NZ'S INDEPENDENT RESPONSE-SYSTEM WATCHDOG
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News and views from The Backbone Collective which advocates for women and children who have experienced violence or abuse and who are enduring further harm from New Zealand's Family Court. 

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Is This Really All We Can Offer Women and Children in Danger?

 Are support services and campaigns designed to help women and children fleeing violence actually doing more harm than good? Backbone says women seeking help after leaving violence are being funnelled into a system that places them and their children in worse peril, which it likens to helplessly watching children sitting on train tracks with a train hurtling toward them.

Are support services and campaigns designed to help women and children fleeing violence actually doing more harm than good? Backbone says women seeking help after leaving violence are being funnelled into a system that places them and their children in worse peril, which it likens to helplessly watching children sitting on train tracks with a train hurtling toward them.

 

Is This Really All We Can Offer Women and Children in Danger?

When someone is in life-threatening danger it seems unthinkable that the only solution available to get out of that situation is to place them in another dangerous situation. Backbone released a report on the Family Court in June 2017 based on a survey with 496 women describing this very predicament – we called it 'Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire’.

Hundreds of women described to Backbone that upon leaving a violent and/or abusive partner they had gone to the Family Court seeking protection for themselves and their children (often referred by social services). While three quarters of the women in our first survey told us they had a Protection Order, only 54% told us it had made them safer. 

In our latest survey on the impact of the Family Court on children ‘Seen and not Heard’, 39% of mothers told us that they had a Protection Order but only 17% said it had made their children any safer.

In addition, hundreds of women have told Backbone over the last eleven months that once at the Family Court seeking protection, they became involved in Care of Children Act proceedings which made their situation so much worse and far more dangerous as children were ordered to have care and contact with abusers.

Once at the Family Court their situation is far more dangerous as children are ordered to have contact with abusers.
— Deborah Mackenzie, The Backbone Collective Cofounder

We have heard hundreds of cases of children being forced against their wishes, and in light of terrible abuse, to spend time with the person that abused them without their protective parent there. We have heard of the horrendous health impact that this contact is having on New Zealand children and we are appalled.

Ruth and I feel like we watch hundreds of New Zealand children sitting on train tracks (involved in Family Court proceedings) with the train hurtling towards them and there is nothing that we or anyone else can do to help these children. It’s a living nightmare.

So we wonder why do the agencies that have been set up to help women and children who have experienced violence and abuse continue to recommend as part of their intervention that women go to the Family Court for protection?

Why do the agencies set up to help women and children continue to recommend that women go to the Family Court for protection?

The Government-funded 'It's Not OK' campaign has been running for ten years at significant cost and it continues to tell women that being a victim of abuse is not Ok and to reach out for help. What women are telling Backbone is that when they reach out for help they are often referred to the Family Court and once they are there they and their children have much less ability to be safe.

We can’t tell you how many times women have told us “I wish I’d never left…at least I could keep the kids safe when I lived with him.’

Women have told us ‘I wish I’d never left - at least I could keep the kids safe when I lived with him.’

If that feels like it doesn’t make sense – it’s because it does not.

Women and children should be safe from abusers and the system, and the community should do everything it can to protect them and the children. But that doesn’t happen now – agencies are sending women out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Backbone thinks this has to stop…we have to stop knowingly putting women and children in more danger. Agencies may say that there are no other alternatives to the Family Court available and that may well be true – but that doesn’t make it OK to send women down a known path that puts her and the children in more danger from abuse from the abuser AND the Family Court for years to come.

Agencies may say there are no alternatives to the Family Court but that doesn’t make it OK to send women down a path of more danger from the abuser AND the Family Court for years to come.

We need to urgently start taking collective action to protect women and children from the Family Court. We need to speak out about the impact of the Family Court on women and children who have experienced violence and abuse. We need to help make the NZ public aware of what is happening and we need to demand from the Government that a Royal Commission of Inquiry is urgently put in place to investigate the practices and decision making of the Family Court.

Will you help us?

 
 

about the backbone collective

New Zealand has the highest rate of women experiencing violence and abuse in the developed world, which is due in part to our broken response system.
The Backbone Collective is an independent body taking action to change New Zealand's dire statistics by examining the response system through the eyes of its users - women who have experienced violence and abuse.
Please join us as either a woman who has experienced violence or abuse, or as a volunteer who wants to help by volunteering your time, services or expertise.
Many reports have been written about where the system is broken but they have fallen on deaf ears. We think that Government and others in a position of power will start listening when hundreds, and potentially thousands, of women speak up about what needs to change.
 

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