Survivors of abuse and indignities must be at the heart of approach needed to address family and sexual violence

Survivors of abuse and indignities must be at the heart of approach needed to address family and sexual violence

July 26, 2021

Transformative changes to our laws, justice system, and structures of society are urgently needed to address New Zealand’s ‘shadow pandemic’ of family and sexual violence that has worsened in the COVID-19 era.

These are among a host of recommendations made by the Human Rights Commission in a submission to the government on a National Action Plan and Strategy to End Family and Sexual violence.

“The Human Rights Commission recommends a national plan and strategy that are rights-based, restorative, gender-sensitive, culturally responsive, accessible, grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and informed by the lived experiences and needs of survivors,” said Sumeo.

“Family and sexual violence (FSV) crimes remain gendered, disadvantaging women and children. Māori, Pacific, migrant and refugee communities, disabled, rainbow, young and older persons, are more likely to experience FSV across Aotearoa.”

“A national plan and strategy must genuinely transform how government (national and local), business, and the social sectors collectively address family and sexual violence in our communities, workplaces, and our justice system,” adds Sumeo.

Major investment is required in a survivor-centered approach to addressing family and sexual violence throughout the entire justice system, from places where it occurs (e.g., home, workplace, schools, public places, etc), reporting to police, health services, NGOs, community networks, the courts (Criminal, Family Violence, Family) and gaining redress without re-traumatisation.

“We must support victims by ensuring they participate only in processes that do not further expose them to physical, emotional, and psychological harm from abusers, and ensure that such risks are fully considered in child custody disputes,” said Sumeo.

“Any national plan or strategy must dedicate resources and political will to improve sentencing and rehabilitation in our justice system, including evidence-based residential programmes to address for drug, alcohol, violence and mental health challenges with offenders.”

The Commission has also called for women’s refuges and shelters to be treated as places of sanctuary, to ensure no removal of women, children, or whānau, including those based on migration or refugee status, documented or undocumented.

“It’s crucial that Government work closely with survivors and abusers, their advocates, businesses, professional bodies, and communities to shape interventions that work for them.”

All workplaces should be required to have simple to follow and clear policies to report family violence, sexual harassment, and other forms of abuse and exploitation they become aware of. We then need all employers to protect whistle-blowers and be held accountable if they fail to, or else the silence and suffering will continue.

“Minimising, trivialising, and refusing to take action on sexual harassment, bullying, and other forms of abuse in the workplace exacerbate the barriers for victims, especially young people, women, casual workers, and others in precarious employment. Any abused worker must feel safe, respected, and confident that their experience of harm and indignity will be taken seriously.”

The Commission has stressed that a system-wide, government-community-business tri-partite approach is needed to address what is seemingly our silent epidemic of family and sexual violence.

“We need some new if not amendments to current legislation, clear timelines for action, meaningful investment and evaluation, learning from challenges and opportunities, and accountability for duty-bearers and rights-holders to end this epidemic in our lifetime.”

The Commission’s submission follows its February 2021 report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, supporting the UN expert group’s call for a commission of inquiry into the family court and justice for women victims of domestic violence.

You can find this report here.