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How our legal and justice systems are failing ethnic and migrant women victims offamily violence in Aotearoa New Zealand

By Dhilum Nightingale

Family violence and sexual violence (FVSV) are significantly under-reported, under-investigated and under-prosecuted in Aotearoa New Zealand. FVSV transcends communities, ethnicities and social classes, and has widespread intra- and inter-generational effects. Research estimates there are 204,000 sexual assault offences yearly, with the police receiving on average one FVSV-related call every three minutes, and Women’s Refuge receiving an average of 50,000 referrals a year.5 FVSV response is estimated to cost New Zealand between $4.1 and $7 billion annually.

FVSV prevention and response is notably absent from the Government’s coalition agreements, its 100-day plan or any other information publicly available about current policy priorities. Nor was the writer able to find any statements from the Government acknowledging its support for Te Aorerekura, the National Strategy and Action Plan launched in 2021 and aimed at eliminating FVSV.7 When he was in opposition, Christopher Luxon criticised Labour for failing to implement measures that have a tangible impact on FVSV statistics. It is hoped that these issues and an impactful
policy response moves quickly onto the coalition Government’s agenda.

This article summarises some of the critical barriers ethnic and migrant women face when trying to leave a violent relationship. The article also discusses some of the specific ways in which immigration policy intersects with other jurisdictions to suppress help-seeking behaviour by victims and deter them from leaving abusive relationships.
The article draws on the writer’s experience working through Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley with ethnic and migrant victim survivors of FVSV and also victims of migrant workplace exploitation where cultural-based power dynamics are also observed but in the context of employment relationships. While the focus in this article is FVSV, the writer has observed that in both contexts (FVSV and migrant exploitation):
(a) immigration policy is failing vulnerable people in migrant and ethnic communities,
(b) structural, bureaucratic and other barriers are furthering victims’ entrapment, preventing them from accessing support, and failing to hold perpetrators to account; and
(c) there are gaps in understanding intersectional barriers and challenges, and decisions in one domain such as employment, social welfare or criminal or family jurisdictions are often made with seemingly little awareness of either
cultural factors or immigration-related consequences, and this can have devastating impacts on victim-survivors of violence.

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