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Women needing a safety net that is not there says Backbone

Reporting makes things worse for many women says Backbone

Backbone Collective launched nearly 4 months ago to give women who have experienced violence and abuse a safe way to say how the system responded to them when they reached out for help. There are currently nearly 900 women members and over 100 supporters of the independent unfunded organisation.

Co founder Deborah Mackenzie says ‘we set up to give women a safe way to say how the system works and how it could work better. What we have learnt in the short time we have been running is that hundreds of New Zealand women ask for help when they experience violence and abuse but the system does not respond safely and they are often put in more danger due to that response.”

“The increasing numbers of reports of domestic violence released today are even more alarming when you consider how poorly the system responds to the women who report. Women are telling Backbone that reporting the abuse often makes things so much worse – they expect protection but instead they and their children are put in more danger .Women tell us that their experiences of violence are not believed, are minimized and they are accused of lying about it. They have told us the Police do not respond appropriately when they ask for help, the Family Court makes things a whole lot worse when they seek protection and social services in many cases are of little help.”

Backbone ran a survey on the Family Court recently and nearly 500 women took part. These women told us loudly and clearly that they and their children are not believed, listened to or responded to in the Family Court – they talked about having proven violence in the criminal court, knowing of previous partners whom their ex had assaulted and yet their experience of violence and abuse was minimized and they felt punished for talking about it in Court proceedings.

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Ruth Herbert Co founder of Backbone adds “We now know that the safety net the system should provide for women and children is simply not there. The Government spends precious resources telling New Zealanders Its Not OK and then when women come forward for help about the ‘it’ the system says ‘There is no’ it’, you lied about the ‘it’ and you are OK’. It’s all so unbelievable. The stories we hear from women everyday would make the average New Zealander scream in horror. “

One Backbone member has told us “Celebs saying it's not ok is fine but the problem here lies after we realise it's not ok...then what. Suffer worse. I almost thought life back with the ex wasn't that bad when the daily crap from court, legal, social agencies, attitudes is sinking woman and families. Living in flight or fight sucks! All because we said 'it's not ok' “

Deborah Mackenzie suggests “If we are to encourage more women to report and reach out for help , we need to make sure the system keeps them safe and supports them and their children. Backbone is asking women if the system made them safer. Women are telling us it definitely did not. Violence against women and children is an election issue – New Zealanders need to ask questions about whether government is aware of these system failures and what it plans to do about them. No amount of summits, background papers or data workshops are going to fix this broken system. It’s time for an independent investigation. We need an urgent Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Family Court. “

One Backbone member sums up the issues succinctly in her heat braking experience

“My partner was so violent he beat me while I was pregnant and punched me in the head while I was breastfeeding our newborn. When I cut all contact with him he took me to court and has access to our child. I tried stop it and the judge said if I continue not making my child available to his father my child could become a ward of the state. I can’t believe I could lose my child trying to protect them. CYFS, refuge and the police helped me free myself from my partner and the court turned it all upside down.”

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