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Family Court - Backbone's response to Judge Ryan's statement


Response to Statement from Principal Family Court Judge Ryan of 19 April 2017


The Backbone Collective co-founders are surprised and alarmed by Judge Ryan's public statement in response to their recent report on the Family Court.

"We are not entering into combative debate as Judge Ryan suggests, we are providing a safe way for women to tell those in authority how the system responds to them when they experience violence and abuse. We thought the Family Court would want to know that currently many women feel they are put in more danger when the Family Court is involved. Surely when systems aren't working well and safely those in charge want to know how to fix it?"

Our Watchdog Report “All Eyes on the Family Court” is based on the questions prepared by 10 of our members to those in authority about the Family Court. Since the report’s release many women have contacted us and told us that those 160 questions could all apply to their experience of the Family Court.

Women are supporting The Backbone Collective and they are saying “please keep going, you are saying what we cannot say, you are our hope, thank you, thank you, thank you”

Since our launch 645 women have joined Backbone Collective. Women are messaging and emailing constantly telling us horrific stories of abuse from the Family Court, stories that we think would horrify the New Zealand public. To gather more information, to get a deeper understanding of the Family Court issues we are currently running a comprehensive survey of women who have experienced violence and abuse and who have been in the Family Court. We have had 310 responses to our Family Court survey.

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“Women are telling us they appreciate what we are doing - that we are giving them a way to say how bad their experience has been in the Family Court and they and their children are less safe as a result." For example:

“We asked women in our survey if they felt safer after being through the Family Court. Shockingly 61% of the 310 women who have completed the survey to date said no they do not feel safer.”

We feel the Family Court should be an open and honest institution which can stand up to scrutiny, but Judge Ryan’s open dismissal of our findings would seem to indicate that the Family Court is in fact secretive and a closed shop, which Judge Ryan denies in his statement.

We will be releasing much more data over the coming weeks and will let the survey results speak for themselves in response to Judge Ryan's comments released today.

We are hoping that many more women who have experienced violence and abuse will take the survey in the next week and share their views on what is and isn't working in the NZ Family Court.


"Our goal is to help inform continuous improvement of the system that responds to women when they experience violence and abuse. We want the system to work safely, efficiently and well. We think that women who use the Family Court are the experts in how the system currently responds and what needs to change. We genuinely hope that those in authority will see the Backbone Collective as a route to valuable insight and experience which is otherwise not available to them."

"Don't we all want to make sure violence against women and children ends in New Zealand and that women and children, who are the majority of the victims of such violence are kept safe and able to rebuild their lives from further abuse The women who are members of Backbone want to help make that possible. They are the experts after all."
The Backbone Collective was established six weeks ago by Deborah Mackenzie, Ruth Herbert and Tania Domett. It is an independent body taking action to change NZ’s alarming violence-against-women statistics (domestic and sexual violence and abuse being the most prevalent forms in NZ) by examining the present response system through the eyes of its users - women who have experienced violence and abuse.


Register as a member who has experienced violence or abuse at https://www.backbone.org.nz/contact/

Volunteer your help at https://www.backbone.org.nz/contact/

Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/thebackbonecollective/

Tell others about Backbone

Donate to us at our Givealittle page at https://givealittle.co.nz/org/backbonecollective

Email us in confidence at info@backbone.org.nz

--------Press release ends--------
Collective Cofounders

Ruth Herbert

Ruth is well known as a researcher, campaigner and advocate working to improve New Zealand's system response to violence against women and children. She has written and spoken extensively on the issue. The fact that Ruth is a survivor of domestic violence herself has meant numerous other survivors have trusted her with their stories and experiences of the system. In recent years she has been a member of the independent review into ACC's sensitive claims pathway, Director of Family Violence at the Ministry of Social Development and Executive Director of the Glenn Inquiry.

Deborah Mackenzie

Deborah has worked in the violence against women sector for many years as an advocate, network coordinator. policy analyst, and independent contractor She has a lasting commitment to ensuring that ‘the system’ listens to women’s voices and responds to keep them and their children safe. Deborah has a strong interest in the justice sector. In 2014 Deborah co-authored The Way Forward report with Ruth Herbert which showed why we need an integrated response system in NZ and how to create one.

Tania Domett

Tania is a researcher and policy analyst who over the years has worked with many agencies and organisations providing evidence-based solutions to improve the work they do. Tania sees violence against women as a human rights failure that must be addressed so that New Zealand women can exercise their fundamental human right to bodily integrity and freedom from fear. Tania believes violence against women is the most critical social issue facing New Zealand right now, from which many other forms of inequality and social harm stem, and that improving the response system is key to improving the life chances of not only women survivors, but also those of their children and entire communities.

About The Backbone Collective

The Backbone Collective “Backbone” is an entirely independent body formed in Feb 2017 by Founders Ruth Herbert, Deborah Mackenzie and Tania Domett.

Backbone aims to recruit as many women as possible who have experienced violence or abuse and anonymously surveys them to collect data that will then be used to continually improve the response system.

Backbone always listens to women and will do all it can to provide them with online information to help them understand how the system works, what resources are available for them and who are safe and understanding people in the system to approach for assistance.

Backbone gathers evidence from women who have experienced violence and abuse in New Zealand to find out where the ‘leaks’ and gaps in the current response system are. Backbone reports this evidence to highlight problem areas and advocates for change to start a cycle of continuous improvement in the system.

Backbone speaks the truth on behalf of women experiencing violence and abuse. It is are entirely independent, so it can share information without the worry of having its funding cut. That said; Backbone has no funding for this venture and those involved are volunteering to make it happen. Backbone hopes other New Zealanders will support it to grow into something truly life changing for women.

Backbone works with the media, Government, the legal system and all agencies working within the response system to help them understand what women are saying. Backbone also advises on how to implement change needed if its help is requested. Backbone charges for this service.

Backbone acts as a watchdog of the Government, the legal system and all agencies working within the response system by using evidence that women give it through Backbone’s surveys and focus groups to recommend change, and to monitor what change is happening as a result.

Backbone tracks actual progress against government work programmes and recommendations from other major reports. It does this by checking such programmes are doing what they said they would do - and what other authorities have said needs to change.

Regular reports will be publicly released outlining our findings

The Backbone aims to recruit supporters and volunteers who will help us build the Collective, to reach more women and collect more information from them and to develop a louder and louder voice calling for improvements to be made to the system. We need people with skills, time, professional advice and donations to help us with running costs.

Backbone differs to other organisations working in the field of violence against women as Backbone:

o Is the only independent body focused on gathering the views of women about where the response system is and isn’t working and using that information to shine a light on areas where improvements are needed Is the only body with robust client informed data that is available to the Government and agencies working within the response system to make improvements

o Is the only independent watchdog body for the violence-against-women response system in New Zealand.

o Is entirely independent, so we can share information without the worry of having our funding cut. That said; we have no funding for this venture and we are volunteering to make it happen – we hope other New Zealanders will support us so we can grow this initiative into something truly life changing for women.

o Demonstrates continuous improvement in its own processes by constantly asking members what can make Backbone work better for them.

What Backbone does not do

We cannot provide advocacy and support for individual women but we will provide online information on where good help and resources are available.

We do not pretend to know the answers or be the experts - we think the women we work for know the system best.

We do not make unfair or unsubstantiated accusations against other bodies helping women experiencing violence and abuse.

We cannot implement fixes to the system - others are responsible for doing that.

We do not accept funding from anybody that will compromise our ability to be transparent, tell the truth and uphold our principles of putting women at the centre of everything we do.

We cannot force change - only attempt to influence it.

We do not offer membership to men experiencing

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