Positive news in low family violence figure

The Southern Police District has the lowest rate of family violence deaths in New Zealand.

Five family violence-related deaths occurred in the area, which covers Otago and Southland, from 2009-12 - a rate of 0.41 deaths per 100,000 people in the district during the period, according to the Family Violence Death Review Committee's report released yesterday.

University of Otago dean of law Prof Mark Henaghan said the report was ''positive'' news for the Southern district.

He could not speculate as to why the Southern district had the lowest rate, but it might reflect a cultural difference in the lower South Island.

The problem was ''violence in the home is just an extreme reflection of society's norms'', he said.

''It's still five deaths too many.

''One has to remind oneself that these are totally unnecessary deaths.

''We should be down to zero.''

Te Whare Pounamu Dunedin Women's Refuge outreach worker Amanda Durham agreed.

While it was ''really good'' to see the Southern district had the lowest family violence death rate, ''any death is one death too many'', she said.

''It doesn't really reflect the family violence in our region.''

Domestic violence response services were underfunded to handle increasing demand.

''We certainly do our best, but we are under-resourced to meet the needs of the community at times,'' she said.

The reform of the family court system had also been ''quite confusing and quite overwhelming for our clients'', she said.

The Family Violence Death Review Committee recommended several changes in the report, including establishing non-fatal strangulation as a separate crime, modifying the test for self-defence in homicides and introducing a partial defence for victims of family violence who were not acting in self-defence when they retaliated against their abusers.

Committee chairwoman Julia Tolmie said societal change was needed as many New Zealanders had no experience of life without family violence.

''Children are conceived and born into families that already have a dangerous level of abuse,'' she said.

''If we are to be serious about addressing the unacceptably high incidence and seriousness of family violence in New Zealand, we need to take responsibility for victims' safety rather than expecting them to keep themselves safe.''

Prof Henaghan said the recommendations of the report should be considered as it was a ''very thorough'' look at family violence with a ''strong factual and evidential basis''.

''It's a good wake-up call for all of us,'' he said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said she welcomed the findings of the report and had asked officials for advice on its recommendations, particularly making non-fatal strangulation a separate crime.

''Addressing family violence is a high priority and a huge amount of work is being done across Government,'' Ms Collins said.

''Ministers have been working for some time on a comprehensive response to address family violence and support victims. This will be announced shortly.''

- timothy.brown@odt.co.nz

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