New Zealand has the highest rate of family violence in the developed world. It’s a statistic no country wants their name attached to, but there’s our name, in bold and refusing to budge.
On average, Police receive a cry for help every five and a half minutes. But this flood of calls only makes up 24 percent of all domestic abuse incidents. This not only shows how disturbingly common abuse has become in our society, it tells us something that might be scarier: that people don’t feel like they can come forward and ask for help. It doesn’t seem to matter that countless New Zealanders have been or are in same position, we still don't know how to start a conversation about it.
The Domestic Violence - Victims’ Protection Act hopes to change this. Victims of family violence are now entitled to request flexible working hours or 10 days paid leave to give them time to make arrangements that put their safety first. But in order to get this time off, they will need to open up to their employer about what is going on.
Labour MP Louisa Wall told VICE it is one step towards shifting the culture of keeping quiet and carrying on. “We don’t have an enabling environment, an ability to talk about such things,” she said. “It is incredibly important because it does, I think, change the landscape and say that actually as a society we are anticipating that employees need support.”
“Putting up these barriers and saying it’s too expensive is not actually addressing the real issue, and if we don’t address it now, 76 percent could become 90 percent.”
VICE spoke to Dr Ang Jury, chief executive of Women’s Refuge, about what the act means for the women and children she works with.
VICE: Hey Ang, what happens when someone comes to a Women’s Refuge for help?
Ang Jury: Well, the first thing that would happen is we would be talking to them about their story. What is actually going on, what has brought them to come and see us. And then we would be looking to assess and work out with them what their needs are going forward, and working out a bit of a plan.
What sort of things would a plan include?
Anything you can think of that you would need after some sort of a crisis. There are the obvious things like getting legal protections for them and applying for protection orders. In really serious cases, we might be helping bring them into our safe houses. We could be going to visit lawyers, doctors, we could sit with them in court. We have education programmes that women and children can attend as well. Basically anything you can think of: food parcels, hooking them up with other agencies, counselling, its a huge range of stuff.
Do think the Victims’ Protection Act changes the stigma around domestic violence because you will need confide in your employer?
I would hope so. I believe that the more we talk about this, the better we are going to be. One of the things that we do know about domestic violence is that it thrives in secrecy and silence.
I find it really sad that we have had to legislate for this, because we have been working for the last couple of years now with a number of larger corporates around putting this sort of process in place voluntarily. So with those companies, I am really confident that they have the systems in place, that they have got the people in place to maintain the confidentiality. But I think it is going to be quite a task to make this happen everywhere. But I am confident that it will help over time.
What state are women in when they come to a refuge?
It’s on a spectrum of course. Some women will come to the service and they will be saying, “I am not sure, this doesn't feel right. I feel like I can't make decisions, I am really uncomfortable, I am really worried, can you tell me what you think?” And so we use the Power and Control Wheel and a checklist to look at behaviours that are being utilised and often it won't be physically dangerous but it always has the potential. In other cases there is absolutely no doubt, their bodies are black and blue.
You also have women who have been severely beaten in the past and feel like it is starting to bubble up again. And they run before it can get there. A lot of them, I believe, know what is coming, when it is coming, and know what it looks and feels like.
Why is violence perpetrated by partners or family members so prevalent?
There is some incentive to it, abusers learn pretty quickly that if they do a particular thing it gets them what they want. It gets mum doing what she is supposed to be doing, according to him. It gets the kids doing what they are supposed to be doing because they are frightened. It actually achieves the perverse results that it is intended for.
What are some signs that people should look out for in a partner?
When you get to a situation where that person wants to spend all of their time together. Where they don't actually want you to go hang out with your friends anymore, or where they are discouraging you from hanging out with your family. Or behave really badly when your family visits so your family stops visiting. Those things are all really scary things, and you need to watch out for those.
When it comes to the workplace, we are talking about somebody who wants to pick their partner up from work every night. And is there waiting. We are talking about a victim at work who never goes out for lunch with the others, who never goes out for any work or social functions. They always have to be where they are supposed to be, or they are in trouble.
What do you think needs to change about the conversation around family violence?
When we are talking about domestic violence there is a language that we as a community need to shift a little bit. Women have been seen as victims for a very long time, but when you talk about a victim it brings to mind a certain sad, pathetic, powerless person who has no power and can’t help themselves.
But with most of the women that come to us, they show immense courage and have resisted the violence, sometimes for years. They have survived some horrendous things, that so many other people just simply can’t imagine. And they have been incredibly brave. So we need to talk about these women in a really courageous sort of a sense.
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