NO is not up for negotiation

As the Minister responsible for the Government’s response to family violence I have been pondering, how do we encourage courage. The courage to report what is happening to you and the courage to hear the call, and do something about it.

A study released last week by Auckland University highlights that we still have some way to go to ensure that those living with domestic violence not only tell someone what is happening to them but then also take the next steps, to seek further help.

What this research tells us is that no matter how persistent the abuse, or how desperate the situation, sometimes maintaining the original decision to make the violence stop, is just too difficult at that time. Sadly forty percent of the women who took part in the study reported confiding in someone about the abuse but then did not receive nor seek any additional help to address the issues they are facing. As they say, once bitten, twice shy.

Family violence is a complex, intergenerational problem that requires a long-term and multi-faceted approach. There is no easy answer or one size fits all solution for dealing with family violence and while I believe there has been considerable progress I know that much more needs to be done.

The Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families was established in June 2005 and has achieved considerable momentum since its inception. It has brought key government and community agencies together to develop strong relationships and a commitment to work collectively to eliminate family violence.

We know that it is whanau and friends who people turn to first when they are living with violence. But what we have also identified, is that sometimes those closest to us simply don’t know how to help. They might tell us “when you say no; that is not an invitation for negotiation” but then they feel helpless to know what the next step should be.

This is one of the reasons why we have launched the new ‘It is OK to help’ television campaign to promote information on the campaign website about how to help and where to find support.

Ultimately the solution to family violence lies in building whanau wellbeing and capability, drawing on whanau solutions that ensure the safety of family members.

The campaign is also a timely reminder that we can all play a role in addressing an issue which affects the health and wellbeing of our families, friends and communities by reaching out to help.

My visit to the Mother of Divine Mercy Women’s Refuge in Auckland yesterday reminded me the key to change is having a sense of hope, a self belief that you can change the situation for you ‘if it is to be, its up to me’.

It was great to see those very brave women returning to the centre to help other women and a wonderful reminder that no one is alone even when it seems hopeless.

They also epitomise to me, the key to change lies not just in being aware, but in having the courage to take action, and to be supported to do so. This is where all of us can play a part in making family violence a part of a past that none of us want for our future.