Former Glenn Inquiry head starts domestic violence watchdog 'The Backbone Collective'
A new independent watchdog that will act as a voice for victims of domestic abuse has been launched by the former head of the Glenn Inquiry.
Ruth Herbert, a domestic abuse survivor herself, says NGO The Backbone Collective will "wrap around abused women and their children" to keep them safe and help them rebuild their lives.
"Violence against Women is New Zealand's great shame, we have the highest rate of women experiencing violence and abuse in the developed world. So it's high time we started building a system that is more consistent and powerful than the abuser."
Herbert, along with violence-against-women advocate Deborah Mackenzie and policy analyst Tania Domett firmly believe the justice system is failing victims of domestic abuse "the greatest".
"Backbone is a newly established independent body taking action to change New Zealand's alarming violence-against-women statistics by examining the present response system through the eyes of its users - the women who have experienced violence and abuse," said Herbert.
Each part of the integrated system would "talk to the others", sharing information about how to best to support a woman and her family. Processes that women go through after reporting violence can include communicating with the police, GPs, safehouses and family courts as well as countless NGOs and Government departments.
It will also anonymously survey its members every month, seeing where New Zealand's current systems are succeeding or failing, and suggesting changes to those in power, creating a positive feedback loop.
Domett said this is New Zealand's first and only independent watchdog of the system with this monitoring function.
"We think that government and others in a position of power will start listening when hundreds, and potentially thousands, of women speak up about what needs to change."
"The more we develop this initiative, the more impact we will be able to have. What we need most is for women to join the Backbone and have their say."
Herbert believes that her experience of being a victim of domestic violence more than 30 years ago puts her in the best position to do the job.
After her partner levelled a loaded gun to her temple and pulled the trigger, she fled and went into hiding.
But after 12 years in hiding she received a phone call saying her abuser had died and then, she said, and only then, could she stop living in fear.
Remarkably, she says, modern victims of domestic abuse have it even worse than she did.
Herbert has subsequently dedicated her life to improving outcomes for other victims of abuse; she did her masters on the topic, campaigned tirelessly, and became director of family violence at the Ministry of Social Development and finally, the executive director of the Glenn Inquiry in 2012 - an independent inquiry into family violence in New Zealand.
After a tumultuous couple of years she left the inquiry, which was backed by millionaire philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn and chaired by Dame Catherine Tizard, due to "a culmination of events that have occurred over a period of time".
"My decision to resign was one I didn't make lightly, but due to confidentiality undertakings I am not able to talk about the circumstances that led me to take that decision."
But all was not all was lost as Herbert used her experience and knowledge on the frontline of the issue to give birth to the Backbone Collective, along with Mackenzie and Domett.
*Sign up to the Backbone Collective here.
- Sunday Star Times