Change needed to curb violence

In a horrible case of a grave need being highlighted, Dunedin police attended 22 family harm calls last weekend, before a series of changes to the Family Violence (Amendments) Act were introduced on Monday.

The changes include several new offences and laws aimed at improving the detection, prosecution and policing of domestic violence. As well as the changes introduced on Monday, a tranche will follow in July next year.

The new legislation has been largely applauded and should go some way to tackling this country's domestic violence problem. And it is a problem. While we pride ourselves on being a nation of friendliness and openness, we continue to harm each other behind closed doors.

Because the violence happens behind closed doors, it requires either detection by outside parties or reporting by the affected parties for it to be policed. Too often, neither happens. Sadly, no amount of policing or legislation will completely change that.

There is a narrative that those who commit acts of domestic violence should simply stop doing so. That would be ideal, but we must acknowledge some people have never learned how to stop, have never been given a better example than what they grew up with. And last weekend shows many children in 2018 are growing up witnessing domestic violence.

As welcome as the current legislative changes are, we need to do more to ensure children of today don't become offenders in the future.

Violence - physical, verbal and emotional - is as old as we are. It is damaging and dangerous yet evolution has selected it. Violence, it seems, is a necessity of life. Not only that, violence is often condoned, celebrated, practised and perfected. It is a part of our humanity and our society, and for individuals to learn to better control it requires a curbing of instincts. For some - whether because of exposure, parenting or genetics - that is clearly not happening.

Yet, as a society we have decided it must. For some 10,000 years, people have been trying to figure out how best to live together in fixed, concentrated communities - a massive change from our long history of nomadic, family-based existence. It has been an experiment filled with failures, yet each generation we're able to look back and see we are getting better at existing as one species, as opposed to a variety of competing groups.

Part of that evolution has been the acknowledgment that violence not be allowed outside of extraordinary circumstances. And other than during emergencies, the home is absolutely not one of those extraordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, the home is one of the few places people can feel exempt from society's sobering eye, allowing uncensored behaviour.

But no matter where they are, victims are the responsibility of all of us. We must protect them, fight for them and legislate on their behalf. Yet to really root out domestic violence we must go further than we are at present.

The fact domestic violence happens behind closed doors means we must, at some point, make a concerted effort to infiltrate those private spaces; not through surveillance but through support and education, through helping people become individuals who choose not to resort to violence in the home.

That is work that must start in childhood. It is work that will cost money. It is work many will say should be done by parents - and it should - but that is not always possible. That Dunedin police responded to 22 domestic violence calls in one weekend proves violence is continuing. A new generation are witnessing it. Learning from it.

While the new legislation is welcome, we must ensure our abhorrence for domestic violence extends as far as our wallets. We must demand our money be spent helping today's children become adults with the tools needed to cope with life without resorting to violence behind closed doors.

Where to get help

Stopping Violence Dunedin 0800 474-1121

Women’s Refuge  466-3220

ChatBus (for children under 14) 476-3132

Age Concern Otago 477-1040

Police 111 or 471-4800

Oranga Tamariki 0508FAMILY


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