Editorial - Domestic violence crime in its own right

Last updated 07:36 02/11/2012

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Actor Edward Furlong, who starred in Terminator 2, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport this week and booked on suspicion of domestic violence - a specified crime in California. The penalties include jail or prison and participation in a 52-week batterers' treatment programme. To meet the criteria for arrest, the partners must be married, living together, or have a child in common and the victim must have visible injuries.

In this country, Mr Furlong might be facing an assault charge. The Principal Family Court Judge, Peter Boshier, wants to change that. He is calling for domestic violence to be a criminal offence in its own right, arguing it then would be branded (and frowned on, hopefully) in the same way as drink-driving or drug manufacturing.

The extent of family violence is shameful. Women's Refuge statistics show one-in-three women experience psychological or physical abuse from their partners in their lifetime; on average, 14 women, six men and 10 children are killed by a member of their family every year; police have 200 domestic-violence callouts a day . . .

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Police estimate just 18 per cent of domestic violence incidents are reported.

The Family Violence Alternative Action Project, aimed at strengthening family ties, was just launched by Manukau District Court together with three volunteer families trialling it.

Cruelty to animals seems to be a precursor. The New Zealand Companion Animal Conference last month focused on the link between domestic violence and brutal treatment of animals. Phil Arkow, from the National Link Coalition in the United States, said animal abuse "is almost always a red flag".

Notwithstanding the Women's Refuge numbers, a big step forward would be the gathering of better statistics to enable trends to be checked and the efficacy of prescribed remedies to be monitored. The police acknowledge that, because of changes in the way 2011 data was recorded, comparisons over time in their statistics "are ambiguous and not meaningful for official purposes".

Simply registering details of domestic-violence cases in court would improve our understanding of what is happening. Specifying it as a crime would be a necessary first step.

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- Waikato Times

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