1. Rural Women New Zealand is a not-for-profit member based organisation that reaches into all rural communities and has an authoritative rural voice on issues that impact on those communities. We welcome the opportunity to provide a submission to the Justice and Electoral Committee on the Family and Whanau Violence Legislation Bill. The issues addressed in the Bill are of immense importance to our members, and we agrees with the proposed changes.
2. RWNZ has a robust policy and provides a voice on the rights of our rural women and families, to be able to live freely and without fear within their communities. With a focus on earlier and more effective interventions, better risk identification, and practices to ensure victims are kept safe, we hope the passing of this bill will have the proposed end result of breaking the pattern of family violence, and a reduction of harm and cost inflicted on those who suffer from it.
Overview of our submission
3. RWNZ has a history of speaking out against domestic violence, and welcomed the opportunity to comment on the Family Violence Law Review in 2015. In that submission, we stated that the definition of family violence needed to include violence to an animal. To have ones’ animals threatened as a method of control is psychological abuse. In rural communities, particularly isolated one, this is magnified. Around 36.5% of victims reported that a pet or animal had been injured or killed.1 In recognition of the effect that an animal’s welfare has on a person’s well-being, we support the inclusion of violence to animals as a form of psychological abuse. It is important that the definition of family and whanau reflects our understanding of what behaviour constitutes family violence.
4. There is currently no definition or apparent provision for elderly people within this legislation. The word family or whanau refers to every member of a family, and we believe that elderly people need to be specifically included in the definition of family violence, especially when more than 75% of alleged abusers are family members.2 Elderly people have been identified as a vulnerable group, with similar risk factors to those living in rural communities, such as social isolation and lack of support. It is also important that elderly people are provided for in legislation with the changing population as there are more grandparents raising grandchildren, and the above 65 category is increasing.3 Neglect or mistreatment of an elderly person is not acceptable and should be included within the definition of family violence.
5. In terms of Property Orders, we stated in the 2015 Family Violence Law Review that often in rural communities, the home goes with the employment. This requires special accommodation to be considered when making Property Orders, as well as Protection Orders, so they can be most effective. We support the changes to Property Orders, and believe they should reflect their true purpose, which is to ensure victims, including children, can stay in their home and not increase the risk of homelessness among victims after a separation. It is important that victims of family violence have a safe place to live and do not have to live in fear that a perpetrator might return. We support the inclusion of Property Orders now providing for the perpetrator to be excluded from the property, and that the breach is taken as seriously as it would with a Protection Order.
6. As stated previously in 2015, RWNZ supports empowering the Police or a third party to support the victim to apply for a Protection Order, or apply on behalf of a victim when a Police Safety Order (PSO) is issued. We support the changes to how a PSO is issued, enforced and supports connecting the perpetrator to a risk and needs assessment when issued with a PSO. We believe that a risk and needs assessment of perpetrators is a positive step towards successful early intervention.
7. From a rural perspective, getting help to those in need without necessarily having to go to Court is an advantage which we believe will improve the safety and quality of life for families living in rural communities. people in rural communities, particularly those who are isolated, often cannot leave easily. Rural police stations are often unmanned, and there is a declining number of volunteers available to help. This means there are times when there is no help available which is a great concern when 39% of rural women will experience violence, compared to 33% of urban women.4
8. RWNZ supports the changes to PSOs, which state that Police can now issue a PSO even if the perpetrator is arrested and released, without being charged with an offence. We also support Police following up on perpetrators and ensuring they are attending a risk and needs assessment hub. For the risk and needs assessment hub to be effective, it is crucial that Police follow up on all perpetrators who breach their PSO by failing to attend an assessment, as this shows a lack of willingness to change and can put the family at immediate risk, especially if the perpetrator is unhappy about being issued a PSO to begin with.
9. Whilst we strongly support getting help to those in need without necessarily having to go to Court, access to services must be available in isolated, rural areas. In the these areas, there are very few safe houses and possibly a lack of nearby family or neighbours that may be aware a situation exists. As part of our RWNZ manifesto on family violence, we recommended that resource rural-based agencies and communities to be able to provide safe houses and support for victims.
10. One member commented, “It seems there is still not a lot being done for rural women, as services are being cut in so many areas, and help is usually in the city.” There is also a lack of awareness in rural areas when it comes to family violence, making it even harder for victims to seek help. More organisations, such as It’s Not O.K, are necessary to raise awareness, especially where there is a risk of rural communities failing to acknowledge that there is domestic violence within their community.
11. The lack of support for migrant victims of family violence is magnified by social isolation. As English is not their first language, it can place extra challenges for them to seek help. This difficulty is compounded by transport issues, as migrants are often less likely to drive. Another barrier that migrants face is accessing support services. Often they do not have a computer at home, and if they are able to access the internet, the services may not be translated into their native language.
12. Also stated in the 2015 Family Violence Law Review submission was the difficulty in accessing Protection Orders in rural areas. Some victims do not apply for Protection Orders due to costs and difficulties with the application process. In many cases, the victim is unlikely to be able to access money to engage legal services without the perpetrator knowing, which is another form of control and psychological abuse. We support enabling approved NGOs to apply for Protection Orders on behalf of vulnerable victims who are not able to do so themselves due to reasons such as remoteness, physical incapacity and fear. We hope that this will address the gap of vulnerable people who are not applying for Protection Orders and provide them with the protection they need.
13. Adding to the difficulties of isolation and remoteness for victims is the possibility that a “without notice” Protection Order is denied. If the victim applies for a Protection order without notice, the victim remains in a very dangerous situation if they have to continue living with family violence, especially while waiting for the perpetrator to be served once a Protection Order has been granted.
14. RWNZ is in support of giving the Court extra powers to act when family violence service providers raise issues of family violence. This is an effective way of both early intervention and better protection for the victim, such as changes to the conditions of a Protection Order. Furthermore, the Protection Order must not be removed unless the Court is satisfied it is no longer necessary, before making a decision to discharge. We believe this would leave victims at risk, especially in rural communities, where the social isolation is an issue.
15. Organisations such as Victim Support and the Rural Support Trust assist in many ways after the Police have been notified, including the offer of accommodation. However, these organisations have to be aware of the situation in order to help. We would like to see a system in place so that organisations are aware of what is happening, and can intervene when necessary.
16. Information sharing between agencies is something RWNZ supports, however, only with the necessary checks and balances in place. Sharing and disclosing information where family violence occurs across sectors, such as health and education, incurs many privacy risks and we strongly support the maintenance of the right to privacy.
17. Victims of family violence are often already living in fear, and it is crucial for victim safety that victims are not afraid to come forward. We do not want to see victims refrain from asking for help and being at risk, for fear of reasons of confidentiality or privacy. RWNZ agrees that allowing specified organisations to use and share personal information helps to build a better idea of the situation, and enables the most effective response. However, we do not support an information sharing system that puts people at risk and leaves victims feeling vulnerable and unable to seek help.
18. RWNZ thanks the Committee for the opportunity to submit on this Bill. We would greatly appreciate the option to appear before the Committee in support of our submission. Please contact me to discuss our submission further.
Chief Executive Officer
Rural Women New Zealand
1 Ruth Herbert and Deborah Mackenzie “The Way Forward; The Impact Collective” (2014)
2 Age Concern New Zealand “Elder Abuse: Hits Close to Home” (2016).
3 The Families Commission “Changing roles: The pleasures and pressures of being a grandparent in New Zealand” (2010).
4 National Council of Women “Mid Term Report to CEDAW” (2014).
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