National violence strategy first step

It is a sad fact of New Zealand life that the festive season is not a happy time for many families.


For those in overcrowded housing with inadequate income, the hoopla around spending on presents and luxury foods adds to the stress felt every day of the year.

Across society there will also be those who dread the extra time they may have to spend with family members because the festive season is the time for fighting, a time when domestic abuse, physical and otherwise, has the opportunity to flourish.

Those affected may be cynical about the ability of the Government’s recently announced 25-year plan to stop domestic and sexual violence to change much for them.

Such scepticism is understandable. Much has been made of the fact that the strategy Te Aorerekura will involve a co-ordinated approach by 10 agencies, but some of those agencies have not been covering themselves with glory recently.

The Accident Compensation Corporation has been under the spotlight for the way it appears to have been treating some of those lodging sensitive claims.

Its hastily announced inquiry into issues around the way some staff were sharing information has such narrow terms of reference, it is not likely to reveal whether there is a concerning poor agency-wide culture as has been suggested by some advocating for ACC claimants.

Oranga Tamariki, which is supposed to be undergoing transformative change, has been embroiled in a series of scandals, the latest that it failed to spend millions of dollars which had been set aside to help and protect child victims of sexual violence.

The Government says the strategy is a 25 year one because it will take a generation of sustained investment and focus to "strengthen protective factors and enable social changes required".

This will involve commitment to addressing the underlying social conditions and norms which lead to family violence and sexual violence, communities designing and delivering solutions to effect change, government and communities working better together, an improved and sustainable workforce, co-ordinated prevention, and services which are joined up and easy to navigate.

Nobody should underestimate the seriousness and complexity of the problems of family and sexual violence, the consequences of which cost the Government $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year.

There is no shortage of sickening facts.

Violence against women and children is the most common form of family and sexual violence, last year police recorded 165,000 family violence investigations, almost half of the 168,000 victims of sexual assaults in a year were aged between 15 and 29 years, and one in 10 older people will experience some kind of elder abuse.

While much still seems woolly in the strategy, it does a good job of describing family violence — a much wider behaviour than the stereotype of a man hitting his female partner.

It is a "pattern of behaviour that coerces, controls or harms within the context of a close personal relationship".

This could include intimate partner violence, elder abuse, child abuse, dating violence, stalking, and violence towards another family member. It often involves fear, intimidation, isolation and loss of freedoms for those affected, and could involve not providing care or preventing access to care.

The ideal portrayed by the document, that of government agencies working with one another and community organisations, is something so often espoused in high level reports it is a cliche.

In the precursor to the strategy, for the past three years the 10 agencies have been supposed to be working together over family and sexual violence.

However, in a midyear review of this, the Auditor-general found that while there was considerable goodwill and a high degree of commitment to improving outcomes for those affected, there had been only a limited change to the way the agencies were working together.

Further change cannot wait another 25 years.

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