Family violence is a heartbreakingly huge problem in New Zealand, with many thousands of women and children living in abusive situations, permanently on high alert and in constant fear for their safety.
Family violence is not just physical; it can be sexual, emotional or psychological as well.
Even if children are not directly victims of violence, violence affects them as onlookers. It can inhibit their ability to learn and to have a normal life. The brains of children who grow up in an abusive home can be 20% – 30% smaller than the brains of other children and will have fewer connections. Children can also have emotional and social difficulties. They often withdraw into their own world and in extreme cases may have mental health problems and enter into abusive relationships in adulthood.
Even babies in the womb are affected if their mother is subjected to violence or abuse. Her brain will release high levels of stress hormones into her body alerting the baby they are coming into a dangerous world. These hormones are now known to affect the developing brain of the foetus and they’re often born aroused, difficult to settle and over-react to any stimulus. There is no such thing as ‘too young’ when it comes to the effects of family violence and sadly statistics show that many women are often abused for the first time during their first pregnancy.
If you are scared for your safety or the safety of someone else, call 111. If you are experiencing violence, tell someone – a friend, family member, workmate, teacher, employer or health professional, or a family violence prevention service.
Women’s Refuge offers free advice, emergency accommodation and confidential advocacy services to women and children. You can phone them any time of the day or night on 0800 REFUGE.
For more information and help, phone the Are You Ok Information Line on 0800 456 450. Help is available seven days a week, from 9am to 11pm, with an after-hours message redirecting callers in the case of an emergency. Their website is another comprehensive source of information.
KIDshine (previously the Child Crisis Team) is an Auckland-based rapid response service for children who have witnessed domestic abuse. Families are pro-actively offered this free service, which is provided to them in their own homes. Shine also runs a free national helpline 0508 744 633 and offers many other support services.
Barnardos has information for families about domestic violence, including protection orders and family court.