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Family Violence Victims Urge Culture Shift

Family Violence Victims Say Help Failing Them; Urge Culture Shift

People most affected by child abuse and domestic violence are urging the whole country to adopt zero tolerance to violence and are calling for an overhaul of agencies they say are failing to protect, help or understand them.

They want a fundamental culture shift that puts children first and promotes a caring society that makes it clear violence – and the binge drinking implicated in much of the abuse - is abnormal.

They identify widespread dysfunction in the courts and broken, poorly resourced and disconnected services among the barriers to recovery.

But they are adamant that the remedies should not be left to government alone.

They suggest a national strategy for addressing child abuse and domestic violence -- across all levels and branches of society and government.

This would strengthen and protect families, restore relationships and overhaul failing or harmful systems.

The strategy would address poverty and social differences, and require agencies to collaborate. Professionals, frontline workers and legal professionals need to be better trained.

These are the central messages from about 500 survivors, offenders and frontline workers who told their stories to the independent Glenn Inquiry into New Zealand’s alarming domestic violence and child abuse statistics.

They are set out in The People’s Report, which summarises and analyses often harrowing and disturbing testimony of the participants, and their suggestions for change.

The report is the first major work by the inquiry, conducted and peer reviewed by professional researchers. The initiative is funded by businessman and philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn.

The work is an innovative grass-roots approach to give those most affected a voice at the table in designing a better system for keeping children and families safe.

The people talked and the inquiry has listened. A recurring pattern was the connection between abuse as a child, domestic violence and child neglect. So too was the normalisation of violence in some families.

However, the report is not simply a catalogue of despair. People told of how with the right long-lasting support or intervention it is possible to break the cycle and escape and recover from family violence.

Many cited exemplary programmes that help people rebuild their lives. They reported improved responses or standout efforts by some agencies and individuals, notably police, individual school teachers and counsellors and those services that work together effectively.

But despite small pockets of excellence they say some things that are meant to help don’t, or just make things worse.

They pointed to major failings in the system that frustrated their cries for help, reinforced their pain and humiliation and sometimes compromised their safety. Their concerns include:

• Seeking help remains exceptionally difficult. Victims are still not believed, they feel judged, ridiculed and stigmatised;
• Leaving violent situations can force people into poverty and expose them to more risk;
• Inadequately, poorly designed and short-term funding of support services;
• A lack of action to stop New Zealand’s laissez faire drinking culture;
• Dysfunction, unprofessional behaviour and poor or sloppy practices in the courts. This is particularly bad in the Family Court and involves judges, lawyers and psychologists;
• Lack of training, knowledge and understanding among frontline professionals about the complexity of domestic violence in all its forms, and generally poor knowledge about it among the public;
• Government departments that look after themselves when dealing with complainants who have no genuine right of redress;
• Substandard, judgmental staff, inaccurate documentation and poor inter-agency liaison at Child, Youth and Family;
• Insensitive, inconsistent treatment by Work and Income staff toward people needing a benefit to escape violence or abuse;
• Inconsistent enforcement of protection-order breaches and a perception that police frustrate complaints to avoid paperwork;

The people who shared their stories are clear that fundamental to doing things differently is recognising that child abuse often goes hand in hand with domestic violence. It is passed down through families, and happens right across society.

From early on, they want children to know violence is not a normal part of home life and they tell of how education at schools and pre-schools can make a difference.

They want funding for support services to reflect that people need long-term help to recover and heal. This help should include free counselling.

And they call for a code of rights for victims, and a code of conduct for people working in the Family Court.

Inquiry chairman, former Supreme Court judge Bill Wilson QC, says it is clear from the stories that New Zealand can no longer continue to tolerate the abuse and re-victimisation of vulnerable people by systems, services and people that are supposed to help.

He says there is a need for a fresh approach that moves beyond labels and theories, so people know what a healthy relationship looks like, can recognise when they are not in one, and are empowered to escape.

The report’s authors, Denise Wilson and Melinda Webber, say the report provides a sound understanding of the issues faced by many affected by child abuse and domestic violence and should provide guidance to those working with those suffering or at risk.

“If New Zealand is to reduce its shocking child abuse and domestic violence statistics, we can no longer turn away from those people and families who cannot turn away but have to continue to endure its long-term and harmful effects,” they say.

Sir Owen Glenn says the current system is clearly not working. The real life experiences set out in The People’s Report are the starting point for designing a new model for dealing with family violence in New Zealand, he says.

Combined with other work the inquiry has underway, the report will underpin a final Blueprint which will give decision-makers a robust plan for meaningful change.

Sir Owen urged all stakeholders and political leaders to set aside any differences to consider the results of the inquiry’s work so New Zealand can lead the world in tackling this scourge on our people.

The full People’s Report, an overview and further background information on the Glenn Inquiry can be found at https://glenninquiry.org.nz/.


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