Government victim support scheme helps more alleged perpetrators than victims, no 'sexual violence champions' appointed

Newshub can reveal a $20 million fund set up by the Government to support victims of non-fatal strangulation has actually helped more alleged perpetrators than it has victims.

It can also be revealed that despite promising to have specific staff in our country's courts trained to recognise the signs of family or sexual violence, the Government's failed to introduce a single one.

The National Strategy and Action Plan to Eliminate Family and Sexual Violence was launched in December 2021, with Jacinda Ardern at the time saying: "As Prime Minister I take responsibility of lifting the wellbeing of our tamariki and their whanau."

But Newshub can reveal two Government initiatives meant to help victims of family and sexual violence in our courts are falling way short of their targets.

In 2020, the Government earmarked $20 million to support victims of non-fatal strangulation in court. The cash was meant to fund 870 expert medical witnesses per year who'd testify in court in order to "prosecute perpetrators" and "secure earlier guilty pleas".

But so far they've only been used in 86 cases and more than half of which were used by the defence to support alleged perpetrators.

Natalie Thorburn from Women's Refuge said that's not good enough. Women's Refuge wants to know why the Government's spending more on defendants than victims.

"We know that they have a seven times greater likelihood of them being killed by that same partner," said Thorburn. "It's deeply disturbing to hear that defendants are accessing it more commonly than prosecutors are."

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said more needs to be done. 

"For particularly our young women, we want to see the justice sector working effectively," he said. "It is important that when schemes are announced and plans are announced to help that they're followed through."

The following year, in Budget 2021, $200,000 was put towards having 'sexual violence champions' across all district courts whose jobs were to recognise the signs of sexual and family violence and step in to help.

But not a single role has been established. 

"It's another example of a Government that might mean well but just has no follow through," said Goldsmith. 

Thorburn said there's sector-wide training for court staff instead that's making up for it.

"That training will be very intensive. It's co-designed with the specialist sector."

Despite the severity of these issues, no one from Government would speak with Newshub on camera.

We first went to Justice Minister Kiri Allan who wasn't available to speak on camera. Both the Prime Minister and Minister for Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence Marama Davidson said these specific initiatives weren't their responsibility.

Newshub did eventually get a statement from Allan. 

The minister admitted the logistics of having specific people trained up and assigned as sexual violence champions wasn't going to work so that's why decided to train all court staff in that area instead.

"The establishments of the roles was paused due to the impact of COVID-19 on the operation of the courts," said Allan.

"This was due to registry staff experiencing increased workloads and pressures during the pandemic, which meant it wasn't appropriate to release them for training and introduce a new initiative.

"There are currently 55 navigators working across the country who provide guidance and information about the resolution and support options available to parents, caregivers and whānau who are considering applying to the Family Court."

But as to why more defendants are accessing experts in non-fatal strangulation cases, there's no clear answer or reasoning for that. 

That's despite the clear intention of that policy being victim support.