Women demand answers for Family Court failings

BEVAN READ

Ruth Herbert has built on her lifetime of experiences to help put together the Backbone Collective to assist abused women.

Women dealing with the Family Court have come forward to tell a new independent watchdog that the system is failing to keep them, and their children, safe.

They have also come up with a list of 160 questions for the Government, demanding to know why the system is letting them down.

The Backbone Collective, an organisation co-founded by domestic abuse survivor Ruth Herbert, was launched in March, promising to keep abused women and children safe, and help them rebuild their lives.

Backbone Collective co-founders, from left, Tania Domett, Ruth Herbert and Deborah Mackenzie.
SUPPLIED

Backbone Collective co-founders, from left, Tania Domett, Ruth Herbert and Deborah Mackenzie.

Before that, the group ran a survey asking women want they wanted it to focus on first, and were told the Family Court was the part of the system women wanted Backbone to look at.

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Co-founder Deborah Mackenzie said 400 women had signed up to the voluntary group since it launched, many of them making contact over Facebook and email to share their stories.

Ruth Herbert, co-founder of the Backbone Collective, is a survivor of domestic and sexual violence.
BEVAN READ/ FAIRFAX NZ

Ruth Herbert, co-founder of the Backbone Collective, is a survivor of domestic and sexual violence.

From there, the group asked 10 women across the country to come up with questions for the Government, based on their experiences of the Family Court.

"They wrote the questions, we did not touch them at all, we've just put them into themes ... we think the questions speak for themselves."

The women said they were revictimised by Family Court process, and felt legislation meant the rights of abusive fathers trumped the safety of their children.

Co-founder Deborah Mackenzie said 400 women had signed up to the voluntary group since it launched last month.
SUPPLIED

Co-founder Deborah Mackenzie said 400 women had signed up to the voluntary group since it launched last month.

The closed nature of the court, which women said meant it was not open to public or media scrutiny, was another issue raised, as was the quality of practice of some Family Court judges, and perceived shortfalls in legislation.

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Women also said it was difficult to make complaints, and felt they were consistently brushed off.

The questions put together in the report will be sent to the appropriate government departments by Backbone. The responses they get, and how long it takes for authorities to respond to those questions, will be made public.

The idea was to provide a way for women to make their experiences known, and to get answers they were unable to get themselves, Mackenzie said.

Backbone would also release a survey on Friday, asking women to let them know of their experiences within the Family Court setting.

The group, which was run voluntarily by the three women, would do the Government's work, in asking women and children how their experience within the court was, Mackenzie said.

"The Government does not do that work at all, we have decided this is the bit we can do ... hopefully the system will respond and make change accordingly."

Register with Backbone here, or email info@backbone.org.nz in confidence to tell your story.

 - Stuff

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