Women's Refuge calls for Government to target primary school children to curb family violence

Women's Refuge says the Government should now target primary school children in the battle to curb family violence.

It comes as Newshub is given exclusive access to the frontline of our country's 'hidden shame'. 

The Survivor

 

At the start he seemed like a generous and loving man - but that soon changed, and with it so did Samantha's livelihood.

"I went from a few weeks of thinking that this guy loved me, to maybe three weeks later, thinking that he was going to kill me."

After breaking up the relationship which lasted a year, Samantha was stalked, abused, and threatened. She says at times there were little signs her partner had another side, but this was unexpected.

It became so serious at one point she had to leave town while police struggled to find her abuser to issue him with a protection order. She says it was like living in another world.

"I liken it be being on like the Hunger Games, you just feel like you're being watched, you can't let your guard down for a moment because if you do, you might think it could be your last moment." 

Women's Refuge calls for Government to target primary school children to curb family violence
Photo credit: Newshub

What shocked Samantha is something other survivors talk about too, and that's that she didn't believe it could happen to her. She came from a loving, middle-class family, where this sort of behaviour was foreign and non-existent. 

"I remember the first time the police officer referred to me as a victim and I remember my spine sort of going quite straight, because being a victim wasn't something I identified myself as being, I'm very well educated, I think I'm quite savvy." 

But statistics show family harm doesn't discriminate across social class in New Zealand, in fact one in four women from high-income households experience physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime. 

Samantha's torment continues a year later, as her former partner tries to fight her in court.

She says she's now speaking up so other women know they can reach out, and there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Samantha's story is confronting - and all too common. 

The Statistics

 

Police are called to a family harm incident every four minutes in New Zealand. That means that by the time the 6pm news finishes tonight, 15 investigations will have been started. In 2018 alone, police had launched 133,000 investigations. 

But offenders are being caught - and increasingly being jailed. Statistics from 2018/19 show a quarter of all people convicted of family violence offences received imprisonment as their most serious sentence. This increased 17 percent from 2009/10.

It's not just partners being beaten, it's children too. Shamefully, on average one child is killed every five weeks. We have the fifth-worst child abuse record in the OECD. 

Women's Refuge calls for Government to target primary school children to curb family violence
Photo credit: Newshub

These children often become household names after media reporting on the tortuous way in which they died. Names like Nia Glassie, Baby Moko, and the Kahui twins, are all etched into our shameful record of children who died at the hands of violence. But for the names we know, there are many we don't.

"For every one that does grab the media attention, there are many, many other cases that don't, and that's the sad state of affairs and it's the reality," Inspector Vaughn Graham, who leads the Police family violence hub in the Auckland suburb of Balmoral, told Newshub.

Women's Refuge

 

The Women's Refuge is the frontline of the battle against family violence.

The independent organisation offers education and support as well as housing to women and children who are transitioning away from traumatizing situations. Every night throughout the country, there's 275 women and children sleeping in a refuge.

"The scale of the problem in New Zealand, is really quite scary," Women's Refuge CEO Ang Jury told Newshub. 

Women's Refuge calls for Government to target primary school children to curb family violence
Photo credit: Newshub

Dr Jury is now looking at a different way of changing what she calls a 'generational cycle' of abusers, by seeing children as part of the solution to family violence. 

She would like to see a curriculum-based programme in New Zealand schools, which teaches children what a loving relationship looks like, including how partners should treat each other. She believes teaching this at a young age will ingrain what's acceptable in a young person's mind.

"I'm talking about teaching our little people, and I'm talking primary school-age here... how to be together. They don't have to be tough little boys, they don't have to be subservient submissive little girls, that they can actually be people."

The Police

 

Police resources too are frequently dominated by attending family harm incidents. The situation has become so important to address that a series of 'hubs' have been established across the country to specifically deal with it.

Newshub has been given special access inside the Auckland Central hub, in the suburb of Balmoral. It was established earlier in 2019 and houses 40 staff including partner agencies like Oranga Tamariki.

Many staff here aren't conducting usual frontline duties, but are often visiting, communicating, and building relationships with couples, and victims of family harm. 

"We need to acknowledge fully the scale and nature of the problem, we need to understand carefully how we intervene," Insp Graham told Newshub.

Intervening is the job of officers like Constable Olivia Molloy. Const Molloy has spent a couple of years in the police on frontline duties, and earlier this year moved into the specialist family harm team. 

Like many officers at first, she was taken aback by the level of family harm incidents officers attend.

Women's Refuge calls for Government to target primary school children to curb family violence
Photo credit: Newshub

"You would never believe the amount of stuff that goes on, you wouldn't wish it upon yourself, you wouldn't wish it upon your family, you wouldn't wish it upon your worst enemy."

Newshub spent a week with Const Molloy's team, checking at-risk families. Along the way she tells of a number of heartbreaking stories she has encountered in the months on this team, but there's a sense of pride that she is making a difference. She says building trust in a family or in a victim is crucial to her work. That may even mean taking late-night calls or texts on her days off from victims who feel they need to talk, or need her help. 

On duty we head to visit a pregnant woman and her toddler. She's now living by herself after her partner put her in a headlock until she was unconscious. The same partner is now subject to active charges and isn't allowed the address.

What Const Molloy finds though, sadly, is all too familiar.

The second thing we see through the window is the offender - who's not meant to be there, and not meant to be with the victim - smoking out of his bong. 

Although the offender was not allowed to be there, the officers make a judgement call not to arrest. The victim had wanted the man to see their child - and police deemed the situation 'low-risk'. 

They believe arresting him could destroy the victim's trust in police, and they know communication and being able to speak up is vital for victims.

Where to find help and support: 

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