Domestic violence bill progresses

Jan Logie’s domestic violence bill passed it’s first reading in Parliament yesterday with all parties supporting it after NZ First and National announced that they would support it yesterday morning.

Logie has done well to get her Bill this far. This is a good use of the Private Members’ Bill system – submitting things that have a chance of succeeding rather than using them to futilely grandstand as sometimes happens.

If there is one thing that deserves all of parliament and all parties to get in behind is initiatives that will help reduce domestic violence, which is a major and insidious problem in New Zealand.

Violence is costly, in personal terms, in family terms and also for the country as a whole.

The Government is planning more.

RNZ: Overhaul of domestic violence laws on the way

A new group, the Backbone Collective, says courts are failing to protect women and failing to hold abusers accountable, and the system’s response for women who have experienced violence and abuse is broken and dysfunctional.

The collective wants to hear from abused women so it can change the way the justice system deals with violence against them.

The government plans to unveil sweeping changes to the country’s domestic violence laws in the next few weeks.

Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury applauded the collective’s aims.

“The more stories we have from women who are interacting with the system, the better. Things can’t be fixed unless unless we actually do hear and provide the evidence that things do actually need fixing.”

But she said changes were under way, including an overhaul of legislation and the way the police handled cases. Police were training officers “to try and shift some of those responses that they know to be inappropriate and wrong.”

There have been various changes over the last few decades – it’s not long ago that police ignored what were referred to as ‘domestics’, leaving violence problems for families to sort out themselves. This was ludicrous when one partner was being beaten and intimidated and had limited ways out of the violence.

University of Otago dean of law, Professor Mark Henaghan, said it was a sad fact that people were still being killed in their homes and children were being abused, but to describe the system as broken was a step too far.

Courts, judges and police took domestic violence seriously and court orders could be granted quickly. “Throughout all the legislation it’s the highest principal, people must be safe, that’s what the law requires,” he said.

New Zealand has the highest rates of violence against women in the western world, costing the country an estimated $7 billion a year.

The problem isn’t just violence against women. Many men are also affected, as are children, and damaging them can ruin their lives and lead to lifetimes of problems – which can be expensive for the state through crime, the justice and prison systems and health and mental health systems.

Justice Minister Amy Adams acknowledged the country’s poor record on family violence, but said the government was making improvements across the entire system for dealing with it.

She expected to table new legislation in parliament in the next couple of weeks.

The government had sought views across the entire sector. “We’ve also been working on court processes, the way we support victims through the system, the way the judiciary gets information to support what they do.”

Good. Adams has made addressing violence as one of her priorities.

But legislation was only part of the solution, she said. “[Domestic violence] will stop when men and when perpetrators stop thinking it’s okay to abuse family members. And the government and the court system are part of that response, but fundamentally it’s about the attitudes we have as New Zealanders to each other.”

Professor Henaghan said it was a much bigger problem than just the courts.

“We’ve got to look at better ways to get people changing their attitudes towards their partners so they don’t use violence as a way of resolving their disputes.

It’s a society problem that society has to do more to address.

Non-violent people have to do and say more to make it clear that violence is not a norm and is not acceptable in a decent society. Remaining silent sends the wrong signals to those who think violence is ok.

Logie’s bill is a small step but a worthwhile one, and will add to the building momentum to reduce violence and violent attitudes.

 

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