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The Government’s Domestic Violence plan (Part One)

By   /  October 4, 2016  /  Comments Off on The Government’s Domestic Violence plan (Part One)

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MIL OSI – Source: Green Party – Press Release/Statement

Headline: The Government’s Domestic Violence plan (Part One)

I want to acknowledge that I respect Minister of Justice Amy Adams and I think she genuinely wants to improve outcomes for victims of domestic violence with recently announced reforms. I also want to be clear though that unless there is systemic change to the Government’s response to domestic violence, we will not get the results that we need. The justice system is an essential component of our response to domestic violence, but it is only one part of the problem. For now, I will focus on the justice specific aspects – what I was disappointed by and what I believe we need to keep lobbying on.

Focusing on family violence

The choice to change the language to specifically focus on family violence is disappointing. I personally think we needed a distinction between Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and domestic and other forms of family violence. I am worried that putting everything under the wider banner of family violence won’t provide the police or courts with the direction they need to understand the specific dynamics of power and control within intimate partner violence, in particular.

I am hoping that clarifying the definition of family violence means that there will still be able to include an understanding of coercion and control and the cumulative effect of this. Our legislation has had psychological and even economic violence in there for years, but it almost never stands up in court without the presence of physical violence. I have seen women terrorised and their agency removed without the use of physical violence. Without an understanding of the dynamics of coercion and control, it is very easy to reduce everything to the physical and that can make it hard to even identify the perpetrator. Not having a clear understanding of coercion and control can make self-defence, or fighting back against torture, indistinguishable from abuse. We need to make sure our legislation helps police and court people understand the difference.

I still hope the government takes the opportunity to consider adding surveillance and monitoring, threats to pets, preventing the victim from talking to others, confinement, threats to the children or other members of the family, or denial of access to support or equipment needed to be healthy or independent to the Act.

Access to justice

We need to make sure we have a justice system that supports people with disabilities to access justice. It would really help if courts had the discretion to decide if a support worker for an elderly or disabled person’s relationship meets the threshold of a close personal relationship regardless of having an employer-employee relationship.

Simplifying protection orders

I am pleased to see the simplification of protection orders, with the ability for others to apply on a victim’s behalf and an advice service to go with them. I am concerned that there is yet to be any indication that this will remove the cost of orders or address that there are 25% less family law lawyers working under legal aid arrangements. The changes to property orders and parenting arrangements also look promising but again there doesn’t seem to be anything that will address the costs of this process. And again if breaches aren’t consistently addressed, we risk forcing women and children into debt without making them appreciably safer.

I am also disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be anything strengthening the messages to the courts on how to respond to breaches of protection orders. This has been a real problem. I have been hearing for a long time now about this concept of ‘minor breaches’, ones the courts don’t want to deal with. So-called minor breaches can often be a test; not responding to these cases can suggest to a victim that the system won’t protect her. We have a problem with women and children being murdered, despite protection orders being in place and breaches having already occurred. I believe there is clear evidence of a need for stronger direction to the courts. Giving the courts greater powers to act when family violence service providers raise issues may be a way around this.

Rules of evidence

I am also really frustrated to see that while the reforms will allow police video interviews to be used in court. This could have been done already in the Evidence Act that just passed about a week ago. And it again defers other changes. Honestly!!!! There have been calls to look at these rules of evidence for over 7 years now.  Stop the delay!

Information sharing

The emphasis on information sharing also raises concerns for me and I want to flag a possible danger, particularly if the ability for NGOs to apply for protection orders is not handled carefully. Victims have the most information about their situation. It is also important to remember that a key factor in IPV is the undermining of a victim’s ability to act for herself or sense of her own power. Any policy that requires NGOs to share information that might result in actions being taken without a victim’s consent could be dangerous and might create a barrier for victims to seek help. Sharing information without a victim’s consent, even if the intent is good, risks isolating victims further. We shouldn’t require victims to always take action to hold perpetrators to account but we shouldn’t automatically assume we know better either.

Interaction with Vulnerable Children’s legislation

Another area I think we need to consider very carefully is how these reforms interact with the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children Tamariki Oranga and changes introduced by the Vulnerable Children’s legislation. The proposed changes to Care of Children Act seem positive and go some way to reversing Judith Collin’s decision to remove the Bristol Clause. I am still highly concerned that domestic violence has been present in around 70% of CYF referrals and yet an understanding of domestic violence is not central to the reforms.When the Minister was briefing us on the proposed CYF reforms and I asked her about domestic violence she said something along the lines of ‘I’m not so concerned if the parents bash each up. My concern is the children.’ This demonstrates a fundamental ignorance about the impact of domestic violence on children. It also offers a possible explanation for the clause in the Vulnerable Children’s Act that introduced penalties for failing to protect a child in your care. Historically in New Zealand, all too many children have been separated from their mothers, particularly if their mothers are

When the Minister was briefing us on the proposed CYF reforms and I asked her about domestic violence she said something along the lines of ‘I’m not so concerned if the parents bash each up. My concern is the children.’ This demonstrates a fundamental ignorance about the impact of domestic violence on children. It also offers a possible explanation for the clause in the Vulnerable Children’s Act that introduced penalties for failing to protect a child in your care. Historically in New Zealand, too many children have been separated from their mothers, particularly if their mothers are Māori, because their mums have been held accountable for their partner or ex partner’s violence. We need very clear direction for social workers and decision makers that this should stop and we need to clarify that the failure to protect clause should not be used when there is or has been intimate partner violence.

Further, recent changes to the Family Court including the use of Family Dispute Resolution processes, reduction of the role of the counsel for child and usage of restorative justice needs to be properly reviewed to ensure the safety of victims of domestic and sexual violence. Victims remain at risk in these models.

Final thoughts

Finally, if any of these changes have a hope of working over the long term, everyone working with victims/survivors/perpetrators in the justice/support system need to be properly trained and their practice needs to be monitored to ensure good practice. Progress is being made but there is still a greater opportunity in front of us to make even more progress.

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