New family violence offences could tackle 'insidious' abusers - Amy Adams

Dedicated family violence courts and beefed-up protection orders get thumbs up from public.
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Dedicated family violence courts and beefed-up protection orders get thumbs up from public.

Introducing new family violence offences, such as coercive control and psychological violence, could make it easier for authorities to tackle the "insidious" behaviour of domestic abusers, Justice Minister Amy Adams says.

The Government released a summary of public submissions on its plans to reform family violence laws, revealing broad support for many of its proposals.

The summary said most submissions supported the idea of a "stand-alone offence" for family violence, and some pushed for new offences for psychological violence, coercive control and repeat family violence.

Justice Minister Amy Adams says family violence legislation should be introduced to Parliament later this year.
KIRK HARGREAVES / FAIRFAX NZ

Justice Minister Amy Adams says family violence legislation should be introduced to Parliament later this year.

People supported third parties being able to apply for a protection order on a victim's behalf, as well as simplified application forms and easier processes.

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"Many submissions mentioned that in order for protection orders to be effective, there should be a swift and certain response to breaches", the summary said.

There was "broad support" for the idea of mandatory arrests when there was enough evidence to prove an order had been breached.

Adams said changing the definition of family violence would not be a "silver bullet", but would make it easier for authorities to intervene.

"Where things are not being resolved and laws are being broken, I think it's appropriate that the law can act sooner and when families are potentially still able to be put back together and issues resolved, rather than having to wait until things have escalated to a very dangerous and irreparable position."

'INSIDIOUS CONTROL AND DOMINATION'

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Introducing new offences, such as coercive control and psychological violence, would reflect that domestic violence was a unique type of offending, which could involve "insidious control and domination".

"It's not a one-off incident where someone gets hit in the bar, it's often characterised by a long pattern of behaviour that starts with control and intimidation and dominance and isolation and often escalates to violence.

"If we want to deal with it sooner and more effectively, I think we have to be able to recognise these earlier patterns of behaviour."

Adams acknowledged it would be difficult for judges and lawyers to determine what qualified as coercive control, but the Government was looking at similar offences created overseas to see how they were enforced.

"Yes it's hard, yes it's going to be challenging, but if we stick to what we've always done and leave it out because it's too difficult, then I don't think we're going to make the sort of change we need to make."

The Government was also considering whether it made sense to let people apply for protection orders on a victim's behalf, but had to make sure any changes did not disempower victims.

PAID LEAVE FOR FAMILY VIOLENCE VICTIMS

Green Party social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said the Government should take note of submitters' support for paid employment leave to help victims of family violence.

Logie said abusers could make it hard for their victims to get to work, and once women left a violent situation it was hard for them to juggle court and other issues without extra leave.

"Providing protections for victims of abuse so they can stay in work is critical to reducing the effects of violence," said Logie, who has a member's bill, which would introduce paid leave for family violence victims.

Adams said the proposal was not part of her specific portfolio, but was "certainly something that could be fed into" the Government's work.

However, it was not clear that introducing the leave would make a significant difference to family violence situations, she said.

"I think a bigger part of it actually is turning the focus away from requiring the victim to get out and re-establish, usually, herself...to more effectively dealing with the perpetrator's behaviour and removing him from situations and changing that emphasis."

Adams said specific proposals for law changes would be announced in the coming months, with legislation expected to be introduced later this year.

 - Stuff

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