Prevention and protection

For all our supposedly progressive actions and attitudes, modern New Zealand retains many of the hallmarks of a frontier society.

This is perhaps most apparent when it comes to violence, which is prolific, despite decades of initiatives to combat this stain on our national character.

Violence against (predominantly) women and children in the home is an everyday occurrence for far too many, random violence features far too frequently in male nights out. News headlines attest to the scale of the problem, significant police and legal resources are dedicated to its prevention and aftermath, and the repercussions for victims can be lifelong.

Our macho mentality and heavy drinking culture contribute, as do inequity, injustice and alienation. Our easy-going Kiwi brand has an angry, aggressive, uncivilised underbelly. Desperation and despair make it hard to care about others. Violence becomes intergenerational and entrenched, a part of the nation's psyche.

Countless reports have been written and recommendations made over the years and action is being taken at the top - including to change things at the top.

After years of systemic failures by the State, and on the recommendations of an expert panel, the Government has just overhauled its care and child protection agency. It has also introduced a Bill to reform family violence laws. After a commission of inquiry, police have been overhauling their own culture, thanks in large part to the work of campaigner and sexual assault survivor Louise Nicholas.

That progress is pleasing. Leadership and role modelling is essential if the country is to untangle the deeply rooted issues, provide meaningful support to the organisations working at the coalface, and stop the cycle of violence.

There is still much to be done, sadly.

A recent Law Commission report has made a case for major change and innovation in the way the justice system responds to victims of sexual violence, and a new group, the Backbone Collective, is adamant the justice system is failing female victims of violence and abuse.

Meanwhile, the number of family violence reports continues to rise. Latest statistics from the Family Violence Clearinghouse show police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence last year, almost 9000 more than in 2015, which was up by more than 8000 on 2014.

It is to be hoped this is because the campaign and slogans telling New Zealanders ''It's not OK'' and ''We're better than this'' are starting to work and the numbers are a reflection of more willingness to bring violence into the open, rather than an increase in violence per se.

It is estimated the cases reported are only the tip of the iceberg, so the figures cannot provide an indication of the extent of the problem. It also appears police are not recording the exact nature of the relationships in domestic violence cases, which does not help fill in those gaps and target strategies and support more effectively.

What is clear, though, is more resources are required to ensure police can promptly attend the increasing number of callouts and deal with the complaints effectively. More funding and police numbers have been promised in the Budget. Hopefully, that will make a difference, and not just prove to be a case of catch-up.

The agencies providing support at a grassroots level, taking referrals from police, and looking after victims of violence need extra help too.

With domestic violence, the greatest time of risk for many women is in the aftermath of reporting an incident or trying to leave their partner.

Prevention is desirable through education, but until we make a real difference in attitudes, protection is essential.

Comments

Good to see the editorial today. New Zealand operates on 2 levels. The middle class type society that provides great opportunities for people in that grouping (myself included). Then there is the lower level which seems to almost invisible, certainly from the vantage point of down here in Dunedin. Poverty, crime & violence etc. Some people deny that the underbelly exists because they can't see it. So good to see an editorial that acknowledges the difference between the 'branding" and the reality.

Correct, but domestic violence is not class specific.

About the 'frontier' (pron frontya). Mining camps and mills were violent, but the lads used to belt each other. Wife beaters got a deputational visit.

This sort of violence needs to be stamped out. But not every child or women always tell the truth ... .

I understand police investigation is evidential, not merely based on accusation.

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