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Are Ministers being gagged on lockdown family violence?

Are Ministers being gagged on lockdown family violence?

Two Cabinet Ministers, two Commissioners and a Director-General have been sent an open ‘please explain’ email by advocacy group Stop Demand Foundation, over what it says is an unsatisfactory silence over lockdown family violence. Two weeks on, only one has replied.

Stop Demand says our shameful statistics are well known. New Zealand ranks as having amongst the highest rate of family violence in the OECD. Police recorded a staggering 165,039 reported ‘family violence occurrences’ in 2020; some 76% of incidents go unreported. Maori women are twice as likely to experience violence as non-Maori women. Family violence soared during last year’s lockdowns despite reporting numbers being down.

Stop Demand, which calls for action to stop sexual violence against women and children, is scathing of the current silence and invisibility of the Minister for Family and Sexual Violence (FVSV) Hon Marama Davidson and the Minister for Children Hon Kelvin Davis.

Founder Denise Ritchie says, “These Ministers hold key portfolios. We’re now into our fifth week of lockdown. Early on, the PM told women they could leave violent relationships during lockdown. But that’s been it. Given the heightened risks to women and kids, of being sexually violated and bashed, where is Minister Davidson? Why is the Government not running family violence prevention messages across all media, alongside its Covid PSAs?”

As the nation’s top advocates for children, Minister Davis and Commissioner for Children Judge Andrew Becroft have been urged to visibly ‘step up’, to assure children they have their backs, and to confront their mostly-male abusers. “There is a time for reading and writing reports. This is not one of them,” wrote Ritchie. “As men they can address men, Davis can reach Maori men.” But, she adds, “A feeble ‘be kind’ message won’t cut it. Male offenders need a blunt ‘mate, keep your fists in your pockets and your penis in your pants’.”

The Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and Director–General of Public Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield have likewise been questioned. Stop Demand says that while both have a lot on their plates, they are nonetheless strategic advisors to the government on FVSV.

”Disappointingly, neither has used their near-daily platforms, stand ups, calls outs and media interviews to address this scourge,” says Ritchie. “For Bloomfield, family violence is a public health crisis on his watch. Likewise with Coster, as regards crime and resourcing. Yet it seemed the key message from the Commissioner, before the terrorist attack, was to thank

Covid rule-keepers and note a few miscreants. Our ‘top cop’ needs to be putting some backbone into speaking out and condemning those responsible for the abysmal 165,000 family harm callouts by his staff last year and violence over lockdowns. Why isn’t he?”

Pressing ‘mute’ on an epidemic that is arguably as critical as the pandemic raises questions. Do our top advocates not consider this important enough? Or have they been gagged, as alleged during last year’s lockdowns, from messaging on unpalatable truths that do not fit the ‘good news’ mantra and positive PR spin that is being pressed into the nation’s psyche?


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