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Empowering Survivors: Understanding Legal Dynamics in Abusive Relationships

Empowering Survivors: Understanding Legal Dynamics in Abusive Relationships

New Zealand holds the unfortunate distinction of having the highest recorded rate of intimate relationship and family violence globally. Shockingly, only a fraction of these cases come to light, with a staggering 80% going unreported. This grim reality underscores the urgent need to address this pervasive issue.

It is estimated that one in three women have encountered some form of intimate relationship violence in their lives, encompassing coercion, physical harm, or sexual assault. Globally, violence against women constitutes half of all female fatalities. This means that within your immediate circles—be it a friend, co-worker, or even yourself—someone has likely experienced this harrowing abuse.

The impact of such violence is far-reaching, affecting victims, families, and communities. The suffering endured by victims can lead to long-term consequences for them, their families, and society at large.

This article is crafted with the intention of providing assistance to individuals who may be experiencing family violence or for those who have a loved one who are victims. It shares real-life examples of family violence and offers practical legal strategies to help transform the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

What is family violence?

Relationship abuse can take many forms. Relationship abuse is defined under the Family Violence Act of 2018 (which refers to it as "family violence").

Family violence includes physical, sexual, or psychological abuse inflicted by someone in a close and personal relationship, extending to household members such as flatmates. Psychological abuse encompasses economic manipulation, threats of violence, property damage, and subjecting children to witness violence. The violence can be a pattern of harmful behaviours over a period of time.

Legal Strategies for Protection

Parenting orders, police safety orders, property orders, and protection orders are important legal measures for ensuring the safety of victims and their children. The Legal Services Act of 2011 grants qualified applicants access to legal aid. The criminal law also attempts to hold offenders accountable and stipulates consequences for offences.

Protection Orders

A Protection Order, issued by either the Family Court or in certain cases, Criminal Courts, stands as the primary means of domestic violence protection. Its primary objective is to shield victims and their children from future abuse. The order compels the perpetrator ("the respondent") to cease all acts of violence or abuse against the applicant ("the applicant") and their children. Post-issuance, the offender may be required to attend a non-violence programme, while the victim is offered safety services. Surrendering firearms may also be mandated. The order may include additional conditions to further protect the applicant, such as guidelines for contact involving children.

A breach of a Protection Order empowers the police to arrest the perpetrator without a warrant and without a victim's complaint. The penalty for such a breach can lead to a prison sentence of up to three years. Additionally, property orders can be pursued to determine who can reside in the family home. Breaching a property order can result in an arrest for trespassing.

In cases involving children, the court may issue interim care and contact orders to regulate day-to-day care and contact with the child.

For those unable to afford legal representation, it's important to note that legal aid is available for those on a benefit or with a lower income.

In cases of immediate danger, please call the police at 111.

Seeking Help?

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic abuse and wishes to explore options like a Protection Order, Occupation Order, or Ancillary Furniture Order, please reach out to one of our family law team members. Our offices are located in Manukau, Albany, and Auckland.

Please be aware that there are also many free and confidential support services available to you including:

  • Women’s Refuge - 0800 733 843 (24/7)
  • Shine - 0508 744 633, 9am to 11pm daily.
  • It’s Not OK - 0800 456 450, 9am to 11pm daily. They can provide information and put you in touch with services in your region.
  • Shakti for migrant and refugee women – 0800 742 584 (24/7)
  • Rape Crisis – 0800 88 33 00
  • Elder Abuse – 0800 32 668 65 (24/7)
  • Victim Support – You can call 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

© McVeagh Fleming 2023

This article is published for general information purposes only.  Legal content in this article is necessarily of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice.  If you require specific legal advice in respect of any legal issue, you should always engage a lawyer to provide that advice.

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