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Praise for Gisborne response to family violence

Work being done in Gisborne is helping to shape an improved national response to family violence — a problem authorities have labelled a scourge on New Zealand society.

Ministry of Justice under-secretary Jan Logie visited Gisborne on Monday to discuss with stakeholders the government work she is leading in the hope of changing the way the nation responds to family and sexual violence.

At a meeting organised by the Gisborne branch of the New Zealand Law Society, she praised local organisations for initiatives she said were at the forefront of efforts being made to find new ways to support people and make change.

Others across the country were watching with interest the work being done here, Ms Logie said.

Specifically mentioned was Manaaki Tairawhiti, an organisation Ms Logie said had already set a great example of government agencies working together in new ways to reduce family and sexual violence.

Last September the Government announced a joint venture along similar lines, involving 10 chief executives from across government working alongside an interim Maori/Crown partnership group Te Ropu. The initiative would be accountable to parliament for action to address family and sexual violence, Ms Logie said.

The joint venture will also be responsible for ensuring various agencies now defined in law as family violence agencies understand their role and responsibilities regarding information sharing about perpetrators.

The Family Violence Act 2018, which takes effect this July, requires agencies to consider sharing information for the purpose of developing a risk and needs assessment, creating a plan to respond to family violence, or a plan to protect a victim of it.

Over one million people in New Zealand are affected by family violence, including the perpetrators of it. During 2017, police fielded a call relating to family violence every four minutes. An ever-increasing number of disclosures about family violence were now also being made to medical professionals, Ms Logie said.

“Violence undermines the physical and mental health, employment, housing and education of families and has an impact across generations. Ending it is one of our greatest opportunities to improve wellbeing, and therefore a government priority,” Ms Logie said.

“Ours is a violent society. But it doesn’t have to be,” she said.

The country’s legal frameworks and how they are implemented were central to the response, albeit not enough by themselves.

The 2016 Family Violence Death Review Committee noted New Zealand had no family violence safety system. Instead the country has a “default system” made up of a fragmented range of processes and responses with one-off interventions that didn’t manage risks.

“To achieve an effective, integrated system that changes social norms and delivers on prevention, early intervention, crisis response and long-term recovery, we need everyone — in government and in communities — understanding their role and who are competent and resourced to act,” Ms Logie said.

Law evolving to deal with domestic violence“We need a whole-of-government and whole-of-society plan,” she said.

It is hoped the joint venture will answer that need. The requirement for it to be publicly accountable by reporting to parliament should ensure it endures where other previous initiatives such as the Family Violence Taskforce, lost momentum, Ms Logie said.

Outlining recent legislative changes, she said the law had evolved to match the country’s growing understanding and acceptance of its domestic violence problem.

The Domestic Violence Victims Protection Act, introduced by her as a member’s bill and which came into force in April, reflected an understanding of the role of workplaces and financial security to offer people affected by domestic violence a pathway to safety.

It enables victims to apply for up to 10 days paid leave.

The Family Violence Act 2018 replaces the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and gives decision-makers in the family violence system better guidance about the nature and impact of family violence.

The Family Violence (Amendments) Act 2018 makes changes to a number of Acts to improve responses to family violence in both the criminal and civil law. It has been introduced in two phases, the first of which last December involved amendments to the Crimes Act 1961, the Bail Act 2000, and the Evidence Act 2006.

Added to the Crimes Act were new offences of strangulation or suffocation, coercion to marry, and assault on a person in a family relationship — behaviours known to be used by perpetrators of violence but not previously consistently responded to or highlighted.

The offence of assaulting a person in a family relationship recognises violence occurs in a range of adult family relationships, including in the close personal relationship between someone and their caregiver.

The change to the Bail Act sees victims and their family now the primary consideration in decisions about bail.

Changes to the Evidence Act make it easier for police to use video evidence on behalf of victims.

Phase two of the act, to be introduced on July 1, will amend the Care of Children Act 2004, the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 and the Sentencing Act 2002, making changes to better protect children and victims.

In answer to a question, Ms Logie said these initiatives built on work already undertaken by the previous government after hours of advocating by community agencies. Such work would never be tossed aside. It was to be embraced.

She is visit Gisborne again to further observe work being done in the Family Harm Intervention Court.

Later this year she will be announcing improvements to the justice system response to sexual violence. Some operational changes are already under way.

GISBORNE LEADING THE WAY: Initiatives from Gisborne organisations are at the forefront of efforts to find new ways to support people and make real change with family and sexual violence. Ministry of Justice under-secretary Jan Logie visited Gisborne yesterday to discuss with stakeholders the government work she is leading. From left are Gisborne branch New Zealand Law Society Family Harm Intervention Court committee representative Alistair Clarke, Ms Logie, Gisborne lawyer Manaaki Terekia who chaired the meeting, and community corrections’ Alofa Aiono. Picture by Paul Rickard