Strangulation, coercion to marry and family violence to be new crimes with tough sentences - Govt video

ROSS GIBLIN\Dominion Post

The Government has announced a $130m suite of new laws to tackle family violence at the core.

Criminals who commit violence against members of their own family will soon be marked as family violence offenders for life, on their records.

The Government will create new offences of non-fatal strangulation, coercion to marry and assault on a family member, which will carry tougher sentences than common assault. 

Prime Minister John Key announced a $130m overhaul of the way family violence is dealt with by the justice system.

The overhaul would see the safety of victims put at the centre of all bail decisions, as well as parenting and property orders. 

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Tougher penalties would also be enforced for people who committed crimes while subject to a protection order. 

Prime Minister John Key and Justice Minister Amy Adams have announced major changes to the way family violence incidents ...
MONIQUE FORD / Stuff.co.nz

Prime Minister John Key and Justice Minister Amy Adams have announced major changes to the way family violence incidents are responded to.

Key made the announcement alongside Justice Minister Amy Adams at a function at Te Papa in Wellington, in front of a crowd of more than 100 high-ranking Government, justice and police officials. 

The $130m was new funding, which would help fund 66 new police officers as well as greater support for Child, Youth and Family social workers dealing with extreme family violence situations. 

He said the Government would not "shy away" from tackling the problem. 

NZN Video

Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday announced a major overhaul of family violence laws which will see new offences created and more support for victims. Justice Minister Amy Adams says they want a system which focusses on stopping a perpetrators behaviour, rather than what a victim has to do to keep themselves safe.

"The challenge of reducing family violence lies with all of us, with the Government, the police, social agencies and with everyone who knows that violence is occurring."

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Police responded to about 110,000 family violence callouts a year and kids were present at nearly two thirds of these.

"We accept the size of the challenge, this is not something that's going to resolve itself overnight. 

Justice Minister Amy Adams has been part of the Ministerial Working Group on Family and Sexual Violence, alongside ...
KIRK HARGREAVES / FAIRFAX NZ

Justice Minister Amy Adams has been part of the Ministerial Working Group on Family and Sexual Violence, alongside Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, since 2012.

"But I do think we can get substantial change over time. In the very short term, we're likely to see more cases of family violence reported."

It would "inevitably" lead to more reporting, but once agencies could intervene earlier Key hoped that would lead to a nationwide de-escalation of these types of crimes. 

FAMILY VIOLENCE IN NZ 'HORRENDOUS'

"New Zealand's rate of family violence is horrendous. It has a devastating impact on individuals and communities, and a profound impact that can span generations and lifetimes," Adams said.

"Our suite of changes are directed to earlier and more effective interventions. We are focused on better ways to keep victims safe and changing perpetrator behaviour to stop abuse and re-abuse."

The reforms would require 53 law changes, across the Domestic Violence Act, Care of Children Act, Sentencing Act, Bail Act, Crimes Act, Criminal Procedure Act and the Evidence Act.

Help would be given to those in need, without them having to go to court. It would also be made easier for protection orders to be applied for; others will allowed to apply on a victims behalf.

Changes would also make it easier for police to gather evidence in family violence cases, while less traumatic for victims.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, who was travelling to Geneva to appear in front of the UN, said in a statement that the package was only part of the change required.

"Laws alone cannot solve New Zealand's horrific rate of family violence. But they are a cornerstone element in how we respond to confronting family violence."

'UNCOMPROMISING APPROACH' WELCOME

Police Commissioner Mike Bush welcomed the announcement and additional police.

Being able to categorise family violence offenders specifically, would immediately provide more context for police dealing with those offenders. 

"This is all evidence based - it's what we're seeing, but it's also in international studies. It is right and proper to have appropriate offences for family violence, to provide that consistency and therefore a real deterrence to people.

"It will help in a number of ways, one - it's a safety thing for us. We know what we're going to before we get there.

"Secondly, we can put the appropriate interventions in place, thirdly it'll mean we can actually respond in a more appropriate way."

Leading social services provider Barnardos described the changes as "uncompromising and refreshing". 

Chief executive Jeff Sanders said it was particularly pleasing to see the Government recognise children as direct victims of family violence, "so the urgency and seriousness of the direct harm they face is adequately recognised".

"It was great to hear our Prime Minister say that no New Zealander who cares could see family violence as 'someone else's problem'", said Sanders.

"Ridding our homes of this scourge is going to take an immense effort from all of us."

WHAT ABOUT PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE?

The Government had shied away from creating a range of offences for emotional and psychological abuse however, saying evidence was not convincing that measures around that were effective.

"We had a look at the UK, who are the only jursidiction that have so far made it a criminal offence. To date, they haven't found it as effective as they'd thought. 

"The information I've had is that they've only managed to prosecute under it, where there's also been physical violence." 

Labour's sexual and domestic violence spokeswoman Poto Williams said that was disappointing. 

"Under the domestic violence act, financial abuse is one of the key conditions around wider emotional abuse - we would have wanted a tighter crackdown on that by the Government." 

She said the package was "all well and good", but resources provided to NGOs in the family violence sector had not been increased in about 10 years. 

"In order for this to work, the Government needs the community sector on board and we would be looking to the Government to resources the sector appropriately." 

The announcement built on Government work already announced, through the work of the ministerial group on family and sexual violence, led by Adams and Tolley. 

That included establishing a chief victims advisor, and an integrated safety response pilot to support victims and their families.

Since 2012, that included harsher penalties for breaches of protection orders, and alarms and locks installed in the homes of 750 family violence victims.

A new disclosure scheme had also been created, to make it easier for police to release a person's violent criminal past to a concerned partner or friend.

STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: 

The father of murdered woman Sophie Elliot said the government's announcement was a step forward. 

Elliot was murdered in January, 2008, by her former boyfriend and university lecturer Clayton Weatherston. 

Her father, Gil Elliot, said there were signs of physical abuse leading up to the fatal attack. In one instance, Elliot was pinned down against her will by Weatherston while dropping off a gift for him. 

Following the attack, Elliot decided not to press charges because she didn't think it would go anywhere. 

"She decided not to persue it because she had no evidence. What would have happened? What would the police have done?" 

Psychological abuse should also be taken seriously, he said. 

"I know physical abuse can be really damaging, but psychological abuse can undermine a persons ability to respond and to look after themselves. It deflates their own outlook on themselves which puts them in a very vulnerable position." 

"Sometimes these people are so devalued in their own minds they are totally dependant on the person who is abusing them." 

Chief executive of Women's Refuge Dr Ang Jury said the changes were a massive improvement. 

"I think the minister has delivered on her promises she made earlier in the submission process. This is possibly the most significant change in the domestic violence sphere," she said. 

"The new strangulation law is really important. That highlights just how dangerous and life threatening strangulation is. It is incredibly common." 

Better protection for women who needed to drop off children to their fathers was also valued. 

"That is going to keep quit a number of women an awful lot safer." 

 - Stuff

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