Tuesday, May 21

Domestic violence – turning a blind eye isn’t going to help

What was I to do if I ever saw a man hit a woman? 

“Break the bastard’s jaw. Drop the stinking bastard.”  

As the years have rolled on, and I have become more physically imposing and confident, I’ve been able to apply my father’s advice on a few occasions. 

The words above came from a piece written by Dane Giraud for Plainsight. You can read it here.

More than two weeks on from reading this and I find myself recalling a story from my own past.

Domestic violence amongst Māori is a problem and while it wasn’t my reality, I was certainly aware of domestic violence issues within my wider whanau. That’s not to say my parents had a perfect relationship. 

They both come from backgrounds where love wasn’t always shown with a hug but to their credit, my parents were able to break the cycle so that my childhood didn’t mean constant police and CYFS visits or having to go live with other family members. 

As some of my whanau have told me over the years. “You don’t know how lucky you had it”. 

These words have stuck with me since the day they were uttered because of the truth they hold. Until then I didn’t realize how lucky I had it. I was an only child for 5 years. For those old enough to remember Footrot Flats amusement park back in the 1980’s, that place was my life. We lived local and I often found myself there with Dad. 

As an only child I was spoilt. Even by family and family friends. I was one of my auntie’s children for her work Christmas parties. I rode around on the forklift with Dad in the factory he worked in (something you wouldn’t be able to do now!). I even had a teacher ask my parents if she could adopt me. 

That went down like a lead balloon. 

But despite my ‘privileged’ background, I grew up being grounded in doing what’s right even at a personal cost. 

Which is how I found myself in a fight with my sister and her wife against a guy in the carpark of a bar.

This night, my now husband, sister and sister-in-law had been out with friends for birthday celebrations. 

Half an hour before this incident happened, my sister-in-law and I were sitting at an outside table and witnessed this same guy arguing with the bouncer. Calling the bouncer a ‘monkey’ resulted in the guy being spear-tackled into a nearby bush. We took that as our cue to go back inside, finish our drinks, and go home.

As we were leaving, we noticed a couple arguing. But it was when we saw the guy hit the woman, that we all stopped. My sister ran at him and pushed him away, which resulted in him taking a swing at her and all-out war taking place. Punches were thrown. Screams were heard. And it wasn’t long before he was on the ground. 

But where were the men when this happened? 

To my husband’s credit he did try to intervene but being with 3 Māori wahine is a lot for any one man to handle. The bouncers and other onlookers just stood there and watched. It wasn’t long before we jumped in a taxi and left before cops arrived. We were 3 Māori in an affluent part of East Auckland. We weren’t silly enough to stick around and find out what would happen if they did show up.

Looking back, I’ve been left with many questions from that night. 

Did my husband do enough to protect me/us? 

Why did a woman have to be the first one to intervene? 

Why didn’t the bouncers have him picked up earlier when he had already been abusing them? 

But the ones that haunt me the most are ones that surround the woman he was with. 

What happened to her? 

Was she ok? 

Did we make it worse for her? 

Fortunately, I’ve never had to get involved in another situation like this and I wouldn’t encourage people handle things the way we did, but alcohol, emotion and adrenaline will take you places you didn’t know possible when you see a 6 foot plus, built like a brick shit house man try and hit your 5 foot nothing sister. 

I understand why people fear getting involved. But what I don’t understand is why we are ignoring the problem of domestic violence as if it will simply go away. 

A child dies on average, every 5 weeks of family violence and you only have to look at some of the other statistics to know how bad the situation is in NZ. 

From The Salvation Army State of The Nation, 2023, for the year ended June 2022:

  • 1,139 cases of common assault
  • 3,361 cases of serious assault without injury
  • 2,014 cases of serious assault resulting in injury.
  • 1,743 cases of aggravated sexual assault.

From Oranga Tamariki Care and Protection statistics, for the year ended 30 September 2022:

  • 67,000 Reports of Concern made.
  • 35,500 assessments or investigations carried out.
  • 7,050 Family Group Conferences held

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse report on sexual abuse trends, released 19 January 2021:

  • One in six New Zealand women experience sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime.
  • Child sexual abuse rates: 1 in 5.
  • Non-partner sexual assault: 1 in 14.

UNICEF Report, released 15 June 2017:

  • New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the OECD.
  • New Zealand has the 6th highest teen pregnancy rate in the OECD
  • New Zealand has the 7th highest rate of child homicide in the OECD.

These are very real and horrifying statistics and unless we start confronting the very real problem of domestic violence, we are going to see more and more of our women harmed by their partners and more children die at the hands of their own, or worse, at their own hands. 

I don’t know what the solution is to ending domestic violence but two things I do know are this. 

1. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.

2. The introduction of Self ID laws is going to make it harder for women (and children) to seek help because what abused women wants to go to a refuge where potentially a self-identifying wo(man) may be?