White Ribbon Committee Chair Cam Ronald welcomes the changes to the family violence system, and commends all those who have been advocating and providing evidence to help ensure New Zealand’s response to violence continues to improve.
“Having laws and systems that respond effectively and consistently to incidents of violence is one of the key factors of violence prevention,” says Mr Ronald.
The three new offences of strangulation, coercion to marry, and assault on a family member, all ensure the law is keeping pace with modern society and putting into practice, the evidence from years of research.
White Ribbon is pleased to see that changes that allow a third party to apply on a victim’s behalf and welcomes this response as a move to ensure better protection of vulnerable children. The recognition that offending while on a Protection Order is an aggravating factor in sentencing, (likely to lead to a more serious sentence), further ensures that Protection Orders have real consequences when broken and strengthens an area that was criticised as too weak.
“However, we must not forget that the legal system only comes into play after violence has occurred,” says Mr Ronald. “White Ribbon believes it is in our best interests of New Zealand to undertake more primary prevention work, as it is this approach which can prevent violence from occurring in the first place and the constant need for more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff”.
This primary prevention need was recently demonstrated by a number of boys in two Wellington schools, where attitudes associated with what is known as ‘rape culture’ became public.
“Laws, and their effective enforcement, can reduce the amount of violence to a certain extent,” says Mr Ronald, “but it is a focus on changing social norms, particularly around gender equity and gender roles, that will really reduce the remaining violence and could have prevented the actions of these Wellington school boys.
“It is these attitudes, that left unchecked or unchallenged, develop into behaviour that condones violence.”
An example that relates to a legal response might be where smoking rates were reduced when smoking was outlawed in public places and or the increased cost of cigarettes. However it was campaigns that focused on the health of children, or living long enough to be grandparents, that got the message across that ‘people like me do not smoke’.
This is where campaigns such as White Ribbon, It’s Not OK and other initiatives are so important.
“White Ribbon would like to see a similar priority given to the prevention work of campaigns that target social norms and attitudes, says Mr Ronald. “This, alongside adequate funding for services that are currently stretched by responding to increased reporting, would give a truly comprehensive approach. That would really make a difference and it would help to reduce New Zealand’s unacceptable level of violence”.