Chapter 1: Introduction

We asked Carswell Consultancy to carry out a literature review of research and evaluation reports from the previous decade on family violence and sexual violence in New Zealand.

1.1 Purpose of review

The Office of the Auditor-General (the Office) has a programme of work focusing on the Government’s efforts to achieve significant and sustained reductions in family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect. This literature review contributes to that project by reviewing research and evaluation reports from 2010 to early 2020. In particular, it includes the following:

  1. Overview of the key pieces of research/evaluation that have been done – what the research focus was, who was involved in the research (e.g. victims, service providers), when the research was done, who commissioned the work, key findings and how the research was used. [Chapter 2 and annotated bibliography] 
  2. Key findings from research and evaluation of integrated service models, i.e. the extent and nature of integration and the successes and challenges of doing this for the agencies involved. [Chapters 4 and 5]
  3. Things that we know from the research and evaluation undertaken on what works well for who and in what circumstances and what is needed to improve outcomes for service users and service providers. This might be improvements needed from the funding agencies and service providers. [Chapters 3 and 4]
  4. Key research gaps that then lead to a view of the gaps in our understanding. [Chapter 2]
  5. Challenges for particular communities (Māori, Pacific peoples, LGBTQIA+/Rainbow, disabled, rural, urban) to access and participate in services and the degree to which current services and service models meet users’ needs (from users’ perspectives as well as what is known about what is needed). How does this vary across the different groups? What are the strengths and weaknesses of different service delivery approaches? [Chapters 3 and 4]
  6. What challenges are service providers facing and how do these impact on the delivery and effectiveness of services? [Chapters 4 and 5]

The Office has commissioned Dr Sue Carswell (Carswell Consultancy) to undertake this review. Sue has collaborated with Judy Paulin (Director of Artemis Research), Hector Kaiwai (independent kaupapa Māori researcher/evaluator and Director of Awa Associates) and Dr Elaine Donovan (independent researcher/evaluator) to provide the appropriate expertise to undertake this project. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office.

Overview of methodology and limitations

The questions posed by the Office provided a challenge in several ways, including the broad scope of literature about family violence, sexual violence and child abuse and neglect, and the realities of time frames and capacity. The questions are reasonable and the fact that a current ‘state of knowledge’ in Aotearoa New Zealand that brings together our endeavours in these areas does not exist speaks to the difficulty of doing this type of overview. It also strongly supports calls for national coordination and monitoring of research and evaluation to inform gaps and build our collective knowledge. To answer the Office’s questions and inform the next phase of its work, we have conducted a narrative literature review1 of research and evaluation studies conducted in Aotearoa during the last 10 years (2010– to early 2020).2

To identify the main publications, we began with the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse Timeline3 that identifies key publications. We identified further relevant publications through a focused literature search. While we endeavoured to include as many relevant studies as possible, there were limitations and the report is not intended as a comprehensive stocktake of all topic-related literature completed in Aotearoa over the last decade. Due to the original project deadlines only three reports published in 2020 are included in the annotated bibliography. However, as project timelines moved, we included further publications in the literature review section of the report to update key information, such as some of the reports published by the Ministry of Justice about the New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey. The search strategy and review methodology are outlined in Appendix 4.

The annotated bibliography highlights the tremendous amount of mahi done to address family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect by communities, non-government organisations (NGOs) and government agencies. We gratefully acknowledge the authors and the legions of participants who shared their experiences, insights and wisdom in numerous studies. Their voices and knowledge are so important to informing our understanding of why violence happens. They also inform the design of effective prevention and response strategies and tell us about the best ways of supporting families and whānau to keep safe, recover from trauma and improve their wellbeing.

We have limited our inclusion of references to policy and legislation, and excluded government monitoring reports and progress reports, such as the government’s Joint Venture for Family Violence and Sexual Violence work programme updates.

A notable limitation of this review is the limited inclusion of unpublished research and evaluation studies, some of which have been commissioned by government agencies.

1.2 Report structure

Part 1: Literature review

There are two key parts to this report. The first part is an analysis of the literature to inform the Office’s questions and assist it in the next phase of its work. 

The remainder of this introductory chapter sets the scene by discussing the ways family violence, whānau violence, sexual violence and child abuse and neglect have been defined, the inter-relationship between these kinds of abuse and ways of conceptualising our responses. What is known about the prevalence of family violence, sexual violence and child abuse is also discussed.

Because the Office’s project is focused on outcomes, they are particularly interested in the perspectives of services users and service providers, and their experiences of the family violence system (e.g. what is working well, along with areas of concern). Chapters 3 and 4 focus on peoples’ and providers’ experiences of the ‘family violence system’ respectively.

Chapter 3 begins by identifying general themes, with a focus on the experiences of the family violence service system from the perspective of victims, including children and young people, and from the perspective of people who use violence. The following sub-sections examine findings for Māori whānau and other population-based groups. This includes Pacific peoples, ethnic communities, people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+.

Chapter 4 provides an overview of what is known about service providers’ experiences of the family violence service system, with a focus on service implementation and funding models. Workforce development issues such as recruitment, retention, capability and capacity are also highlighted.

Chapter 5 provides key insights from the literature on systems thinking to transform the ‘family violence system’ and the government’s role in stewardship and enabling structures that can support an effective system. We conclude with valuable lessons from the Whānau Ora outcomes framework and collective impact to enable major social change that could be applied to the family violence system.

Part 2: Annotated bibliography

The second part of the report is an annotated bibliography, included in Appendix 3, which seeks to answer the first review question:

Overview of the key pieces of research/evaluation that have been done – what the research focus was, who was involved in the research (e.g. victims, service providers), when the research was done, who commissioned the work, key findings and how the research was used.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of what is included in the annotated bibliography and identifies research gaps. The literature in the annotated bibliography is organised by year rather than alphabetically, and the titles are colour coded by topic. Information for each reference includes the purpose, commissioner, methodology, key findings and recommendations. The references selected for the annotated bibliography are in Appendix 1. A summary table of the annotated bibliography organised by year, research focus, and commissioner/funder is in Appendix 2.

1.3 Definitions and terminology

Although legislative definitions of ‘family violence’ have existed for decades (see the Family Violence Act 2018 and its predecessor the Domestic Violence Act 1995), there are still debates and tensions about definitions and terminology. This is unsurprising given the diversity of perspectives and the historical development of different movements and responses to family violence, sexual violence and child abuse.

A study conducted in 2017 found that some families and whānau were unaware that what they were experiencing was family violence, primarily because of perceptions that family violence only involves physical violence (Allen and Clarke, 2017b). The same study also identified that some families and whānau were unaware of what a healthy relationship looked like. We have included this insight because we suggest when considering what constitutes forms of relational violence it is also important to consider what non-violence and good relationships might look like. This aligns with a strong theme throughout the literature on the use of strength-based approaches when working with families and whānau experiencing violence. The kaupapa Māori approaches, such as the prevention framework promoted by E tū Whānau!,4 are strengths-based, envisioning aspects of positive relationships based on te ao Māori.

Family violence

‘Family violence’ is a term used in Aotearoa New Zealand to denote a wide range of abusive behaviours that one person does to another person whom they have (or had) some kind of family relationship with. Unlike many international jurisdictions, the term includes intimate partner violence (IPV), which is often referred to as ‘domestic violence’.

Sections 9–11 of the Family Violence Act 2018 identify the following behaviours as family violence: psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial or economic abuse, harm to pets or animals, withdrawal of care, dowry-related violence, and property damage. Other forms of violence recognised are spiritual abuse, where religious beliefs are used as a justification for abusive behaviour or where a person feels like their spirit/wairua is being attacked and they are prevented from practising their spiritual or religious beliefs.5

Importantly, ‘family violence’ is recognised as a pattern of behaviour that can be made up of a variety of different types of abusive behaviours that are done to coerce or control another person and can cause cumulative harm to that person. Family violence can also be a one-off occurrence.

Section 9 of the Family Violence Act 2018 defines family violence as violence inflicted against a person by any other person with whom that person is or has been in a family relationship.6 Sections 12, 13 and 14 of the Family Violence Act define the meaning of a ‘family relationship’ as spouse, partner, family member, sharing a household and close personal relationship. The following types of relationships that share a house are excluded: landlord/tenant relationship, employer/employee or employee/employee, or people sharing a common dwelling house. The meaning of family relationship in regard to a ‘close personal relationship’ excludes employer/employee relationships, although the Act recognises that people are not prevented from having a ‘close personal relationship’ within the context of a care/carer relationship.

Factors that the court must consider to determine a ‘close personal relationship’ between two people (section 12(d)) include the nature and intensity of the relationship, such as the amount of time spent together, places where time is spent, the manner in which time is ordinarily spent and the duration of the relationship. It is not necessary for there to be a sexual relationship.

In common usage are terms for different types of family violence that identify the ways victims and perpetrators are related (or were related in the case of ex-partners) such as IPV, parental abuse and sibling abuse. Child abuse and neglect and elder abuse identify the victim.

The New Zealand Police use the term ‘family harm’:

to encompass the full range of harmful behaviours that occur within the context of family violence situations. Its use is intended to assist frontline officers in understanding the wider dynamics of family harm, the patterns of harm and the adverse circumstances in which they occur. Within this broader context, Police refer to behaviour that constitutes a criminal offence as ‘family violence’. (Mossman et al., 2019)

Whānau violence

Te Puni Kōkiri (TPK) argue that definitions of family violence for Māori need to be fully debated by Māori, including analysis of the terms ‘family violence for Māori’ and ‘whānau violence’, to provide a clear definition that will support improvements in the field (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2010a). This is because understanding the difference between violence that occurs within whānau and families is critical for prevention and intervention practices (Expert Design Group, 2017, cited in Allen and Clarke, 2017a). In 2010 TPK published a literature review (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2010a) and developed a Māori research agenda on family violence (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2010b). The authors identified the following distinctions between family violence and whānau violence:

Whānau violence is defined as ‘the compromise of te ao Māori values and can be understood as an absence or disturbance of tikanga and transgressions against whakapapa.’ Within this definition of whānau violence the use of Māori traditional knowledge and cultural practices are fundamental to addressing whānau violence and achieving whānau ora (wellbeing). On the other hand, it is argued that the term family violence is not broad enough to encompass fully the realities of whānau. The definition of family is based upon a nuclear model. This is not a definition that encompasses the complexities of relationships within whānau.

The literature review provides a strong argument that historically whānau violence was not part of te ao Māori (traditional Māori society) and when violence did occur, it was addressed collectively. It is argued that colonisation has undermined whānau structures and relationships within whānau including gender relationships, and that the violence evident in Māori communities is the contemporary legacy of colonisation. (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2010b, p.4)

Child abuse and neglect

This type of abuse includes psychological and emotional abuse, physical harm, including excessive disciplines, neglect (not providing a child’s basic needs) and sexual abuse of any kind.

Most child abuse is perpetrated by parents or caregivers, either acting alone or together (Radford, 2017; Sidebotham, 2017; Lievore et al., 2007, cited in Allen and Clarke, 2017a, p. 32). Child abuse and neglect often co-occurs with IPV, and the Family Violence Act 2018 recognises psychological abuse of a child if the person committing the abuse puts at risk or ‘causes or allows the child to see or hear the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a family relationship’. Importantly, this Act specifies the person who suffers the abuse is not regarded as having caused or allowed the child to see or hear that abuse or having put the child, or having allowed the child to be put, at risk of seeing or hearing that abuse (section 9(3)).7 This legislatively recognises the perpetrator’s responsibility for children’s exposure to family violence and moves the onus away from blaming victims for their ‘failure to protect’.

Sexual violence

Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST) uses the World Health Organization’s (WHO) broad definition of sexual violence:

[A]ny sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, sexual harassment, or act directed against a person's sexuality, using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting including but not limited to home or work. Sexual violence can include, rape, the threat of rape, attempted rape, sexual harassment, sexual coercion and sexual contact with force.
Sexual violence can be perpetrated by, or against, anyone regardless of their age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. However, not all people are at risk of being targeted for sexual violence. Overwhelmingly, sexual assault of adults is perpetrated by men against women. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.8

While the adult victims of sexual violence are predominantly women, a review of literature about effective services for men who have been sexually assaulted showed that transgender people and adult men are also at risk (Carswell, Kaiwai, Donovan, 2019).

Most sexual violence occurs within family relationships or people known to each other (e.g. dating violence, child sexual abuse). The Government developed the Joint Venture for Family Violence and Sexual Violence to lead a strategic response that recognises alignments and the distinct needs of those impacted by family and sexual violence.9

‘Victims’ and ‘perpetrators’

The terms ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ and ‘offenders’ have long been debated. As terms deriving from the justice system as roles related to offences, they sit uncomfortably in other settings where they are perceived as labelling and derogatory. Some prefer the term ‘survivor’ to ‘victim’, and others do not identify with either term (Carswell, Kaiwai, Donovan, 2019). Other terms are ‘people who experience violence’ and ‘people who use violence’ to move away from labelling a person with a new identity as ‘victim’ or ‘offender’. Rather, the emphasis is that violence has been done to you or you use violence against others. We also run into issues with terms such as ‘service user’ when most people do not access services. We have followed terms used by different publications to maintain clarity when discussing their findings.

Section 19 of the Family Violence Act 2018 has the following definitions:

victim, of family violence, means a person who

(a) has experienced, is experiencing, or may experience family violence (even if no offence involving the violence was, is, or is to be admitted or prosecuted); or

(b) is, has been, or may be affected by family violence (even if no offence involving the violence was, is, or is to be admitted or prosecuted).

perpetrator, of family violence, means either of the following:

(a) a person who has inflicted, or may have inflicted, family violence (even if no offence involving the violence was, is, or is to be, admitted or prosecuted):

(b) a person who is inflicting, or may be inflicting, family violence (even if no offence involving the violence is, or is to be, admitted or prosecuted).

Research on perpetrators (mainly males perpetrating IPV) has identified different characteristics and risk factors that have been categorised into typologies to assist understanding of how to tailor behaviour change interventions. This is an ongoing area of research, for example see the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse selected bibliography, Working with Perpetrators (2013, updated 2016).10

1.4  Effects of violence

The effects of family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect are severe, cumulative, and can affect victims in multiple complex ways including psychological, developmental, physical, and socio-economic impacts. Severe cases of family violence can result in homicide. Aotearoa New Zealand has a Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) who periodically publish information, analysis, and recommendations to improve system and service responses based on their reviews of homicides. The FVDRC Fifth Report Data (2017) analysis of homicides from 2009 to 2015 found 194 family violence related deaths: 92 deaths were related to IPV; 56 children died related to child abuse and neglect; and 46 men and women died related to intrafamilial violence.11

The Homicide Report a searchable database of homicides in Aotearoa New Zealand compiled by journalists, shows between January 2004 and March 2019 that 400 (35%) of the 1068 homicides of men, women, and children, involve family violence.12 Their analysis shows half of female homicide victims aged 18 years or older were killed by a boyfriend, partner, husband, or ex-partner. Other family members killed 32 women during this period which was 11% of adult female victims. The combination of these two categories means family violence accounts for 60% of female victims aged 18 years or older. One in eight homicides (139) during this period was of a child under 15 years, and more than half of these children were killed by a parent or caregiver.

Taylor, Carswell, Haldane & Taylor (2014a, p.40) review of the national and international literature for the Glenn Inquiry found:

the impact of IPV is well documented (Abrahams, 2010; Arias, 1999; Graham-Bermann & Levondosky, 2011; Krug et al., 2002) and there is a thorough understanding of the disturbing effects and consequences on women, children, families and wider society. Among other effects it has shown to impact in life trajectories for adolescents (Menard, Weiss, Franzese, & Covey, 2014) on mental health of victims (van Dulman et al., 2012; Fergusson, Horwood & Ridder, 2005) and to be associated with substance abuse and depression (Fowler & Faulkner, 2011).

Research is showing that prolonged stress, such as that experienced by victims of family violence and child maltreatment, affects people both biologically and psychologically. The impacts of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol over time can lead to problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive problems, and decreasing immune responsiveness. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder13) is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape.

The Chief Science Advisor for the Justice Sector, Professor Ian Lambie, wrote Every four minutes: A discussion paper on family violence prevention (Lambie & Gerrard, 2018), as part of a series of papers on the criminal justice sector. The paper provided a review of national and international evidence on family violence causes, interventions, and prevention measures. There is mounting evidence on the adverse long-term impacts on children who are exposed to family violence and child abuse:

The chronic stress a child feels when exposed to abuse and violence has effects on all the body’s systems (such as the nervous, immune, and metabolic systems), resulting in increased risks of poor physical health throughout life . . . Children exposed to family violence are likely to experience increased levels of behavioural and mental health issues, including externalising, internalising, and adjustment problems.  (Lambie & Gerrard, 2018, p.18)

Aotearoa New Zealand longitudinal research on child sexual abuse victims shows ‘higher rates of psychological disorders, suicidal thoughts and attempts, substance dependence, risky sexual behaviour, welfare dependence and contact with medical professionals due to physical-health problems, and lower rates of self-esteem and life satisfaction at age 26 follow-up’ (Lambie & Gerrard, 2018, p.19).

1.5 Using violence is a choice

The ‘perpetrator narrative’

Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/National Network of Family Violence Services is a national body representing a range of specialist family violence services throughout Aotearoa whose members provide stopping violence services. They state:

Consistent with our kaupapa, pou and matapono, what distinguishes Te Kupenga from others is that we have specific responsibility for speaking to the ‘perpetrator narrative’. While almost all our member agencies today provide support and services to victims, perpetrators and their extended families and whānau, our whakapapa to men’s stopping violence services over thirty years, provides us with specific insight and experience in terms of that narrative.14

The ‘perpetrator narrative’ they outline identifies the key elements required for an effective family violence prevention and response system, with the safety of victims/survivors and their families/whānau at the centre. They remind us that an effective system ‘must have a consistent message that violence in all its forms is unacceptable and will not be tolerated’. In terms of causal explanations for violence, Te Kupenga state that ‘Engaging in violent behaviour is ALWAYS a choice made by the perpetrator.’

Te Kupenga acknowledge that there are multiple explanations for the behaviour of perpetrators, ranging from the systemic (e.g. the nature of a patriarchal system, the impacts of colonisation) to the personal (e.g. early exposure to family violence, mental health and addictions), that can be useful for informing the types of supported interventions with perpetrators. However, these explanations never excuse those behaviours and should not detract from the position that violent behaviour is a choice made by the perpetrator.15 Te Kupenga state that most perpetrators can be supported ‘to make safer and healthier choices about their behaviour’ if provided with ‘skilled, timely, resourced and compassionate interventions’. The provision of non-violence programmes and perpetrator interventions is discussed in Chapter 3.

Understanding influences to inform prevention and intervention initiatives

As highlighted by Te Kupenga, the factors that influence the use of violence tend to be clustered under two broad perspectives: structural and individualistic. It is useful to examine these perspectives because they underlie intervention approaches. There is increasing recognition of the complex inter-relation between both perspectives, as research on different types of family violence and types of perpetrators highlights the complex dynamics of multiple characteristics and issues at individual and structural levels and indicates that a more tailored approach is required to prevent people from using violence (Carswell, Frost et al., 2017).

Individual perspectives provide psychological, biological or genetic explanations for an individual’s behaviour and therefore have a ‘treatment’ focus to rehabilitate the individual using therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). For example:

traumatic brain injury, neurotransmitters, genetics, personality theories, attachment theory, self-esteem and substance and alcohol abuse have all been tested and found relevant to understanding violence causation and recovery processes. (Ali & Naylor, 2013b, cited in Taylor, Carswell, Haldane, Taylor, 2014a:14).

Structural perspectives focus on the external influences of cultural, socio-economic, political and religious ideologies in shaping an individual’s view of the world. Where one set of views dominate and become embedded in our institutions and ways of thinking, they can be used to legitimate the subordination of groups by gender, ethnicity, age and class. For example, negative constructs of gender roles based on patriarchal beliefs about the role of women and children in familial relationships that support male privilege can be used to legitimise abusive behaviours:

gender ideologies that dictate men should control women or allow for men to physically control their partners or offspring, are forms of gender-based structural violence. Therefore, when a woman is abused by a husband because he believes he has the right to physically assault her, the woman is experiencing interpersonal and structural violence simultaneously. (Adelman, Haldane & Wies, 2011; Friederic, 2013; Manjoo, 2011; Parson, 2013; Wies & Haldane, 2011, cited in Taylor et al., 2014a:14).

There are debates regarding whether women use violence as much as men. However, the overwhelming evidence is that women and children (girls and boys) are disproportionately harmed by violence perpetrated by men. The National Collective of Women’s Refuges highlight that while some women perpetrate violence against their partners (female or male) or against other members of their household the vast majority of intimate partner violence is directed against women by their current or ex male partners. The National Collective of Women’s Refuges state:

men’s violence is more severe, frequent, and is embedded within a significant range of other behaviours of power, control, and coercion. . . Because of this high level of men’s violence and abuse against women, family and intimate partner violence is considered a gendered issue; that is, it is something that largely affects women, often in significant and life changing ways, and is largely perpetrated by men.16

Normalising narratives and intersectionality – recognising multiple structural inequities influence people’s lived experiences

The concept of intersectionality seeks to explain how structural inequities may impact on people’s lived experience. There is emerging literature on the different experiences of the ‘family violence service system’ and the particular needs and vulnerabilities of different groups. We examine literature on the experiences of Māori whānau and kaupapa Māori providers in Chapters 3 and 4. The available literature about the experiences of Pacific peoples, older people, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+/Rainbow community, and male victims is also reviewed.

Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga members have developed a clear framework that highlights how dominant stories about us (normalising narratives) that have deep roots in European cultural, religious and socio-economic histories, and corresponding belief systems, influence family violence. This provides an illustration of how beliefs (which are accepted as the ‘norm’) about who is valued and has certain ‘rights’ in our society, legitimates and perpetuates structural inequities.

Table 1: ‘Normalising narratives influencing structural inequalities’ reproduced from Te Kupenga website

Normalising narrative Corresponding belief systems Family violence impact
There are only two genders. Each have specific roles, responsibilities and expected models of behaviour and appearance. The male gender is more important, rational, powerful, worthy than the female gender. Those who do not adhere to their assigned gender or who fail to adhere to their specified gender roles, responsibilities and models of behaviour and appearance are less valuable or worthy of protection than those who do adhere. High levels of women as well as transgender people who are victims of family violence. Low levels of reporting of family violence towards men and disbelief that men can be victims and women can be perpetrators.
There is only one true or valid sexual orientation – heterosexuality. Sexualities, other than heterosexuality, are less important, valuable, acceptable or worthy of respect or protection. High levels of family (and societal) violence towards LGBTQIA+ people.
The productive able-bodied person is the ideal. People who are too young or old to be productive are less valuable. Bodies which are less able are less valuable than able bodies. High levels of family violence towards children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Pākehā culture is the one true and worthy culture. Other cultures and their peoples are less worthy, rational, advanced, capable or worthy of respect and protection. Pākehā culture has all the right answers. High levels of family violence towards and between Māori people and people from diverse cultures.

Intimate partner violence as a form of social entrapment for women

The Family Violence Death Review Committee in their sixth report views IPV:

as a gendered form of social entrapment for women. Women are vulnerable to social entrapment across three dimensions, which compound a man’s violence and control:

  • social isolation, fear and coercion the abusive partner’s violence creates in the victim’s life
  • the indifference of institutions to the victim’s suffering
  • structural inequalities such as gender, class and racism that can aggravate coercive control.

By conceptualising intimate partner violence in this way, we acknowledge that individuals are shaped by how their gender, race, class, sexuality or disability interacts with social systems and structures (the way our society operates). A society that is inequitable for women limits a victim’s options for safety. The view of intimate partner violence as social entrapment also highlights the importance of understanding ‘intersectionality’ – how the impact of multiple inequities that one individual may experience (including colonisation, racism, sexism, poverty, heteronormativity and disability) can increase the impact of men’s violence. (FVDRC, 6th Report 2020, p. 22.)

Other structural inequities that are well documented in the literature are the impacts of colonisation on Māori whānau, and their experiences of racism and socio-economic structures that lead to imbalances in the distribution of resources, resulting in poverty and homelessness. Carne and colleagues (2019) highlight the importance of recognising whānau violence within the context of the colonisation of Aotearoa:

The ongoing impacts of colonisation can be understood as key components of the system that leads to the disproportionate impact of IPV and CAN on Māori.As a British settler colonial state, New Zealand’s system of government, services and dominant ways of thinking reflect Western cultural heritage. Services tend to be delivered to individuals in response to a discrete issue. For Māori, like many indigenous peoples, the focus is not on individuals or discrete issues; mātauranga Māori sees individuals as intrinsically entwined within a web of connections, referred to as whakapapa. Ultimately, it is these connections that enable wellbeing to emerge. For Māori it is therefore critical to understand these connections and the outcomes that result from them. When the web of connections is strong, it nourishes individuals. When the web is weak, or torn apart, the individual suffers. (Carne et al., 2019.)

1.6  What is a ‘family violence system’?

The ‘family violence system’ is widely referred to, so it is important to consider what is meant by this term. A ‘system’ is defined by the perspectives and assumptions of those experiencing, talking, and writing about it. The boundaries of a system, which actors, components, relationships, and determinants are included, vary from big picture socio-ecological models to more easily defined concepts bounded by function, geography and specified relationships. The different perceptions of the ‘family violence system’ can be seen in the various studies and proposals for transforming the family violence system in Aotearoa New Zealand that are discussed in Chapter 5.

Many of the studies focus on service responses to family violence, sexual violence and child abuse and neglect, including government services and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who specialise in these areas. We have used the term ‘family violence service system’ to refer to the government agencies, NGOs and organisational networks that work in this area.

Section 19 of the Family Violence Act 2018 defines a family violence agency as:

(a) a specified government agency [see below]:

(b) any non-governmental organisation that is funded wholly or in part by government, and that exercises powers, performs functions, or provides services, for 1 or both of the following purposes:

(i) to protect, or otherwise help, victims of family violence:

(ii) to help people to stop their inflicting of family violence:

(c) any school board:

(d) any licensed early childhood service.

Section 19 of the Family Violence Act 2018 also specifies 10 government agencies, along with DHBs and registered community housing providers:

(a) Accident Compensation Corporation:

(b) Department of Corrections:

(c) Ministry of Education:

(d) Ministry of Health:

(e) any DHB:

(f) Kāinga Ora—Homes and Communities:

(g) every registered community housing provider:

(h) Immigration New Zealand:

(i) Ministry of Justice:

(j) New Zealand Police:

(k) Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children:

(l) Ministry of Social Development.

The Family violence, sexual violence and violence within whānau: workforce capability framework (Rudman, Walker, Albert, Ohia, Smith, Thurston, Poudfoot, Williams & Wansa-Harvey, 2017) sets out a national framework to guide a ‘consistent, integrated and effective response to family violence and sexual violence’. The framework recognises the importance of building the capability of the wider workforce in regard to family violence and sexual violence, so victims and perpetrators get an appropriate response and there is a more integrated approach between organisations. The workforce is categorised into three levels: primary response, specialist response, and leadership, with corresponding criteria for level of capability. The role of kahukura and community champions who inspire change is also recognised.

National and local networks

Long-established national networks of NGOs provide their members with a collective voice, advocacy when working with the government, research evidence, resources, good practice guidelines and help promoting social change. These networks were part of previous governments national taskforces on family violence and sexual violence, including the Māori Reference Group, the Pacific Advisory Group, etc. Examples of national networks of NGOs are:

There are also multiple local service networks with members from NGO and government agencies located throughout the country.

Framing the service response

To frame the service response to family violence, the public health model of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been widely used by governments, including Aotearoa New Zealand. The public health model was originally based on the prevention of disease, and the three prevention levels have been translated to relate to violence prevention:

  • Primary prevention – population-based approaches that aim to prevent violence before it occurs by either universally targeting the whole population or targeting specific groupings or characteristics within the population that are considered at higher risk of victimisation or perpetration;
  • Secondary prevention – approaches that focus on the more-immediate responses to violence, such as police crisis response to a report of FV or CAN, women’s refuge response to IPV, child protection services pre-hospital care, emergency services or treatment for sexually transmitted infections following a rape; and
  • Tertiary prevention – approaches that focus on long-term care in the wake of violence, such as rehabilitation and reintegration, treatment programmes, counselling, that attempt to lessen trauma or reduce long-term disability associated with violence (adapted from Dahlberg & Krug, 2002, cited in WHO 2010, p. 7).

There are adaptations to the way this three-tier framework has been presented, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs noted that the three levels sit on a continuum and are not mutually exclusive, with some interventions encompassing all three levels. Drawing a boundary around different types of responses can be useful for planning and implementation purposes and workforce development (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2013, p. 6, cited in Taylor et al., 2014b, p. 6).

A strong theme in the literature is the need for prevention of family violence, sexual violence and child abuse and neglect. Preventing violence requires a societal change in attitudes, behaviour and tolerance for these types of abuses. This requires a broader view of a ‘family violence system’ than a focus on services or programmes. Although successive governments have recognised the need for prevention in their response frameworks and prevention or early intervention initiatives, the literature we have reviewed from the last decade has repeatedly identified that prevention is significantly under-resourced. Making the links between different aspects of the broader system is required. As the Family Violence Death Review Committee stated in 2016, to prevent family violence, structural inequities must be considered and addressed in all of the systemic responses to family violence. Identifying what we mean by prevention is also important, as the Family Violence Death Review Committee (2016) also notes that:

For many whānau and families in Aotearoa New Zealand there is no pre-violence or primary prevention space. Children are born into families and whānau already experiencing intergenerational violence and are exposed to violence in multiple family contexts. Therefore, prevention should be embedded in every response to family violence to interrupt intergenerational patterns of violence and the associated transmission of trauma.

The literature we have reviewed identifies that addressing the longer-term recovery from trauma also needs more attention, given the multiple negative effects of family violence, sexual violence, and child abuse and neglect over a lifetime.

The current national strategy to address family violence is Te Rito, New Zealand Family Violence Strategy,17 which was launched in 2002. This strategy was developed by a collaborative of non-governmental agencies, government agencies, submissions and extensive consultation with communities around the country.18 This has provided guidance for many years, and there have been calls for some time now to update our national vision and collective plan to address family violence and sexual violence. A national strategy is an important way of expressing the boundaries and components, principles and desired outcomes of the family violence system. That is why a collective endeavour to develop the strategy that takes different perspectives into account and has shared understandings is important. We understand that the Joint Venture is developing a national strategy in partnership with an interim Te Rōpū Māori.19

1.7 Prevalence of family violence, sexual violence and child abuse

Identifying the prevalence of family violence, sexual violence and child abuse is difficult because most violence goes unreported to authorities. The reports of family violence and child abuse that are available leave us in no doubt this is a severe issue for our society. The Police estimates that, in some districts, family harm is about 40% of their workload, and in 2016/17 Oranga Tamariki received a notification every four minutes.20

Population surveys currently provide the best approximation of the prevalence of different types of violence for different groups of people. However, the use of different definitions of family violence across these surveys makes comparisons of prevalence rates difficult. There have been issues with the way New Zealand’s population survey data about family violence and sexual violence have been collected in successive New Zealand Crime and Safety Surveys (NZCASS) (e.g. limitations on collecting information about childhood abuse and sexual abuse, elder abuse and other forms of family violence). The New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey (NZCVS) replaced the NZCASS in 2018. There have been some improvements to the survey methodology, but these changes mean the NZCVS findings cannot be compared to findings from the NZCASS to observe trends over time.

Two cycles of the NZCVS were conducted in 2018 and 2019. The Ministry of Justice (2020a,21 p.17) states, “[t]hroughout all population groups and all offence types the Cycle 2 results are consistent with those obtained after Cycle 1. This consistency supports the view that the NZCVS is using a vigorous and statistically robust methodology which delivers reliable outcomes”. The authors note data collection for Cycle 2 was conducted from October 2018 – September 2019 prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions in Aotearoa.

Key findings about offences by family members

The definition of offences by family members used for the NZCVS is in line with offence coding used by the Police. The following offence types are included (where the offender is a family member):

  • physical assault;
  • sexual assault;
  • harassment and threatening behaviour; and
  • other offences (damage to personal or household property, damage to motor vehicles and robbery).22

The definition differs from the Family Violence Act 2018 and “does not include all behaviours that may be considered family violence, such as economic abuse, abuse of pets of importance to someone, or other psychological violence. Nor is violence towards children (14 and under) covered. Therefore, the offences by family members considered here are only a subset of experiences of family violence by adults.” (Ministry of Justice, 2020a, p.58)

The Cycle 2 survey found there are no statistically significant change in offences by family members between Cycle 1 and Cycle 2 (Ministry of Justice, 2020a, p.58).

NZCVS Cycle 1 (2018) key findings 12 months prior to the survey:

The NZCVS Cycle 1 (March – September 2018) interviewed 8,030 New Zealand adults (aged 15 years and over) and had a response rate of 81%, meaning that the survey results are highly representative of the New Zealand population group (Ministry of Justice, 2020b, p.6).23

A family violence in-depth module was selected for Cycle 1 and the findings are presented in the NZCVS topical report Topical Report: Offences against New Zealand adults by family members (Ministry of Justice, 2020b). This report provides more in-depth analyses of offences against adults conducted by family members in the previous 12 months. The authors acknowledge limitations and advise using the published estimates with caution.24 Key insights from this report include:

Characteristics of adult victims

  • Female adults (2.8%) were more than twice as likely to report offences by family members than male adults (1.2%) and more than three times as likely to report offences by an intimate partner (1.7% of females compared with 0.3% males).
  • Māori adults (4%) were more at risk of experiencing offences by family members than European adults (2%).

Types of violence and effect on victims

  • Victims of offences by a family member (37%) exhibited moderate to high levels of psychological distress at more than four times the rate of other adults (8%).
  • Victims are injured in one quarter (23%) of offences committed by a family member.
  • 104,000 adults who had a partner in the last 12 months (3.6%) had experienced psychological violence by an intimate partner.

Findings that indicate risk factors for family violence

  • Separation from a partner appears to be a key risk factor for intimate partner violence. Almost one in ten (9%) single adults, who had separated from a partner in the past year, had experienced an offence by a family member. In one quarter (25%) of offences by an intimate partner, victims said the incident related to separation from a partner.
  • While there was no evidence of a statistically significant difference in offences by a family member by income or employment status, strong differences emerged by indicators of financial stress.

Interactions with services

  • 15% said they had received medical attention.
  • One third (32%) said they had an incident that became known to Police. Victims of IPV were twice (45%) as likely to have an incident reported to Police than victims of offences by another family member (20%).
  • One third (32%) said they were contacted by a family violence support service.
  • More than half (52%) said they had asked for help from family, whānau or friends. (Ministry of Justice, 2020b)

NZCVS Cycle 2 (2019) key findings 12 months prior to the survey:

The NZCVS Cycle 2 (October 2018 – September 2019) interviewed 8,038 New Zealand adults (aged 15 years and over). The response rate was 80% (Māori booster sample 79%), indicating that the survey results are highly representative of the New Zealand population (Ministry of Justice, 2020a, p.121).

Prevalence and incidence

  • Over the last 12 months, victims experienced more than 250,000 incidents of offences by family members, which equates with an incidence rate of 6 per 100 adults.
  • Estimating from the sample of 8,038 adults, nationally 87,000 adults (2.2%) were victims of offences by family members. Of those adults, 53,000 (1.4%) experienced offending by an intimate partner, and 37,000 (1%) experienced offending by other family members.

Groups that were significantly more likely than the NZ average to experience offences committed by family members

  • Women were more than twice as likely as men to experience offences by family members.
  • Māori were twice as likely as the NZ average to experience offences by family members.
  • Adults with a high level of psychological distress were far more likely to experience offences by family members than the NZ average (by about six-fold).25
  • Sole parents with children were almost four times more likely than the NZ average to experience offences by family members.
  • Gay/lesbian, bisexual or other were over two times more likely than the NZ average to experience offences by family members.
  • Young adults (aged 15–29 years) were almost twice as likely as the NZ average to experience offences by family members.

Findings that indicate risk factors for family violence

  • For victims of IPV, separation was again noted as a risk factor as nearly half (25,000 of 53,000) said the offences were carried out by an ex-partner.
  • Argument was the most commonly identified factor relating to offences by family members (44%), followed closely by jealousy and possessiveness (43%).
  • Victims reported that they were under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs in almost one in six incidents (16%) of offences by family members, while the offender was under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs in almost half of the incidents (47%).
  • People under financial pressure were more likely than the NZ average to experience offences by family members, while people not under financial pressure were less likely.
  • Adults with low life satisfaction and a low feeling of safety were significantly more likely to experience offences by family members, while those with high life satisfaction and a high feeling of safety were significantly less likely to experience offences by family members when compared against the NZ average.

Effect of violence on victims

  • 44% of victims experienced anxiety/panic attacks and 40% of victims reported they experienced depression as a result of offences by family members. Many indicated they were affected a great deal by the incidents they experienced.
  • Victims of offences by family members were injured in over a quarter (26%) of incidents.
  • Experiences of offending by intimate partners were more likely to lead to the impacts of shame, loss of confidence/feeling vulnerable, depression, and anxiety/panic attacks than offences by other family members.

Lifetime experience of intimate partner violence and/or sexual violence

The NZCSV Cycle 2 findings for lifetime experiences of IPV and/or sexual violence highlight the vulnerability of women, gay, lesbian or bisexual adults, disabled, and Māori whānau.

  • An estimated 1,131,000 adults experienced either IPV or sexual violence (or both) at some point during their life, which equated to almost 30% of the entire adult population.
  • Almost one in six adults (16%) had experienced IPV and nearly a quarter (24%) had experienced sexual violence at some point during their lives.
  • Women were almost 2.5 times more likely than men to have experienced IPV and 3 times more likely to have experienced sexual violence.
  • Gay, lesbian or bisexual adults were more than twice as likely than the NZ average to experience IPV and sexual violence.
  • Māori were more likely to be victims of IPV and/or sexual violence than the NZ average.

Child abuse and neglect – Oranga Tamariki statistics

Oranga Tamariki’s care and protection statistics for the year to 31 March 2020 include:26

  • 83,300 reports of concerns involved 60,200 children;
  • 42,800 assessments or investigation involved 35,800 individual children and young people (the statistics on substantiated abuse were not included on their website); and
  • 1100 entries into care during the year to 31 March 2020. As at 31 March 2020, 6100 children and young people were in care and protection custody of the chief executive. Of these, 59% are Māori, 10% Māori and Pacific, and 6% Pacific.

The over-representation of Māori tamariki in care is extremely concerning. A recent study led by Māori examines this issue and is discussed in Chapter 3 (Kaiwai et al., 2020).

Elder abuse – The New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing

The New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing (NZLSA) in 2012 found that elder abuse, as measured by VASS,27 was prevalent for at least one in 10 participants aged 65 years and over on each of the four sub-scales. Items about psychological abuse were more frequent than those associated with coercion and physical abuse. The study found that:

  • Women experienced significantly more abuse than men on three subscales, but men were significantly more coerced than women.
  • Māori experienced significantly more elder abuse than non-Māori on all four subscales. (Waldegrave, 2015)

1: The main purpose of a narrative review is to the give the author and reader an overview of the topic and to highlight significant areas of research. Narrative reviews can help to identify gaps in the research and help to refine and define research. See

2: One publication was included from 2009.



5: See

6: See Appendix 4 for section 9 of the Family Violence Act 2018.

7: Alignment with Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, section 14AA(2)(b).

8: See

9: Cabinet paper – see









18: Te Rito was developed by the Family Violence Focus Group, which comprised of the National Network of Stopping Violence Services, National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges, National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups, Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, Barnardos, Age Concern New Zealand, Relationship Services, Child Abuse Prevention Services New Zealand, Pacific Island Women's Project, Ministry of Social Development, Department of Child, Youth, and Family Services, Ministry of Justice including the Crime Prevention Unit, Department for Courts, Department of Corrections, New Zealand Police, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Specialist Education Services, Early Childhood Development, Te Puni Kōkiri, Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Ministry of Women's Affairs, Department of Internal Affairs including Ethnic Affairs, Treasury and the Accident Compensation Corporation. Valuable input was also provided by the Family Violence Advisory Committee, Office of the Commissioner for Children, community workshop participants, individual interviewees, submissions and organisations that work every day with those affected by family violence. (Te Rito, 2002, p.2)


20: The number is derived from the 158,921 care and protection notifications, including police family violence call-outs, that Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children received in 2016/17, relating to almost 60,000 children. There are 525,600 minutes per year; hence, one notification every 4.42 minutes. Of course, not all of those reach the ‘threshold’ for court cases and bureaucratic involvement, but they hint at what is so hard to measure (Lambie et al., 2018).

21: Please note that the Ministry of Justice NZCVS reports published in 2020 are not included in our annotated bibliography as there was a cut-off point due to the project deadlines and scope. However, we have included key statistics in our literature review due to their relevance. See: Ministry of Justice. (2020a). New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey: Key findings Cycle 2 (October 2018 September 2019): Descriptive statistics. Wellington. Retrieved from

22: See

23: Ministry of Justice. (2020b). New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey – Topical Report: Offences against New Zealand adults by family members, Cycle 1 (2018). Wellington. see:

24: The authors of the NZCVS topical report state: “Though the NZCVS collects a rich level of detail about offences committed by family members, due to the relatively small number of respondents in NZCVS (Cycle 1) who had experienced such offences, many analyses were too statistically unreliable for general use and have not been published. Furthermore, many of the estimates provided in this report are subject to high error and should be used with caution.” (Ministry of Justice, 2020, p.2)

25: The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6) was incorporated into the NZCVS to measure psychological distress see We suggest given the findings in the NZCVS about the effects of violence on victims, and the evidence from the literature about the psychological impacts of family violence and sexual violence, it is not surprising that a high proportion of victims of family violence report a high level of psychological distress.

26: See Oranga-Tamariki-Quarterly-Performance-Report-March-2020.pdf (

27: The Vulnerability to Abuse Screening Scale (VASS) is a self-report screening scale for elder abuse. The VASS has four sub-scales: vulnerability, dependence, dejection and coercion.