Abuse victims 'let down by justice system'

A Dunedin woman who says she was abused by her former partner believes the court system is letting down victims of domestic violence.

She felt compelled to speak out and tell her story following the deaths of Bradley (9) and Ellen (6) Livingstone, who were shot and killed last week by their father Edward Livingstone at the St Leonards home they shared with their mother, Livingstone's estranged wife, Katharine Webb.

The situation which led to the children's death was eerily similar to her own and the courts needed to take domestic violence more seriously, the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

Since leaving the relationship, she had lived in fear of her former partner and carried a police alarm with her at all times, she said.

After the separation, she took out a protection order against him.

However, he had breached it numerous times and had appeared in court because of the breaches, she said.

He was convicted and discharged and she felt ''let down by the justice system''.

She was fearful his attempts to undermine her would continue relentlessly.

''It will never stop for me,'' she said, tearfully.

''It's not a life; it's an existence.''

His actions had caused her anxiety and stress and affected her ability to work.

Even after she moved house again, she did not feel safe, she said.

She had remained in contact with the police, who had ''been fantastic'' and ''taken it really seriously'', but there was no more they could do, she said.

Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin said it was the type of situation the organisation knew well.

''It's common [for women to live in fear of their former partners following a protection order being issued]. We have had a number in the last few months of deaths while people have been on protection orders and breaches are commonplace,'' she said.

''There's a failure to understand the dynamics of domestic violence and what may seem like a benign breach is actually quite serious. There's a misunderstanding of what's serious and what's not.''

A victim's fear of an individual needed to be given greater consideration during sentencing, she said.

She felt the Domestic Violence Act was ''pretty good, but its application can be less so''.

Women's Refuge was ''disappointed'' with the family court reforms last year and felt there was still more work to be done, Ms Hannifin said.

University of Otago dean of law Prof Mark Henaghan said more research into the sentences handed down to those who breached protection orders was needed to see if the Act was being applied appropriately.

He empathised with judges who had to hand down sentences, but believed a review of convictions and sentencing of breaches would show if the Act was being applied as it was intended.

Courts did not ''fully understand'' that minor breaches were a way abusive partners could be ''continuing that control over'' those who had taken out protection orders, he said.

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