Police and social services have noticed an increase in family harm incidents in North Otago since the lockdown began more than two weeks ago. Reporter Gus Patterson takes a closer look.

Last weekend, Oamaru police attended eight family harm incidents and many more over the past two weeks.

In the Southern district last weekend, police received 48 reports of family harm. That compares with 26 the previous weekend, before lockdown.

But the problem is not limited to one part of the country.

Police issued a media statement yesterday noting an increase in family harm throughout New Zealand.

“We realise this is a hard time for some families and we want them to know police are there for them. We know that for some people, home right now may be an uncomfortable or scary place,” assistant commissioner Sandra Venables said.

Police urged neighbours and friends to keep an eye out — and report anything unusual.

It is a familiar tale for one Waitaki woman who still carries injuries from the time her ex-partner assaulted her.

She understands how scary it would be for people stuck at home with their abusers.

The woman, who spoke to the Otago Daily Times with anonymity, urged victims to protect themselves and their children.

“This will not last forever.

“Use this time to plan how you can get out.

“Utilise the services available especially if you don’t have family close by.

“Leave immediately if you need to, talk to the people in your life you can trust, don’t be embarrassed about your situation.

“Domestic abuse doesn’t just affect a certain type of person. It is present in all socioeconomic groups. It affects men and women.

“Be kind to yourself — none of this is a reflection of who you are as a person.”

For her, at least initially, the relationship was wonderful. She was living with her partner in a small rural town and they had a child together.

The descent into abuse was a gradual one.

It started with negative comments and put-downs in front of people disguised as jokes.

But it escalated; he controlled her social media content, what she could wear and what friends she could see.

Eventually, he would fly into rages, break down and apologise, before repeating the process.

“It is so difficult to comprehend that the person who is supposed to love you is treating you this way.”

She had not wanted to go through the court system, because she thought it would take her away from spending time with her child.

After a serious assault that changed.

She now realises the time spent seeing specialists for her injuries, attending court appearances and recovering from her injuries have taken up more time than if she had reached out for help sooner.

She was supported by a Family Works social worker, which helped get her through the daunting court system, and is since doing much better.

Women’s Refuge New Zealand chief executive Dr Ang Jury said nationwide, her organisation had actually experienced a dip in the number of people contacting them during lockdown.

But, in her view, that was not a good thing — and she did not feel it was a true reflection of the situation across the country.

“What I think we are seeing is an inability for people to contact services, which is what they are identifying oversees.”

“An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Women’s Refuge could be contacted in several ways, such as email, website and Facebook, that were hardly ever used.

They had all experienced an increase in the past two weeks.

“[Globally], Women’s Refuge agencies all noticed a spike in the first few days before the lockdown … now they are all sitting back ready to cope and people can’t ring.

“Unless all the people in this country who were all using abuse prior, unless they are listening to Jacinda [Ardern] say ‘be kind’, and are doing so — it’s really unlikely.”

Women’s Refuge was still providing its services, and Dr Jury encouraged family harm victims to contact them in what ever way they could.

“Just because we are in a bubble and are all locked up, there is nothing in there to say your bubble has to be unsafe — so you leave it and you go somewhere where you are safe.”

Senior Sergeant Jason McCoy, of Oamaru, reminded everyone in the community to be vigilant.

“If they are hearing family harm incidents from neighbouring properties, we are still working 24/7.

“We are all suffering the effects of lockdown and we need to be kind to each other.

“There are processes that can be done; we can sort things.”

If you’re in danger now

  • Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to call for you.
  • Run outside and head to where there are people.
  • Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.
  • Take the children with you.
  • Don’t stop to get anything else.
  • If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never OK.

Need help?

Need to talk?
– 1737, free 24/7 phone and text number Women’s Refuge: 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733-843
– 9am-11pm every day, 0508 744-633
– for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children.  0800 742-584
Rape Crisis: 0800 883-300

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