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Real level of family violence revealed

Media release
Tuesday 14 April 2009

Real level of family violence revealed

The rise in family violence offences recorded by the New Zealand Police for 2008 is a double-edged sword, says the Families Commission.

Chief Commissioner Dr Jan Pryor says that the 12.4 per cent rise in reported family violence in 2008 is good news, because it shows that more people are reporting incidents and society as a whole is becoming less tolerant of violence in its midst.

However, the figures show that violence within families is at a far higher level than estimated.

“The police figures, together with other statistical evidence, do not indicate an increase in family violence,” Dr Pryor says. “Rather, it has been seriously under reported in the past. Improved police procedures, the efforts of community organisations combined with awareness campaigns like White Ribbon Day and “It’s Not OK”, has meant that the real extent of violence is now visible.”

Dr Pryor says the figures support a report from New York’s Leitner Centre for International Law and Justice that more needs to be done to turn around family violence in New Zealand.

“Evaluations of the ‘It’s Not OK’ and White Ribbon campaigns - driven by the Families Commission, the Ministry of Social Development, NGOs and community groups - show that people are less tolerant of violence, and are more prepared to report incidents of family violence,” Dr Pryor says. “The figures also show that calls to help lines have dramatically increased from both victims and perpetrators of family violence, as they respond to the ‘It is OK to ask for help’ message.

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“What is important now is to support the success of the awareness programmes with early intervention strategies.

“How we treat our children impacts significantly on how children handle conflict as adults. Our ability to control emotions and impulses is programmed into our brains in our formative years. If children grow up in a deprived and/or abusive environment, where that early learning does not occur, they may be unable to set limits on their behaviour, or be incapable of empathy.”

Childhood deprivation is not the only cause of violence in adults, and not all deprived children become violent, Dr Pryor says. But the research makes it clear that it is a significant cause of family violence. The Commission will be releasing in early May a comprehensive review of the research on the impact of deprivation on the development of the child’s brain, and the need for early support for vulnerable families.

“Encouragement and support for families to function positively will go a long way toward reducing the consequences of family dysfunction, including family violence. Along with many other organisations, the Families Commission is committed to this aim.”


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