The long-awaited Glenn Inquiry report into child abuse and domestic violence reads like a "catalogue of despair", its patron says.
Former governor-general Dame Cath Tizard said the report documented harrowing details from abuse survivors who point to major failings in the system.
The $2 million inquiry, set up in late 2012 with funding from millionaire Sir Owen Glenn, aimed to address New Zealand's appalling record of child abuse and domestic violence by giving a voice to those most affected, Tizard said.
The People's Report, released today, summarised the experiences of about 500 survivors of abuse, frontline workers, and offenders who told their stories to the inquiry.
It identified flaws in the system designed to protect those subject to the "insidious normalisation of violence in some of our families" - including poor training and co-ordination among institutions and agencies.
The Family Court was widely criticised, and poor communication within the courts was perceived as helping perpetrators avoid facing consequences for their actions, the report found.
"Alarming dysfunction" in the courts meant incidents of assault were not linked to prior or successive incidents of child abuse and domestic violence, and women struggled with the court process and having to "prove" their situation.
Perpetrators were often seen to be more believable and "played the system" in order to not be held accountable for their actions, the report found.
Child Youth and Family, and Work and Income NZ were also the focus of complaints of those who spoke to the inquiry – abuse survivors called staff "sub-standard and judgmental", and spoke of inaccurate or false documentation and poor inter-agency liaison.
Some abuse victims believed police stopped at giving warnings, failed to enforce court orders and investigate historic abuse cases "to avoid paperwork or because they lack training," the report said.
The inquiry said New Zealand needed to adopt a zero tolerance policy to violence, and adopt a culture shift that put children first.
The report identified a recurring pattern of connection between abuse as a child, domestic violence and child neglect - children who were abused often became the next generation's abusers.
Glenn was not at the report's release, but said in a statement there was no issue more urgent in our society than coming to terms with the "national tragedy" of child abuse and domestic violence.
Family violence was the "dark underbelly" of New Zealand - often touted as a "good society"
"[But] a good society doesn't victimise its women and children the way we do," Glenn said.
But the report was not just a "catalogue of despair", Tizard said.
Victims had told them how long-lasting support helped break the cycle of violence, and cited programmes and efforts by some agencies and individuals that helped them rebuild their lives.
The People's Report was developed to address the question: "If New Zealand was leading the world in addressing child abuse and domestic violence what would that look like?"
Formal analysis was not in today's report, and was not likely to be released until the end of the year as part of the blueprint for change hoped to formed the basis of a national strategy.
Tizard said the inquiry wanted to be totally upfront about "rough patches" it experienced early on, referring to the resignation of the majority of interview panelists, think-tank members and experts, as well as executive director Ruth Herbert and operations director Jessica Trask in mid-2013.
There were also allegations Glenn physically abused a young woman in Hawaii in 2002. Glenn "emphatically denied" the allegations, saying he offered a plea of no contest and the charge was dismissed in 2004.
The inquiry had also been criticised for the time it had taken to deliver the report, with critics pointing to the ethical responsibility the inquiry had to the abuse survivors who told their stories, to release its findings.
Concerns about the security of personally sensitive information provided by survivors of violence also plagued the inquiry.
A safety review found some of the victims' statements had been recorded on inquiry members' mobile phones and laptops, but ultimately concluded the information was safe.
IDEAS FOR CHANGE
- National strategy for addressing child abuse and domestic violence across all levels and branches of society and government
- Funding early intervention
- Funding long-term help and free counselling
- Establishing a code of rights for victims and a code of conduct for court workers
- Better training for professionals who work with family violence victims.
NATIONAL STRATEGY CALL
In a brief response, Secretary for Justice Andrew Bridgman, the head of the Ministry of Justice, said the ministry took the issues raised in the report very seriously.
"The ministry is committed to the delivery of the best possible court services, particularly for those most vulnerable, and we will be giving the report our full consideration."
The Green Party called on the Government to put together a cross-party working group to develop a national strategy and accord on domestic violence and child abuse.
"Victims of abuse need the Government, and all MPs, to put aside partisan politics and agree to work together on a plan that will make domestic violence victims and children safe," women's spokeswoman Jan Logie said.
"The inquiry's finding that 'the current system is a hazard to those who use it' is an indictment on decades of systemic failure."
She said neither Family Court reforms the Government's Vulnerable Children's Strategy had made the system safer.
"The vulnerable children's action plan failed to even draw the connection between vulnerable children and domestic violence."
Labour leader David Cunliffe said the report painted an "unacceptable picture" of life for New Zealand women and children.
"If we are to protect women and children from violence there must be a radical culture change across government, along with a profound attitude shift in society," he said.
"The Government needs to look at the effectiveness of existing court orders, the way the issue of consent is dealt with in court and the manner in which the justice system handles domestic violence and sexual violence cases. The level of and quality of support for victims must also be reassessed, along with resourcing of preventative education."
Cunliffe backed the Green Party call for a cross-party accord.