for 1 in 5 child abuse cases, family and friends were aware of the violence but did not report it

Domestic Violence

What is domestic violence?

Violence in families is not OK, and it should never be ignored because “it’s just a domestic”. Statistics show family violence accounts for more than half of all violent crime reported in New Zealand.

It is often said that New Zealand’s most violent places are its homes. Like many “often-saids”, it’s an exaggerated generalisation. New Zealand homes are mostly safe and peaceful. Some homes, however, are violent and abusive places, where physical, emotional and psychological wounds are inflicted on family members – too often children. The numbers don’t make good reading. They reflect a sad situation for too many New Zealand families.

Family violence affects everyone. Even if they’re not being physically abused, children are often victims, not only because of what they witness but also because they have to endure the consequences of dysfunctional and destroyed relationships.

The Police and courts take family violence seriously. Police will act when they suspect or uncover incidences of family violence. New powers (see under Police Safety Orders) allow them to remove an offender, or even a suspected offender, to remove the immediate risk and to give everyone an opportunity to assess their situation.

When they attend an incident, they also use an internationally recognised scoring tool to assess partner risk. They also have a Child Risk Factor Tool, which helps them predict the risks for children.

However, international research indicates only about 20% of family violence incidents are actually reported. So a lot is happening in our community that the Police don’t know about. Whether we’re a victim, neighbour, part of the extended family, teacher, carer or just a member of the community, we can help make it stop.

Violence inflicted by adults on each other in their homes has traditionally been called “domestic violence”. Until the early 1990s, and the passing of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 in New Zealand, the community and authorities tended to treat domestic violence differently from other forms of assault – what went on between a couple and their family in their home was considered their private business. The now more commonly used term, “family violence”, describes violence in all its forms among family members. The term recognises that violence affects the whole family, children in particular. Children are likely to be physically and emotionally abused in a home where there is violence already. Children who see and hear assaults on others in the home are likely to suffer emotional and other health problems.

New Zealand studies indicate that in cases where women had been beaten, many of the children in the relationship had also been abused. Interviewing children, researchers found that almost all could give detailed accounts of violent behaviour that their mother or father never realised they had witnessed. Battered women are more likely than other women to assault children. A United States study found that women who were chronically violent to their spouse were also likely to abuse a male child. The same study found that nearly all violent men assaulted their sons. (National Center for Health Statistics.) Family violence appears to be an established fact in our communities. Recent statistics show a rise in reported cases, but that might be a good sign – it is likely to indicate that people are coming forward more readily to report violence, rather than saying nothing and the case not showing up in statistics. If we all recognise there is a problem, we can do something about it.

Why are some of our homes unsafe? And what can be done about it? Perhaps our starting-point should be to recognise that family violence is a crime. It is not a private matter that is no one else’s business. The Police and courts take family violence seriously. Police will act when they suspect or uncover incidences of family violence. New powers (see under Police Safety Orders) allow them to remove an offender, or even a suspected offender, to remove the immediate risk and to give everyone an opportunity to assess their situation.

When they attend an incident, they also use an internationally recognised scoring tool to assess partner risk. They also have a Child Risk Factor Tool, which helps them predict the risks for children. Family violence is rarely a singular or random event. Where it is present, it punctuates the life of a relationship and it gets worse as time passes. Most reported family violence is committed by men against women and children, although women, like men, can assault children. A growing number of men say that female violence against them is not treated as seriously as male assaults on women. International research indicates only about 20% of family violence incidents are actually reported. So a lot is happening in our community that the Police don’t know about. Whether we’re a victim, neighbour, part of the extended family, teacher, carer or just a member of the community, we can help make it stop. The numbers don’t make good reading. They reflect a sad situation for too many New Zealand families.

Not all domestic violence is physical

Not all family violence is physical. Psychological and emotional abuse doesn’t leave cuts and bruises and broken bones. But the unseen, emotional damage can be as great and the effects as long-lasting. Psychological abuse can be caused by repeated putdowns and name-calling, intimidation and harassment that make victims feel bad about themselves. It is likely to feature yelling and threats of physical assaults, threats to leave or threats of suicide. Looks, actions and expressions might be used to instil fear. Items valuable to the victim might be destroyed or their pets harmed. Psychological abuse can include mind-game manipulation and control of someone’s money, time, vehicle or contact with friends as a way of asserting power over them. The Domestic Violence Act 1995 made psychological abuse an offence. Providing victims with a means of protection, the Act defines psychological abuse as “including intimidation, harassment, damage to property, threats of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, (and in relation to a child), abuse causing or allowing the child to witness the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship”.

Domestic violence defined

As the ongoing advertising says: “It’s not OK”. Your partner or any member of your family should never use violence to hurt or control you.

Violence can be physical, sexual, psychological or financial and can include neglect. The Ministry of Social Development’s Family and Community Services, on its website www.areyouok.org.nz defines the various forms of family violence as follows.

Psychological violence to adults or children, which can have long-lasting effects, includes:

  • Making you feel like everything you do is wrong.
  • Constantly criticising you or your friends.
  • Humiliating you in front of your friends.
  • Using unsafe driving to frighten you.
  • Damaging property/walls/possessions to scare you.
  • Making you isolated and alone.
  • Blaming everything on you.
  • Threatening to take the children away or hurt them.
  • Stalking, following, checking up on you.
  • Harming pets to punish you.
  • Making you feel scared of what might happen next.

Sexual abuse includes:

  • Forcing you to have sex or do other sexual acts you don’t want to do.
  • Touching you in a way you don’t want.
  • Frequently accusing you of sleeping with other people.
  • Forcing you to watch porn.

Physical abuse includes:

  • Hitting and punching.
  • Biting, pushing, choking or pulling your hair.
  • Making you drink or take drugs when you don’t want to.
  • Using or threatening to use weapons.

Financial abuse includes:

  • Taking your money or property.
  • Running up debts in your name.
  • Misusing power of attorney.
  • Pressuring you into paying money.

Neglect includes:

  • Not providing food, clothing and warmth.
  • Leaving dependants alone or with someone who is unsafe.
  • Not providing comfort, attention and love.
  • Not providing medical treatment.

If you feel any of these apply to you, contact any of the agencies listed at the end of this section.

What is child abuse?

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner defines child abuse as:

  • Physical – all physical injuries to children where there is knowledge that the injury was not accidental, or knowingly not prevented.
  • Sexual – the use of a child for sexual and/or physical gratification of someone who takes advantage of their power and/or the child’s trust.
  • Neglect – serious deprivation of the necessities of life such as food, shelter, supervision appropriate to their age, and essential physical and medical care.
  • Emotional – adults’ negative attitudes and behaviours that harm a child’s emotional and physical development.

What is elder abuse?

Just as some of our young are vulnerable to abuse in the home, so are some of their grandparents. Age Concern says elder abuse occurs when a person aged 65 or more suffers harmful physical, psychological, sexual, material or social effects caused by the behaviour of another person with whom they have a relationship implying trust. Elder abuse comes under four categories:

  • Physical – infliction of physical pain, injury or force.
  • Psychological – behaviour that causes mental or emotional anguish or fear.
  • Sexual – sexually abusive and exploitative actions entailing threats, force or the person’s inability to give consent.
  • Financial – the illegal or improper exploitation and/or use of funds or other resources.

Reporting domestic violence

In a recent analysis of family violence statistics, for 21% of children’s cases and 35% of women’s cases, family and friends were aware of the violence but did not report it. In 64% of all cases the family had prior contact with the police.

The Police make every effort to protect people from family violence, but they need to know it’s happening. So why isn’t it reported?

In many cases, the victim is too scared to speak out, fearing more violence. But in most cases, someone else knows it’s happening and does nothing to stop it because they don’t want to get involved or they don’t want to be seen to be interfering.

The attitude that it’s a private matter that should stay in the family no longer washes. Recent high-profile cases have shown that children – and adults – have died because no-one reported the violence.

Stick up for the victims, and report any instance of family violence to the Police. They are skilled at dealing with these situations, and will take appropriate action to protect victims.

If you or anyone in your household is being abused or in any danger, don’t hesitate to call 111. Police will respond quickly to help.

The myths around domestic violence

It’s worth noting that the facts about family violence are often distorted. In a guide for journalists, www.areyouok.org.nz provides some interesting insights, which include the following myth-busters.

It’s an unpredictable private tragedy.

Not true. The victim will almost always have suffered violence for a long time. Family violence is almost always a series of tactics used to gain and keep control. It‘s a pattern of behaviours that increases in frequency and severity over time. Murder is the extreme result, and we know most murders happen following the most dangerous time for a victim – after a separation. Domestic deaths are planned. The killer has commonly obtained a weapon, made threats to kill previously, knows where the victim is and when to strike.

Caused by substance abuse, stress, poverty and failed marriage.

Not true. Many people who experience these do not hit, stalk or murder their partners or children. It’s true that substance abuse can make the violence worse, but it’s not the reason for it. People use violence in the domestic setting because they believe they are entitled to use violence to get what they want.

The victim’s to blame.

Implying the victim is to blame by using phrases such as “why did they stay”, “they had relationship issues”, “she had a habit of getting involved with men like that”, imply the victim is to blame or “asked for it”. People choose to use violence to control and dominate other family members. Victims are not to blame because they stay. They are often afraid of leaving because of isolation, lack of funds and housing, and fear of the perpetrator.

Violence and love go together.

It’s not normal behaviour to bash or murder someone if you love them. Jealous, threatening and intimidating behaviour is not love.

The abuser is a lovely person.

It is not unusual for media reports to say that the murderer/abuser was a model employee, a good neighbour or “pillar of the community”. Abusers show a different face to the world. Can someone still be “nice” if they murder their partner or child?

Protection and Police Safety Orders

The Domestic Violence Act 1995 marked a new era in dealing with family violence when it came into force on July 1 in 1996. It is the primary legal weapon for fighting family violence. It overhauled the Domestic Protection Act 1982 and set out how victims of family violence could obtain protection orders. It amends the Guardianship Act, 1968, tightening its guardianship and custody provisions, giving children greater safety, particularly if allegations of domestic violence are made in custody and access cases.

Police Safety Orders

Since June 2010, the Police have gained powers that have had a positive effect on dealing with family violence. A new Police Safety Order (PSO) gives Police the ability to make someone leave the premises for up to five days (usually one or two days) if the Police have reasonable grounds to believe that family violence has or may occur. They don’t need consent from the person at risk to issue the order.

Public Safety Orders allow police to remove a person from a property where there is sufficient reason to believe a failure to do so may result in a serious incident, but not yet enough evidence to make an arrest.

It protects members of the household who are at risk by imposing conditions on the threatening person similar to those in Protection Orders. These conditions apply for the duration of the PSO. For example, this person:

  • Must not assault, threaten, intimidate or harass the protected person (the person at risk) or encourage anyone else to do the same.
  • Must not follow, stop or contact in any way the person at risk in any place, either at home, at work, or anywhere else the person at risk visits often.
  • Must surrender all firearms and their firearms licence to the Police for the period of the PSO.

The PSO also protects any children living with the person at risk, and any conditions of parenting orders or agreements giving access or care by the threatening person are suspended. The Police can detain this person for up to two hours to issue and serve the PSO. There is no right of appeal.

If conditions are breached, the Police can take the person into custody and put them before the court.

The court might:

  • Release them.
  • Direct the Police to issue another PSO.
  • Issue a Temporary Protection Order (if the person at risk does not object).

It gives everyone an opportunity to calm down and meet with Police and other agencies to talk about improving their situation – and could save a person’s life. No criminal convictions result from the issue of a Police Safety Order.

Protection orders

A protection order is precisely that – a protection order. Issued by a court, it surrounds an applicant with a legal shield from the attentions of the violent person. The Domestic Violence Act broadens the scope of who can apply for legal protection from domestic violence as well as the behaviour recognised as domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Act sends a clear message that domestic violence is not acceptable and that people have the right to be protected from violence in their families and close personal relationships.

If you need to be protected from an abusive member of your household and you’re not in immediate danger, talk in confidence to someone who can help you apply for a Protection Order. Some of these organisations are listed at the end of this section, or look at the front of the White Pages phone book under Emergency Services or Personal Help Services.

Some organisations can help by:

  • Arranging to pick you up if you don’t have money or a car.
  • Arranging emergency accommodation if you need to get out of your home.
  • Providing welfare or support services.
  • Discussing what legal, housing and financial assistance you can get.
  • Helping you understand the legal process.
  • Arranging an appointment with a lawyer.

A lawyer will help you prepare your application to the Family Court, take down your statement and apply for free Legal Aid if necessary.

Who can apply?

Anyone can, if you and the violent person are or have been:

  • In a heterosexual or same-sex relationship.
  • Family or whanau members.
  • Flatmates or sharing accommodation.
  • In a close personal relationship.

Children can also apply for a Protection Order with the help of an adult.

You do not have to have lived together or have had a sexual relationship to be covered. As well as getting protection from the violent person, you can apply for protection from another person (an associate) whom the violent person encourages to use violence against you. A protection order automatically covers any children of the applicant’s family. You can also ask for the order to cover other people who are in danger from the violent person and their associates because of their relationship with you – for example, adult children, new partners, neighbours, friends and family. The Act defines as domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse – for example, hitting, punching, kicking or in any way assaulting another person.
  • Sexual abuse – any unwanted sexual contact.
  • Psychological abuse – for example, intimidation, threats, mind games and harassment; damaging property to hurt someone; allowing children to see or hear any domestic violence; controlling someone’s money, time, contact with friends or family as a way of having power over them.

A protection order automatically includes non-violence conditions. The violent person must not:

  • Physically, sexually or psychologically abuse the protected person.
  • Damage or threaten to damage the protected person’s property.
  • Encourage anyone else to physically, sexually or psychologically abuse or threaten the protected person.

A protection order will include non-contact conditions if the parties are not living together. These are that the violent person must not:

  • Go to the home or workplace or onto the property of the protected person without their consent.
  • Intimidate or harass the protected person.
  • Hang around the protected person’s neighbourhood or workplace.
  • Follow the protected person, phone, write, fax or in any way contact the protected person.

The exceptions to the non-contact conditions are when contact is:

  • Reasonably necessary in an emergency.
  • Permitted under a written access and custody agreement.
  • Permitted under a special condition of the protection order.
  • Necessary because of an invitation to a family group conference under the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act.

The non-contact conditions of the order are suspended if the protected person agrees to live with the violent person. If they stop living together the non-contact conditions come back into effect without having to reapply to the court. The nonviolence conditions apply all the time and are not affected by living together. A temporary protection order means that the violent person must hand any firearms or weapons to the Police within 24 hours (earlier in some instances). Their firearms licence will be suspended. Once the order is final their firearms licence will be revoked unless the court is satisfied that the protected person will be safe. A lawyer will ask a person applying for a protection order whether the violent person has any weapons or firearms. Special conditions can be included in a protection order that are necessary to protect the applicant, such as excluding the violent person from attending the same church as the protected person, or that the violent person must pay the mortgage for a certain period of time, or conditions necessary to ensure safe access to the children.

How to apply for a protection order

Contact a lawyer. Make sure the lawyer specialises in family law and is experienced in domestic violence law. A women’s refuge will have a list of experienced domestic violence lawyers. The lawyer will ask questions to prepare an application asking for a protection order and an affidavit or sworn statement setting out why the applicant needs the order. The lawyer will prepare all the papers. The papers will be signed by the applicant. Then the lawyer will get the papers to the Family Court. Legal Aid is available for protection orders. If the applicant is eligible (depending on income) they can receive free advice and representation from a lawyer.

Even if someone thinks they might not qualify for legal aid, they should still check with a lawyer to be sure. If legal aid is not available, the lawyer’s costs will depend on how much time is entailed and how complicated it is. You could expect to pay from $500 to $1500. Ask the lawyer how much it is likely to cost. There are no other costs such as court fees. If custody and access matters are involved, it pays to see a lawyer. Someone can apply for a protection order without a lawyer. This could be suggested where a person cannot get legal aid and the application is reasonably straight-forward and children and property are not involved. Find out whether any community organisations offer a service to help you apply. Contact a women’s refuge or community law centre and find out how they can help. Contact the Family Court for copies of the forms and for advice about how to fill in the application forms and what other information is needed. The documents the court needs are:

  • An information sheet.
  • A DV2 application form.
  • A DV3 affidavit form (an affidavit explains the facts about what has happened and supports the application by explaining why a protection order is needed).

The affidavit should contain information such as the type of relationship it is, its length, history of the abuse and a description of any particularly serious or recent incidents of abuse. The affidavit needs to be signed by you and sworn in the presence of a lawyer or court registrar.

  • A DV4 form if the address and telephone number are to be kept confidential.
  • A DV5 notice to the Police form.

The forms can be handwritten – they just have to be neat and easy to read.

Getting a protection order

An urgent protection order application can be prepared, processed and granted on the same day or at least within 36 hours. This will be done without notice – meaning, without the other person knowing about the application until after the temporary protection order is made. Such orders are temporary. The other person has three months from the date of the temporary protection order to file a defence to the protection order application. An undefended temporary order automatically becomes final after three months from the date of the temporary protection order. A final order can be discharged (cancelled) only by a judge. In most cases a judge will consider the urgent application for a temporary protection order without a court hearing. An applicant would most likely have to appear in court if the application was made on notice to the other person because the situation was not so urgent or if there was a defended hearing. If a defence is filed there will be a hearing in the Family Court before a judge.

The judge will hear from both parties, then make a decision. A notice of residential address and request for confidentiality form (DV4) can be completed. This means the courts will act to ensure the violent person cannot find out the protected person’s address or phone number from the court documents or the file. The court must have an address for service where court documents can be delivered. This might be the address of the applicant’s lawyer. If the applicant does not have a lawyer, they will need to supply another address where documents can be served. After the judge has granted the order, the violent person will be served with (given in person) a copy of the protection order by a court bailiff, private service agent or possibly the Police. The Family Court will send a copy to the Police station nearest to the applicant. The order comes into effect immediately and the Police can be asked to intervene. The violent person does not have to know about it before it can be used. They just can’t be charged with a breach of the order until they have been served. Once an order has been granted, the violent person has to comply with its conditions. If they don’t, they can be charged with breaching the protection order.

A breach of a protection order is a criminal offence. The Police can arrest the violent person and hold them for 24 hours before releasing them on bail. If charged with a breach, the violent person will have to appear in the criminal court. If convicted, they could receive a prison sentence and/or a fine. If the order is breached three times in three years, the violent person could go to jail for up to two years, as well as be fined. Some examples of breaches are:

  • Ringing work or home.
  • Coming around to the house.
  • Sending presents or flowers.
  • Visiting the children at school.
  • Making threats.
  • Damage to property.
  • Physical violence.

In other words, a breach is anything the protection order’s conditions prohibit. It is important to report all breaches to the Police, even what appear to be minor ones. If the Police know about a series of minor breaches it builds up a picture of what is happening. One incident on its own might not look serious enough to take action, but a lot of similar incidents over a time could have a serious effect on the protected person.

Encourage people to keep records of any breaches and also contact their lawyer or women’s refuge if the order is breached. Old domestic protection orders (for example, non-violence and non-molestation orders) that existed before July 1, 1996, automatically became protection orders under the Domestic Violence Act, 1995. That meant a person with an old order did not have to reapply. Someone applying for a protection order should also consider applying for orders to give them the right to stay in their home and keep or take some of the furniture and household items. An occupation order gives the protected person the exclusive right to stay in the family home. A tenancy order gives the protected person the sole tenancy of the rented house or flat. An ancillary furniture order can accompany a tenancy or occupation order. This allows the protected person the right to keep particular furniture and household items. Even if the protected person decides not to apply for an occupation or a tenancy order, they can apply for a furniture order that gives the protected person the right to take with them specified furniture and household items. The Police can be asked to help the protected person to collect and remove furniture and household goods.

Police response

The Police have a policy of arresting family violence offenders. For the Police, “family violence” includes: “... violence that is either physical, emotional, psychological or sexual. It includes people in all types of relationships; not just married couples, but those in de facto and homosexual relationships, children and other relatives of those directly involved in the abuse, flatmates or other people who share accommodation, and anyone in a close personal relationship.

It includes not only violence, but also intimidation or threats of violence, damage to property, and allowing a child to witness the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship.” Police policy recognises that the protection of the victim is priority. Their aim when they are called is to stop the violence, ensure the safety of any children who might be present and organise support for the victims. Offenders will be held accountable for the violence by bringing them into the criminal justice system. When they investigate a case of family violence, Police will intervene immediately to stop any further domestic violence. Otherwise, they will proceed with standard investigation techniques that include taking photographs to illustrate injuries suffered; having the victim outline the complaint in front of the offender and noting his or her response; having the victim identify the offender and the nature of their relationship; noting the offender's responses; arresting the offender and keeping them in custody.

These procedures are a necessary part of the Police investigation and might mean the victim can be excused from giving evidence in court. That’s the policy, and that’s how it is supposed to work. “We do our very best to put ourselves between the woman and the offender, so he is dealing only with us,” Lower Hutt Police family violence co-ordinator Senior-Sergeant Tim Castle says. “We try to take her out of the equation and proceed with prosecuting her violent partner, whether she complains or not – some women are just too frightened to lay a complaint because they are afraid of what the offender will do to her later.” This contrasts with earlier Police practice of prosecuting only if a complaint was laid.

But some women feel unable to break the cycle, Mr Castle says. “There’s the fear of breaking up the family, the fear of loss of security, sometimes there are pressures from relatives – hers and the offender’s. Some women will do anything to keep the family together. As a policeman I am constantly amazed at what some women will go through to keep the family together. Some cases go on for years. The assailant, if a male, will usually be charged with “male assaults female”. After three of those, he can expect to be a guest of Her Majesty for a while, and you’d expect that he might get the idea that he just can’t keep on doing that and that he should get help.

But many come out of prison and they just keep on doing it, picking up where they left off,” he says. If a victim takes out a protection order, the offender must, by court order, undertake a programme to help them deal with their violence. Offenders who have breached a protection order, or who are responsible for family violence offences, are arrested, unless exceptional circumstances exist. The arrest is to ensure the victim is made safe and has an opportunity to get help and advice without interference from the offender. The victim will usually be told if the offender is freed from custody. The Police will check the house for firearms and other weapons.

Where there are grounds for applying for a protection order, the Police will consider seizing any firearms or other weapons the offender owns or has access to, and also revoking his or her firearms licence. If the offender has breached a protection order, any weapons or firearms in their possession or control will be seized. Once the victim’s safety is established, the Police will normally arrange for help agencies to be called, whatever the hour.

In most areas, Women’s Refuge and Victim Support have 24-hour crisis lines that the Police can call. It means that a trained helper will call on the victim immediately to help calm the victim and advise what ongoing support is available. The Police will take the arrested offender to the local Police station to be charged. The offender will appear before a judge as soon as practicable. At the first appearance the offender will be asked to plead guilty, not guilty, or enter no plea.

If the plea is guilty the judge might sentence immediately or call for a probation or psychiatric report before sentencing. The accused person will be remanded in custody or given bail to wait for the report and a second hearing. The victim might be called to give evidence at a hearing, although the Police might have enough evidence without the victim having to appear. If you are in this position, make sure you take a friend or relative for support if you do have to attend.

Court volunteers, Victim Support groups and Women's Refuge workers also offer practical help. The offender might be sentenced to supervision – where he or she must report regularly to a probation officer – and sometimes comply with special conditions such as attending a non-violence programme. Or the penalty could be a suspended sentence, periodic detention, or even a jail term. Be prepared: the offender, whether it is your partner, flatmate or whoever, might well resent the sentence. “Domestic violence is unlike any other offence,” Tim Castle says. “With other offences, such as a burglary, the offender comes, takes and goes, and might not be seen again. Or the burglar might not have been seen. Most people don’t have to face their assailant again. But a battered woman does. She’s constantly living with it – the fear, the offender, the pressures, especially the family pressure not to proceed.”

Children and the domestic violence act

The Domestic Violence Act beefed up protection for children (see also Hitting children – section 59 in this publication). Children under 17 can apply for protection orders in their own right through a representative. A child can also be included in their parent’s application for a protection order. The Act aims to keep children safe. If violence is proved, the court will not allow the violent person to have custody or unsupervised access, unless it is satisfied that the children will be safe. The court can allow supervised access in a safe situation with someone else around. The court will specify when the access can take place. The person granted supervised access will be responsible for any costs entailed.

In some areas, Barnardos run supervised access centres. Check to find out if there is a centre in your area. It is important to tell the school, day-care centre or other caregivers about a protection order so that the violent person cannot have access outside the court ordered arrangement. It is also important to say exactly who is allowed to visit or collect the children from school or day-care. If the parents of a child are married, or they were living together when the child was born, both parents have custody rights unless the court says otherwise. Make an application for sole custody if you are a parent who fears your partner will harm you or the children or take the children away.

Your partner will be ordered to attend a stopping violence programme. Occasionally the court might decide there are special reasons for them to be exempt.  A programme is likely to entail sessions of two-three hours, usually in a group, for 30-40 hours. During the programme participants learn about: the nature and effects of domestic violence; how the Domestic Violence Act works; skills for dealing with conflict in a better way. Programmes are available free for protected people. It is up to the protected person to choose whether they want to attend a programme. The programmes support protected people to learn to live without violence.

Hitting children - section 59 of the Crimes Act

The outdoor lifestyle, political stability, lack of terrorist threat and generally caring attitude of New Zealand provides an ideal environment for raising children. Many New Zealanders have returned recently from overseas because they want their children to grow up happy and confident, and free from fear. It is true that the vast majority of our children live in loving homes that are free from domestic violence. Sadly, that does not apply to all children in New Zealand. Some children are badly treated, and in the worst cases, the law has dealt with the adult offenders. However, until 2007, parents and carers who inflicted violence on their children in the name of discipline were often able to do so without fear of prosecution because they were allowed to if the discipline was “reasonable in the circumstances”. That all changed when The Crimes (substituted section 59) Amendment Act 2007 came into force in June 2007. The new law brought New Zealand into line with many other countries that ban physical punishment of children. Children in some other countries are not so fortunate – punishment continues to be sanctioned in schools and homes. The old section 59 provided a “statutory defence” – in effect an excuse – for parents or carers who were being prosecuted for assaulting a child. They could claim they were correcting a child’s behaviour. They had only to prove that the correction was “reasonable in the circumstances”. The amendment took away that excuse. Children who are victims of assault can now expect be treated the same as adults in the eyes of the law. The amended section 59 states:

(1) Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of

(a) preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or

(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or

(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or

(d) performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.

(3) Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).

(4) To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

What this means is that any force used must not be for correction or punishment – it may only be for the purposes of restraint or, by way of example, to ensure compliance (s 59(1)(d)). It may be used to prevent or minimise harm to the child or another person, for example, to stop a child:

  • Running across a busy road.
  • Touching a hot stove.
  • Inserting a metal object into a powerpoint.
  • Striking or assaulting another child or person with an object.
  • Damaging or stealing property.

When the law was amended, Parliament expressly affirmed that for minor cases of assault against children, the Police would have discretion whether to prosecute where the offence was considered to be so inconsequential that there was no public interest in a prosecution. The use of objects or weapons to smack a child, strikes around the head or kicking are not considered inconsequential. And while smacking might in some cases be considered inconsequential, a prosecution might be warranted if the smacking is repetitive or frequent, and other interventions or warnings to the offender have not stopped the smacking. Police investigating cases where force is used against a child, as is the case with all assault investigations, consider the amount of force used in the circumstances, among other things, before making a decision about whether a prosecution is required. In other words, for minor cases of assault against children, Police can use their discretion about arrest and prosecution – just as they do when an adult assaults another adult. Many New Zealanders were concerned that the new law would allow prosecutions of people who lightly smacked a child occasionally. That has not happened. The cases that have been taken under the new law have been where the Police have considered the violence against children to be excessive or frequent.

Male victims of domestic violence

Just as violence towards women is hugely under-reported, violence inflicted on men is also an often untold story. Men sometimes feel as if they can’t talk about it when it happens and they can feel helpless to do anything because it might not be believed. However, an increasing number of New Zealand males - some represented by an increasingly vocal network of men’s groups, are recognising this issue within their lives. The Domestic Violence Act 1995 gives men the same protection that it does women.

Men, too, are able to obtain a protection order against a violent partner, whether the partner is male or female. Abuse within any relationship is often controlling. It may cause physical, sexual or psychological damage or cause victims to live in continual fear.

What is violence?

Physical and sexual violence are the most obvious forms of assault. Pushing, biting, hitting, punching, and using a weapon are all forms of violence. Forcing someone to participate in sex is violence. Threats are a form of violence. Other forms of violence include:

  • Unsafe driving.
  • Destroying possessions.
  • Insulting or humiliating them in public.
  • Lying.
  • Making victims think they are crazy or stupid.
  • Controlling the money.
  • Isolation from friends or family.
  • Hurting children or pets.
  • Blackmail.
  • Treating them like a servant.
  • Threatening murder or suicide.
  • Drugging them.
  • Threatening to betray confidences in front of employers or family.
  • Creating a sense of impending punishment.

Victims of family violence often say these are the most insidious forms of violence and abuse because they are difficult to explain and are often regarded as “ordinary relationship problems”. If you have been in a violent relationship you might have some of the following feelings:

  • Afraid to tell anyone, depressed or humiliated.
  • Afraid you have failed as a lover.
  • Furious that they could do or say what they did.
  • Confused because sometimes they are loving and kind.
  • Guilty about leaving them or scared of coping alone.
  • Frustrated and sad because you tried everything.
  • Afraid of continued violence if you leave.
  • Panicked that you might lose your identity outside of the relationship.
  • Worried about your financial security.
  • Made to believe that you deserved it.

It might be helpful to look at some of the ways you've coped until now:

  • You have been careful about what you say, when you say things, and how you say them.
  • You have tried to talk to your partner about their stress, drug use or moods.
  • You have given up doing anything likely to upset them.
  • You adapt your behaviour to what they say they want.
  • You tried to make agreements or set boundaries.

Men should never think their partner’s violence is their fault. The violent partner is the one making a choice to be violent against them, and maybe the children in the relationship. They choose whether they will slap a man’s face because he said something they didn’t like. They choose whether to lash out and scream at the family because they're feeling unwell. If violence against women is unacceptable and without excuse, shouldn’t violence against men also be?

All violence has damaging consequences. A man’s belief in his worth and his sense of having rights and choices becomes eroded by constant abuse. There are many common beliefs about why people choose to be violent: “they had a sad or traumatic childhood”, “they drink or use drugs”, “they have trouble expressing their feelings”, “they can't control their anger”, “something about you drives them to violence”. These are excuses.

We all experience stress, trauma, anger and fear, but a violent partner chooses to use violence to control and get their own way. “I never believed they'd abuse me.”

Many men don’t realise that a partner's violent behaviour to them is domestic violence. They might not have believed until recently that the above behaviour could be called violent. If a man feels scared and unsafe in his partner’s presence something is wrong.

He is the best judge of how safe he is. Some men simply don’t want to admit that they are afraid of their partner – somehow it doesn’t seem “manly” for a Kiwi bloke to admit that he lives with someone who is violent to him. Police officers acknowledge that men probably don’t report violence when they otherwise could. Victims should never think their partner’s violence is their fault.

How you can help

People can help by:

  • Supporting the right of all couples to live safely.
  • Becoming informed about violence within relationships.
  • Passing comment if you witness behaviour you believe is abusive or violent.
  • Listening to, believing, and supporting a man who confides in you.
  • Ask “how can I help?” or “what can you do to make yourself safer?”.

Alcohol's role in domestic violence

Violence in the home – sometimes fuelled by alcohol (and/or drugs) – is killing our families and producing a generation of children who know little about growing up in safe and secure homes.

In 2018, the Police attended 133,022 family violence investigations. Oranga Tamariki data suggests that for every Police notification of children being victims of or witnessing family violence, on average two children are in the household and have the potential to be adversely affected. In 2005, 29 murders were related to family violence.

The number of total recorded incidents has doubled from what they were 10 years ago, but that, ironically, might be a positive sign. More cases being reported indicates a lower community tolerance of such crime. The Police also say they have a better system for recording family violence.

However, what is still of concern is that it is estimated only about 18% of women who experience domestic violence report it to the Police. The number of cases reported could get much higher before they get lower.

Recent tragic cases of child abuse resulting in the deaths of young children have focused attention on what factors might contribute to family violence. It is unlikely to be a single factor - the risk increases as more factors are added. Certainly, sub-standard housing, low income, lack of social support and a past history of violence can all contribute. The more factors, the greater the likelihood of family violence occurring.

Police say that alcohol is present in about 30% of family violence incidents they attend. That does not, however, mean that alcohol is a factor in 30% of cases.

What is clear is that alcohol misuse by perpetrators is one of the dynamics involved in some family violence situations. As a "disinhibitor", alcohol in some cases will, for example, lead from verbal abuse to physical abuse.

The evidence, however, is that alcohol does not of itself bring about violence in the home – the underlying controlling behaviour of violent perpetrators is the danger. In other words, violent people are violent anyway. It is the beliefs and values of the perpetrator that make them feel they can control and abuse their partners and children that is most significant. In cases where alcohol has been removed from a violent family situation (the perpetrator has "dried out"), the violence is likely to continue.

The argument that "alcohol made me do it" is a lame excuse for perpetrators, and should not be used by victims as an excuse for their partners and caregivers.

Violence in the home occurs when an abuser chooses to act violently. Many people who have problems with alcohol are not violent, and many violent people are not heavy drinkers.

Perpetrators' use of violence to express themselves is a learned behaviour. Alcohol might lower their self-control and they might tend to be more violent when drunk, but alcohol is not the cause of these violent acts. The responsibility is on perpetrators to learn new, safe and nonviolent ways to express themselves and relate to their partners and children.

A recent research paper by the Australasian Centre for Policing Research said: "Characteristics of perpetrators other than their alcohol consumption (in particular their acting out of negative attitudes towards their partners) better predicts violent behaviour than does their level or patterns of alcohol consumption."

Helping families before it’s too late

So often the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff is all that’s left to pick up the casualties of violent warfare in the home. Since the early 1990s, governments and various research and social agencies have realised that a better approach to breaking the violence cycle – in which violence passes from generation to generation – is to show families a better way and keep children safe. The Family Start early intervention programme is one such effort, and might prove to make a lasting difference.

It is funded by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry of Health and the Early Childhood Development Service, and is part of the wider Strengthening Families programme. It is home-based, free and confidential. It provides each family/whanau with a support worker who helps members to work out how to meet goals and needs unique to them. Family Start is aimed at improving the health, the ability to learn and the well-being of children and whanau/families.

It promotes family strengths, confidence and independence. The programme is not a “solution-buster” – in other words, the support worker doesn’t ride in with all the bright ideas and take over. Family Start includes the Parents as First Teachers “Born to learn” parent education programme, and it focuses on strengthening family supports, including access to other services to keep children safe. Family Start is offered to a mother in the second six months of her pregnancy, and until her baby is six months old.

If the family accepts Family Start help, then the support worker will be with them for three to five years. Families can be referred for Family Start by doctors, lead maternity carers such as midwives, child health services, Plunket Society or hospital maternity services. The family/whanau must consent to the referral first. The programme is aimed at:

  • Solo or otherwise unsupported parents.
  • Mothers who have had little or no care during their pregnancy.
  • Young mums.
  • Those with mental ill-health.
  • Substance abusers.
  • Families with a history of abuse.
  • People and families with relationship problems.
  • People and families on a low income.
  • People and families without essential resources.
  • Those who frequently change addresses.
  • Women who, for various reasons, know little about motherhood.
  • Families with sudden infant death syndrome factors - e.g. smoking during pregnancy, little or no breastfeeding, babies with low birth weight.

The Family Start programme was established in 1998 as part of a wider strategy to strengthen families and keep children safe. Family Start was first tried out in Whangarei, west Auckland and Rotorua, starting in December 1998. Thirteen more providers of the service were being added in 2000-2001. They are at Hamilton, Hastings, Kaitaia, Gisborne, Nelson, Masterton, Invercargill, Dunedin, Whakatane, Kawerau, Horowhenua, Wanganui and Porirua.

In Whangarei, Te Hau Ora o te Tai Tokerau and the Plunket Society combined to form Ma Te Whanau Timata Trust. Trust workers found that at first whanau members often didn’t want to be referred to Family Start because they thought that it was just another monitoring agency. It often wasn’t until the third visit that families began to see that Family Start might be different for them. At the first visit to a whanau, trust workers talk about the programme and do an assessment based on the history, needs and agencies’ involvement with the family. This helps to match whanau worker and family. At the second visit the selected whanau worker meets the family.

By the third visit the worker is analysing the family’s needs and helping them work out how they can best be met. Not “solution-busters”, whanau workers help the family to recognise their strength, and to build on those, so that eventually the family can take responsibility for their own development and stand on their own feet. 20 Whanau workers have experience and skills in such areas as family violence, financial management, education, and relationship counselling.

The trust also helps groups of families, bringing them together for education and awareness workshops. Gatherings before Christmas help families to make cheap or no-cost gifts and food.  It provides intensive, home-based support services for families with high needs, to ensure that their children have the best possible start in life.

Family Start aims to improve:

  • Health, education and social outcomes for children.
  • Parents’ parenting capability and practice.
  • Children and parents’ personal and family circumstances.

It is funded and managed by the ministries of Education and Social Development. The programme is delivered by contracted service providers. Family Start complements the work undertaken by agencies throughout New Zealand such as Plunket and Well Child Tamariki Ora. The Family Start programme is aimed at the 15% of the population most at risk of poor life outcomes.

In each location the aim is to ensure that at least the 5% at highest risk participate in the programme. Designated community agencies refer families to Family Start. Families can be accepted onto the programme from six months before the birth of a child up to one year after. Participation in the programme is voluntary.