were taken more seriously.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Greg Newbold, 'Violent crime', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/violent-crime (accessed 22 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Greg Newbold, i tāngia i te 5 o Mei 2011, i tātarihia i te 3 o Mei 2024 me te āwhina o Greg Newbold