Domestic and sexual violence are gendered crimes, which damage the health of women and their families. Numerous studies and submissions have been made to government detailing research and strategies to combat both domestic and sexual violence in Aotearoa New Zealand. These focus on protecting both women and children from these crimes and suggest intersectoral connections (agencies and services working in a joined-up way linked together through an integrated system response) including changes to policing, the Family Court system and support services must be developed to meet both need and demand.

Domestic and sexual violence – gendered crimes

Violence towards women and children are gendered crimes with serious health effects that can be lifelong. Violence is one of the most significant challenges to the health of women and girls. The prevalence of gendered violence is supported by current cultural norms, gender inequalities and institutionalised misogyny. It is made worse by various factors including economic inequality, poverty, high crime levels, alcohol and drug abuse, sexist portrayal of women and girls in various forms of media, poor victim support from both the police and the justice system and the under-funding of support services. The impact of sexual and domestic violence on survivors, families and communities is serious and long-term with costs to both individuals and society. In 2003 a New Zealand Treasury report estimated the economic costs to the New Zealand economy at $1.2 billion each year. That study was updated in 2014 by Sherilee Kahui and Suzanne Snively – Measuring the Economic Costs of Child Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence to New Zealand,  The authors estimate the economic cost as between $4.1 to $7 billion per year and rising. They argue that if nothing is done, the cumulative cost over the next ten years may approach $80 billion. At the high end, the estimated cost of child abuse and intimate partner violence is equal to 60% of what was earned from dairy exports in 2013.

Sexual violence

The World Health Organisation describes sexual violence as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, sexual harassment, or act directed against a person’s sexuality, using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting including but not limited to home or work. Sexual violence can include, rape, the threat of rape, attempted rape, sexual harassment, sexual coercion and sexual contact with force. Sexual violence can be perpetrated by, or against, anyone but overwhelmingly the sexual assault of adults is perpetrated by men against women. There is no completely accurate data available regarding sexual violence in Aotearoa New Zealand, and there are significant anomalies both in the recording and defining of sexual violence and the fact that violence and sexual violence in particular is underreported. However, there are various New Zealand research studies available which point to sexual violence being a common and harmful experience for many girls and women. You can find out more by visiting HELP – Sexual Abuse Statistics

Family or domestic violence

In the last decade the naming of domestic violence has shifted to family violence, which includes violence against children and elder abuse. The shift has been promoted by Government agencies rather than by women’s services or survivors themselves. Family violence includes abuse against any person who is, or has been, in a domestic relationship with the abuser including carers of children, disabled or older people. It includes siblings, children or parents and violence by an intimate partner against the other partner. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological/emotional abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, damage to property and threats of physical or sexual abuse.

Family violence is a criminal offence in New Zealand and there are a number of offences listed in the Crimes Act related to it.  In addition, the Domestic Violence Act 1995 offers victims of domestic violence legislative protection when they are escaping an abusive and violent relationship.  In 2018, the Government introduced some changes to domestic violence legislation including changing the name of the Domestic Violence Act to the Family Violence Act (as of 1 July 2019), and introducing changes to various acts (the Bail Act 2000, Care of Children Act 2004, Crimes Act 1961, Criminal Procedure Act 2011, Evidence Act 2006 and Sentencing Act 2002). These changes include the introduction of three new criminal offences: strangulation or suffocation, assault on a person in a family relationship, and coerced marriage or civil union. Other changes include making victims’ safety the primary consideration in family violence bail decisions, enabling family violence offending to be tracked through the criminal justice system, and inserting a new aggravating factor at sentencing. You can read more about those changes here.

The Family Court

The 2012 WHA Cartwright seminar, titled ‘Silent injustice: Women’s experiences of the Family Court’, explored women’s experiences of negotiating relationship separation and care of children within the Family Court. Recent New Zealand research has highlighted the difficulties women currently face with negotiating care and contact arrangements for their children through New Zealand’s family law system. Women’s experiences of the Family Court system suggest the systemic serving of fathers’ interests over mothers’ ability to care for and protect their children, are compounded when women are separating from violent relationships.

In 2017 The Backbone Collective launched in New Zealand to provide women who had experienced violence and abuse a safe way to say how the system responded to them when they reached out for help in order to inform changes to make the system work safely.  The Backbone Collective has released a number of reports focussing on women’s accounts of system failure by the New Zealand Family Court when they have approached the court for protection after leaving an abusive partner.  You can read those reports here.

Womens Health Action supports:

➜ Proper funding for specialist sexual violence including 24 hour crisis and phone and ongoing support services and training for sector workers along with simplified contracting and reporting arrangements and sustained funding arrangements.
➜ Services that reflect the diversity of our communities including specialist services for Māori and for minority groups and health promotion messages that promote respect
➜ Making significant changes to intersecting services such as the police and justice system, including changes to court processes, the training of judges and lawyers and the police.
➜ Legislation which controls the use of social and other media which promotes violence and sexual violence.
➜ Engagement of the mass media in countering exploitative and sexist depictions of women.

Useful links

UK to criminalise coercive, controlling and psychological abuse (2015) » the UK Home Office has announced a new domestic violence law will be introduced, criminalising patterns of coercive, controlling and psychological abuse.

New resource on engaging key sectors to prevent violence (2015) » a new resource from the Prevention Institute (US) offers support for collaboration across sectors to prevent violence.

HeforShe solidarity movement for gender equality (2015) » the UN Women is working to build a solidarity movement for gender equality. The HeForShe campaign aims to engage one billion men by July 2015 as “advocates and agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights.”

Support services

For sexual violence support services:

HELP – Support for sexual abuse survivors (Auckland) » information, support and services for survivors of sexual abuse, including support through court processes, and specialist counselling for survivors and their loved ones. Call their 24/7 HELPline on 09 623 1700.

National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups Aotearoa » provides contact information of services throughout the country, as well as a national free helpline on 0800 88 33 00.

Safe To Talk » provides a 24/7, free, confidential and non-judgemental sexual harm helpline. Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334.

TOAH-NNEST – Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together » TOAH-NNEST agencies offer specialist help immediately after a sexual assault, or if it happened a long time ago. You can call or visit a specialist sexual violence service for counselling, support, resources and information, or just to talk.

Rape Prevention Education » an organisation in the greater Auckland area and nationally which works to prevent sexual violence through the delivery of education, health promotion and prevention activities. They have links to local support services, as well as information regarding consent, rape culture, pornography and harmful sexual behaviour.

For family violence support services:

Women’s Refuge » Women’s Refuge are an organisation for women and their children, to help prevent and stop family violence in New Zealand. If you are experiencing any form of abuse in your family or your relationship, or know someone who is, there are many ways they can help you, whether you have children or not – for free, and confidentially. If you need help now, call 111 or their free Crisisline on 0800 REFUGE (0800 733 843)

Family Violence Networks » information about Family Violence Networks, including a link to contact details of networks around the country.

SHINE » Shine wants to make sure that anyone experiencing domestic violence in New Zealand has a place to turn and someone to talk to. Their free National Helpline can provide support and information for you if you are living with abuse – whether you are male or female, or if you are worried about a friend, family member, colleague or child. Call 0508 744 633.

Rainbow YOUTH » Rainbow YOUTH provides a number of services for queer and gender diverse youth and their wider communities all across Aotearoa, such as peer-support groups, drop-in centres and Rainbow friendly counselling.

Shakti » Shakti are an organisation working to end all forms of violence and discrimination against migrant and refugee women. Led by ethnic women for ethnic women, they provide culturally specialise, confidential support services to women and their children of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origins. Call their 24/7 crisis-line on 0800 SHAKTI (0800 742 584).

Age Concern » provides information about elder abuse and neglect, and how it can be prevented. Age Concern provides free and confidential Elder Abuse Response Services in most cities and provincial areas throughout New Zealand. They have a 24-hour helpline on 0800 326 6865.

Kia Haumaru – Personal Safety Education » a network of trained and accredited teachers of Empowerment Self Defence, located throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, providing personal safety education to women, girls, and LGBTQIA+ people. The Girls Self Defence Project Aotearoa New Zealand also provides free self defence courses for young women in schools. Formerly known as the Women’s Self Defence Network – Wāhine Toa.

References and Resources

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse »  the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse is your national centre for research and information on family and whānau violence in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Kaupapa Māori wellbeing framework » The basis for whānau violence prevention and intervention

You, Me, Us » an initiative by Shine, OUTLINE NZ and Rainbow Youth. There are resources about creating healthy relationships, identifying unhealthy relationships and ways to get help, or get out.

“This Isn’t Love” » a Family Planning resource to help young people understand the danger signs of relationship abuse and give them information about where to go to get help if they are in a violent relationship. This resource is available for free download.