The appalling and heart-wrenching situation for the woman in Invercargill whose rapist moved in next door highlights several areas for legislative review and policy & funding change.
This woman has an indefinite protection order in place but this does nothing to prevent her abuser moving in next door. The police have been for a ‘chat’ and suggested he move but cannot do anything else unless he breaches the order and crosses that line. His friends have been threatening and harassing her but this does not constitute a breach.
NZ has high incidences of sexual abuse, as well as low reporting and conviction rates. Making a complaint and taking a case through court is something the majority of people are too intimidated to do. I believe that bravery deserves acknowledgment and I believe we owe it to victims to make sure they are looked after. This means, in part, finding a legal process that will not finish at conviction or acquittal as if that’s all there is to it.
Work by NZ Legal academics Tinsley and McDonald recently highlighted some of the limitations of our justice system in relation to sexual offending and suggested we need to reinvestigate protection orders and how they work. Sexual offending is a notoriously difficult area of law. Despite reforms over many decades, the evidence continues to show stubbornly unchanged prosecution rates for sexual offences and victim dissatisfaction with the system.
This election the national party pledged to double the penalties for breaches of protection orders. This was window dressing for domestic violence designed to appeal to the get tough on crime lobby. It doesn’t address any of the concerns raised by the research, this woman or others in similar situations.
Further I know a significant number of women are struggling to get police to enforce breaches of protection orders when the victim and abuser share responsibility for children. Doubling the penalties will make some police even more reluctant to enforce the orders and then if they do the fines may just mean the abuser cannot pay maintenance and so the children will end up paying or the woman will not call the police in the first place.
And protection orders are just one piece of the puzzle. Kim McGregor from the Rape Prevention Network has noted that there have been numerous instances of abusers moving in close to their victims. She also noted it is likely these offenders have not completed a treatment programme. Attending a treatment programme for 1-2 years reduces the risk of re-offending to 5%. Yet there is a waiting list to get into the programmes within prisons and perpetrators need to fund themselves to do programmes after release or if they haven’t been to court. We must invest in support for victims and one of the ways to do this is to invest in treatment for perpetrators.
Ultimately we need to get serious about making the cultural, legislative and funding changes required to make a real difference and stop hiding behind populist proposals that end up just perpetuating the problems.