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Family violence law changes represent a fundamental shift

The passing of legislation to amend existing laws addressing family violence was an important step in the right direction, a major national domestic violence network said today. Merran Lawler, Kaiarahi of Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/National Network of Stopping Violence Services said today "Last nights passing of the Family Violence Bill and Family Violence (Amendments) Bill address and respond to many of the concerns which front-line family violence workers have been raising for years - it represents a fundamental shift by focusing on victims' safety through the mechanism of holding perpetrators to account for their violent behaviours.

"Front line agencies know that the purpose of any intervention must be about ensuring the safety of the victim. But we also know that the safety of the victim is an issue only because of the behaviours of the perpetrator. It is pleasing that the new legislation recognises that too - allowing police not only to issue orders excluding the perpetrator from the home for an extended period (up from five to ten days) but also directing the perpetrator to be assessed for current and future risk they pose to the safety of their victim. Assessors will have the ability to identify what actions the perpetrator needs to take accept responsibility for and stop those behaviours. It's really starting to focus on what our member agencies, most of which work with perpetrators and victims, have been saying for years - we need to focus on risk assessment and management plans for the perpetrator and their behaviours rather than simply imposing obligations and pressures on a victim to ensure their own safety.

Ms Lawler said the provisions also went some way to addressing the need for more timely interventions. "When police issue a safety order against a perpetrator (usually when there has been an incident but no criminal charges have been laid), we offer support to the perpetrator to address their behaviours but there has been no obligation on them to accept the offer nor, in most cases, any funding available to provide the sort of behavioural change programme required. Front-line workers talk daily with perpetrators bound by police safety orders and those workers know that once the order expires the perpetrator will go home, continue their violence and, until they face criminal charges, no mandated intervention can occur. The new provision ensures that intervention can occur at the time a safety order is issued rather than waiting for the violence to escalate for intervention to be both mandated and funded through criminal court processes.

Of course, we will be closely monitoring how these reforms play out in practice. We would be concerned to see a significant increase in police safety orders issued instead of criminal charges being laid when those charges are warranted. That would most definitely undermine the strength of the message that perpetrators will be held to account for their behaviours".

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