Opening Address NZLS Family Violence Dynamics Forum

Thank you for inviting me to join you this morning. 

I’d like to acknowledge Judge Coyle, Rachel Smith, Erin Ebborn, Liz Lewes, and those of you watching on the live stream.

It is wonderful to be here with you this morning, and I would like to recognise the vital role you play in our judicial system.

Family violence and sexual violence are two of our nation’s greatest shames. The statistics alone create a frightening picture, made only worse when we consider the significant underreporting. Violence and its harm transcend all communities, ethnicities and social classes.

Right now, in Aotearoa New Zealand, a country of just five million people, around a million of us have experienced intimate partner violence, forms of family violence and sexual violence at some point in our lives.

Each person harmed has their own experience of entrapment, of not knowing how to get support or where to seek help, a story about others disbelieving them, or others not recognising the signs to help.

We all have a role to play to change this – including all of you. If we each play a part, together, we change the myths and social norms that allow violence to happen around us.

My vision for the future is a nation where children live in a peaceful home where they are safe, families and whānau thrive. When family violence or sexual violence happens, those involved – both the victims and the perpetrators – can get help when and where they want it. 

I want us to live in safe communities where all people are respected for our collective wellbeing.

My focus for this year has been the development of the National Strategy for the elimination of family violence and sexual violence. 

It would be fair to say it has been a journey, as we have worked with sector, tangata whenua and agencies to develop. 

A group of 14 Independent Advisors also sat alongside us throughout this process. 

We heard from tangata whenua about the profound and disproportionate impact violence has on every aspect of their lives. 

Addressing the intergenerational impacts of colonisation and racism is critical to achieving whānau ora, but also tangata whenua are calling for the resources and decision-making powers, as promised under Te Tiriti, to be the leaders in designing and implementing actions and change.

Racism also has an impact on other people and families. Pacific peoples and ethnic communities experience high rates of sexual violence and family violence, and struggle to access services that meet their needs. 

They know their communities and the diversity within them and know that we will develop much better prevention approaches and responses when they are able to work closely with government. 

Victims and survivors of violence told us that current responses to family violence and sexual violence are not working. They do not feel protected within the system, and many choose not to engage because of that. Adult survivors of sexual abuse can struggle to find appropriate and accessible services. 

All of this has informed the Strategy, which is guided by principles for how we need to work and underpinned by Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It has also resulted in a unique strategy that is very much owned by the community as much government. 

The strategy identifies and responds to the drivers of violence. It requires accountability from people using violence and will support them to change and bring greater acknowledgement of the complexity and diversity of the experiences of people and the timely responses and capability to meet their needs.

But government alone does not have the expertise or the full insights to solve these problems, which is why we must work with specialists, front line services and communities.

Through primary prevention, we will identify and address the systemic causes and underlying drivers that lead to violence. 

At the individual and whānau level, primary prevention involves strengthening individual and whānau resilience – including healthy conflict-management skills, coping strategies, self-agency, and a sense of hope for the future. 

It involves building strong, positive cultural and gender identities and an associated sense of belonging.

It also involves pro-social whānau and peer connections, or support for new parents, around child development and positive parenting, so children and young people are raised to feel loved, confident, and safe.

At the community and societal levels, it involves building gender and social equity, shifting harmful stereotypes, and strengthening of social capital, cohesion and inclusion – nurturing community participation and connectedness to promote healthy norms and support positive behaviour change. 

At the same time as building up the prevention and strengthening community work, we must ensure our responses are safe and offer true justice and accountability when harm does happen. Your work is a fine example of that kind of safe response that can enable healing and well-being for people.

The strategy includes the need to develop skilled, culturally competent and sustainable workforces which are supported by frameworks and tools alongside investment in upskilling workforces, including specialists, court staff and primary prevention. 

Of course, a Strategy must drive actions, and when we launch the Strategy you will see that we have a comprehensive set of actions, and we have identified which government agencies will be responsible. Implementing these will require all of us to work together, and that’s why we will continue to build on relationships and engage with you in 2022 to shape our approaches.

We will have to try new things, test and learn, keep developing the evidence base and data – including the insights that people on the frontlines have – so that we can continuously improve the system. 

I call on you all to be part of the change we are seeking. Perhaps you can view your interactions with clients as an early intervention opportunity. 

Many people going through the justice system will be impacted by family violence and sexual violence now or at some time in their lives – whether that is the reason they are involved in proceedings or not.

We know in 2020/21, 14% of all criminal charges involved family violence or sexual violence charges and over 12,000 people were charged with family violence offences.

Reporting rates for family violence continue to be low. As such, victims are interacting with government agencies – and legal practitioners - who may be unaware they are dealing with a current or future victim.

In the Aotearoa I’d like us to become, all of us consider that we have a responsibility to reach out to people if we know or suspect they are using violence or having violence used against them.

I am keen to keep the conversation going and building on these forums. We’ll keep you updated as this work progresses, and I look forward to sharing the Strategy and Action Plan with you soon.

Collectively we can take the opportunity that exists to create an Aotearoa free from violence. 

So again, thank you for your contribution and work, and I wish you a successful forum.