Whānau wellbeing

Jo — Family violence and mental healthJo recently left a violent relationship.

She’d tried a couple of times to leave already but he would always make promises, and she’d believe him. Jo would wear long sleeves under her checkout operator’s uniform so people couldn’t see the bruises. Jo took the domestic violence leave but was anxious that her workmates would find out.

Jo knew that her two children were aware of their Dad’s temper. She knew that they would get into the same bed at night, huddled together listening to their parents fight. She was glad that her kids were safe, living in a foster home until she could get enough money for a bond, but she wished they were all living together.

"The system is like a tangled web. I didn’t know how to find support or what I am entitled to. You think you’re on the right track to get help but there’s always a bit of paper I don’t have, or information I don’t know."
— Jo on accessing support

Family and Intimate Partner Violence

Family and intimate partner violence (IPV) is widespread: 35% of women who have ever been in a relationship report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in Aotearoa NZ. When emotional and psychological abuse is included, this rises to more than 55%.

These statistics are estimates. Robust prevalence data is not regularly collected, and incidence data reflects only reported episodes: around 87% of IPV is unreported. Although all humans are capable of violence and abuse, the overwhelming majority (98%) of family violence deaths are perpetrated by men.

The trauma of colonisation is a driver of violence that reverberates intergenerationally, compounding inequities exacerbated by depression and addiction. While colonisation is intertwined into contemporary Māori experience, there are corollaries for Pākehā – the antecedents of unchecked privilege, entitlement and patriarchal structures which have their origins in the establishment of British law through colonisation. These patterns of sustained privilege perpetuate and reinforce inequities in housing, employment, education and justice.

Our systems must support survivors

Survivors and whānau continue to experience a complicated and convoluted system that can contribute to re-traumatisation. Having the proper support to assist victims with health, counselling and their options within the justice system is important to creating an environment where people feel safe and heard.

The court process has the potential to inflict mental harm on victims who access it. This harm is systemic violence effectively re-traumatising survivors of family and intimate partner violence. Māori report being excluded from the Family Court decision-making process, systems are difficult to navigate, extended whānau are excluded from speaking and Courts do not encompass Te Ao Māori perspectives or kaupapa Māori approaches.

Jo — Family violence and mental health "I wanted to help my ex with his anger, because I honestly don’t think he would have been violent if he didn’t carry so much anger within himself, you know?
Lots of the programs seemed to be for people in the system. Like, something had to go wrong for people to take notice."
— Jo on her ex-partner's anger

Trauma-informed services

There is significant overlap between determinants of health, violence and justice, and the barriers experienced by perpetrators and survivors are similar — a culturally unsafe and racist system privileging western concepts of health, wellness and family, which does not centre Indigenous approaches to harm prevention.

Structural change using a trauma-informed approach can dismantle existing barriers which perpetuate violence and inequities for whānau. In Aotearoa NZ, trauma-informed services would recognise the intergenerational legacies of colonisation and structurally embedded privilege and the resulting impact on inequities and violence.

Family violence must be acknowledged as a public health issue. Violence is the end result of the same social, economic, cultural and political structures that influence inequity, and contributes to significant harm and health loss. Preventative actions must recognise the diverse experiences and impacts of trauma to begin to strengthen connected whānau and communities.

Future governments must respond to increasing gender inequity in paid and unpaid work resulting from the pandemic.

COVID-19 has revealed important gendered consequences in national lockdowns. As schools shut, and whānau spend more time at home, demands on unpaid labour increase. Simultaneously, many women are working on the front lines in healthcare, aged care and other essential workforces.

Of the people who lost their jobs in the April 2020 lockdown, a staggering 90% (10,000) were women, who dominate workforces in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors. Many others had hours cut or pay withheld as their jobs were on a ‘casual, as needed’ basis.

Action on family violence

Our vision for Aotearoa in 2040: Hauora is the norm

  • Children and whānau in Aotearoa NZ enjoy lives free of violence.

  • People living in Aotearoa NZ enjoy positive mental health and wellbeing.

  • People and whānau experiencing mental health conditions, addiction and/or distress have access to wraparound support.

RACP recommendations to make Whānau Wellbeing the norm

Whānau experiencing family violence have access to wraparound support to assist with health, counselling and accessing the justice system.

Close overlay