Family violence overhaul long overdue

A long overdue review of family violence laws is a major step forward in addressing New Zealand's disgraceful record of domestic abuse, but fails to address funding issues, Labour’s Associate Justice spokesperson Kelvin Davis says.

“New Zealand has one of the highest rates of family violence in the world with around 12 incidents reported to police every hour.

“Gaps in the legislation mean there are unfair burdens placed on victims, while police are often hamstrung when it comes to prosecution.

“This discussion document, which Labour had input into, shifts the onus away from the victims and encourages a whole of society rethink on how New Zealand – police, the courts, social agencies and communities – takes responsibility for protecting families.

“It suggests new offences that specifically target family violence and increases penalties for breaches of protection orders. While that will see every single act of abuse considered a crime, there must be resourcing to ensure prosecution occurs.

“There are also big issues around legal aid that need to be addressed urgently. In the past two years 350 people who applied for legal aid to take out protection orders were refused it. That is 350 people who were trying to escape abuse who the system failed.

“Labour has two member’s bills that complement this discussion paper. Mine makes non-fatal strangulation by a person who has been in, or is in, a domestic relationship a crime, while Poto Williams’ bill makes domestic violence an aggravating factor at the time of sentencing, allowing an offender’s history of domestic violence to be easily accessed.

“Only about 9 per cent of sexual violence is currently reported. A report from the UK notes that ‘for every single act of abuse or violence there are usually thirty or more previous occurrences which have not been the subject of any reporting’.

“This review must be the catalyst for not only increasing victims’ confidence in the justice system but for changing our ‘she’ll be right’ attitudes towards family violence.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. There’s too many of us who turn a blind eye to what’s going on behind closed doors. It’s time for standing up and saying enough really is enough,” Kelvin Davis said.