National Council of Women Speech - Domestic Violence



Kia ora koutou. Talofa lava. Malo e leilei. Thanks for inviting me to speak. I’m going to talk about three topics relating to male intimate partner violence against women.

The first is Terrorism and male intimate partner violence.




In Australia, a poll last month found 74 per cent of Australians believed domestic violence was as much – or more of - a threat than terrorism.


We all know that, since 9/11, the Western World has spent billions of dollars in the “War on Terror.” Actions taken to try and prevent future attacks have impacted on every citizen.


But why don’t we do the same - or more  - to eradicate domestic violence ? And why don’t we call male intimate partner violence against women “terrorism” ?


In every country on the planet, there is an epidemic of violence against women by men – both domestic violence and sexual violence

In the United Kingdom, police receive one domestic violence call every minute – 1300 every day, or 570,000 a year. Two women a week are killed in domestic violence tragedies in Britain.


In Australia, one woman a week is killed by an intimate partner.


In the United States, between 2001 and 2012, 6488 American troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same period, 11,766 women were killed by their partners – almost twice as many as the number of troops killed. Three American women are killed every day by their partners. 38 million American women experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes. Women with disabilities are 40 per cent more likely to experience intimate partner violence. Black women are 35 per cent more likely than white women, to be subjected to intimate partner violence.


In 2014, two people died as a result of terrorism in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. In the same year, more than 1200 women were killed by their partners in those three countries.

More women have been killed by men in Australia since the start of 2014 than all the Australians killed by terrorism in the past 115 years.


Why don’t we call this global epidemic “terrorism ?” And why don’t we apply as much time and resources to eradicating it, as we spend on combating what we commonly call “terrorism ?”


Is it because, despite all the reports and policies and speeches, in recent decades, we still think domestic violence is something hidden away at home – that really it’s an individual problem, rather than a national and international one ?


In Australia, Australian of the Year and anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty questions why hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on fighting “terrorism,” yet women who fear for their safety are being turned away from help in droves because services are so under-resourced.


If we started calling male intimate partner violence against women “terrorism,” would that make us treat it more seriously ?





My second topic is the Government’s plans to overhaul domestic violence laws.


Last Wednesday, Justice Minister Amy Adams unveiled proposals for improving the Government’s response to domestic violence by undertaking a comprehensive review of laws. Shockingly, the paper she released revealed that New Zealand has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence, in the developed world. In 2014, more than 100,000 cases of domestic violence were reported to police. That’s around one every five minutes, every day, all year.  Police issue 36 Police Safety Orders a day, or more than 13,000 a year.


In July 2014, the Government announced a package of measures to help agencies work together on a co-ordinated system, for dealing with family violence. But I was very disappointed that the funding provided was  $9.4 million over 4 years. By contrast, the Government gave $36 million to the 2013 America’s Cup. It spent over $300 million on the 2011 Rugby World Cup. And Michael Hill’s Queenstown Golf Tournament has received several million dollars in government funding.


But, going back to last week’s announcement. It was heartening that Ms Adams said combating family violence was her top priority. The minister said that, when it was passed in 1995, the Domestic Violence Act was world-leading. It set out a clear response to family violence and distinguished it from other forms of crimes. But she said that it was now time for a rethink.


I’m just going to run through some of the key suggestions in the discussion document, and my responses to them. Basically, there are six points -

  1. 1.     Establishing a set of standalone family violence offences. This could involve an offence of psychological violence, or repeat family violence offending. It could also involve incorporating “coercive control” into the definition of violence; and including abusing family pets within the definition. Violence, killing or threats to family pets are often used as ways of controlling women and children. Women often don’t leave violent relationships out of fear about what will happen to their pets, as animals can’t go to refuges. Research by the RNZSCPA and Women’s Refuge in 2012 revealed the links between domestic violence and animal abuse, and included harrowing stories of torture and killings of family pets. Re the suggestion of an offence of psychological abuse: I guess I’m wary of this because, actually, such abuse is already included in the definition of Domestic Violence in the Domestic Violence Act. The problem is, that the Family Court has never applied the law properly, and doesn’t actually treat psychological abuse as domestic violence. Lawyer applying for protection orders for clients know well that, in practice, recent physical violence is required to obtain a protection order – even though that’s not actually what the law says.


  1. 2.     Secondly, creating an additional pathway for victims, perpetrators and whanau who want to help stop violence but don’t want to go to court. It would be great for people to be able to access non-violence programmes, counselling and other support without having court proceedings. But obviously this would require a significant input of extra resources. However, what the Government’s been doing in recent times is cutting resources, rather than increasing them. For example, people used to be able to get 6 free counselling sessions through the Family Court, but that’s been taken away. I’m also wary about using restorative justice in domestic violence cases. I think it can sound good in practice, but I’m extremely dubious that anything like adequate safeguards would be in place. I think it could be very dangerous for women, who could be pressured into agreeing to restorative justice, and not have support or be able to speak out.


  1. 3.     Thirdly, ideas about improving the accessibility and effectiveness of protection orders. This has been a problem since the Domestic Violence Act came into force almost 20 years ago. It’s great legislation, but it’s never been enforced properly. There are particular problems with the police and the courts. The police often do not understand the importance of protection order breaches. They trivialise and downplay them. That also happens in the courts. As the Livingstone inquest tragically revealed, Edward Livingstone had twice appeared before the courts and been found guilty of breaching a protection order. The first time, he was granted diversion, and the second time, he was given a discharge without conviction. So his ex-wife – quite rightly – did not see any point in reporting further breaches. The judge prioritised Mr Livingstone’s future employment prospects, and the potential harm a conviction could do to them, over the safety of his wife and children. Unless protection orders are enforced, they are “just a piece of paper.”


  1. 4.     Fourthly, doing a better job of sharing information where family violence concerns, arise between agencies and within the courts. Definitely, this is important. For example, there needs to be information sharing between the Family and the criminal courts, when they’re dealing with domestic violence. Again, in the Livingstone case, the judge sentencing him, didn’t know he’d committed arson of a former partner’s house in Australia.


  1. 5.     Fifthly, considering compelling police action in certain circumstances, such as requiring mandatory arrest for all breaches of protection orders. I support this. The police policy keeps changing. In recent years, the police have gone back to simply warning, perpetrators of domestic violence. This shouldn’t be happening. Perpetrators should be arrested and charged so the victim knows the legal system will protect her, and judges and others know the history of violence.


  1. 6.     Sixthly, more prominence to victim safety in legislation like the Care of Children Act and bail and sentencing laws. This is definitely needed – though, once again, this is not what the Government has been doing up til now. The Government was strongly warned not to remove section 16B, which was designed to protect children in cases of domestic violence, but it went ahead and did it anyway, when it made its changes to the Family Court.


If you want to make a submission on these proposals, you have until 18 September to do so.


I also want to mention that, in July, the Minister asked the Law Commission to research two family violence issues. The first of these was whether non-fatal strangulation should be a separate crime. I support that.

Manual strangulation has only recently been understood as one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence, as unconsciousness can occur within seconds, and death within minutes. Strangulation accounts for 10 per cent of violent deaths in the United States, with six female victims to every male. The Family Violence Death Review Committee found that, in New Zealand, 71 per cent of the regional reviews it conducted, had strangulation histories.

However, such assaults leave few physical symptoms and are often downplayed by victims, the police and the courts. One example of this is calling it “choking” instead of “strangulation.” We should follow American states, and introduce an offence of non-fatal strangulation. We should adopt the wording used in the Texas and Idaho laws.


The second issue Amy Adams asked the Law Commission to consider, is how the law responds to victims of family violence who kill the perpetrators. This is an issue we were debating and researching 15 or 20 years ago, but haven’t spoken about much in recent years. It takes in battered women’s syndrome. It will be good to see recent research about this, and examine how the legal system’s response can be improved when victims act violently towards perpetrators.


I believe a key issue in our response to male intimate partner violence is resources. No government has provided anything like enough resources to eradicate domestic violence. In particular, I believe there need to be massive resources provided to enable women and children to permanently escape domestic violence. In many cases, they can’t do this for financial reasons.

There was no commitment to additional resources with Amy Adams’s announcements last week. But Prime Minister John Key did say last Monday that more resources could be made available - though without actually committing himself.


So that’s a little of what the Government is proposing in relation to domestic violence.


Last Friday, an all-day hui was held in Wellington to discuss key goals for action against domestic and sexual violence. It was called “In it together” and was organised by Green MP Jan Logie. It brought together sector representatives and some politicians.  The day was very valuable, and thanks to Jan for organising it. She and the other organisers did a great job in ensuring strong representation of Maori and disability advocates. It was also pleasing that Labour’s Kelvin Davis attended. We need MPs to adopt a cross-party approach.


We divided into four groups to discuss key actions on domestic violence; sexual violence; child abuse; and treatment for offenders. Representatives from each of the four streams are now compiling the proposals into one document to be forwarded to the Government.




My last topic is a call for men to take action against domestic violence.

All the actions I’ve outlined above from government, and much of what’s being done by NGOs, is ambulance-at-the-bottom-of- the-cliff.  It focuses on better responses to violence against women AFTER it’s happened.


But, sadly, no country in the world has solved the problem of how to actually prevent it. Domestic violence is an issue in very nation in the world. Men have been perpetrating it against women for thousands of years and no effective means of halting it completely, has been found, anywhere.


There has actually been a giant con perpetrated on women. Not only are we the victims of domestic violence. But we have also been persuaded that domestic violence is a “women’s issue.” In Aotearoa and all over the world, millions of women have spent decades working either unpaid, or for low pay to end domestic violence. By contrast, there are very few men working in this field.


Why is this ? Men are the perpetrators, and domestic violence is therefore a man’s problem, not a women’s problem.


Until men step up and take action to stop it, domestic violence will never end.

And we need to start asking men “Why don’t you stop beating, raping and killing women ?” Instead of asking women “Why don’t you leave ?”

We need men to take immediate and comprehensive steps to abolish domestic violence. Men need to -

  • Stop all violence against women immediately – physical, sexual and psychological.
  • Talk to men every day about domestic violence and discuss with other men what men can do every day to stop it. That’s what women campaigning against domestic violence do.
  • Speak up when men make jokes about domestic violence, rape and the inferiority of women. Silence condones the violence.
  • Lobby the Government to make the abolition of domestic violence its top priority.
  • Tell MPs, the Prime Minister and the leaders of the 10 main political parties, that men will not vote for a party or candidate unless they make domestic violence abolition their top priority.
  • Tell politicians men do not support funding for the America’s Cup, the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, Michael Hill’s Golf Tournament and other male sporting events – tell them men want the money to go towards abolishing violence against women.
  • Tell politicians, the $69 million the Government found overnight for bridges, when it was worried it would lose the Northland by-election, - would be better spent on helping women and children escape violence.
  • Donate money to help women and children escape permanently from violence.


Thank you.


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