Examining domestic violence in New Zealand


Cynthia Lee Sinclair stands at the entrance of a marae, a sacred meeting grounds for Maori –Cynthia Lee Sinclair

My passion is helping domestic violence (DV) and child abuse (CA) victims. It is the impetus for my study abroad adventure this semester.

My first stop is New Zealand where ironically there is a very high incidence of DV and CA. I say ironically because Maori culture places a strong emphasis on family values. However, according to a 2007 New Zealand department of public health study, three out of four women reported violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime.

On the flight there, I sat next to a man who is a police officer in Auckland. He told me that almost 75 percent of the calls that police go out on involve domestic abuse and that police spend about an hour or more on each call.

It is only in the last few years that a law went into effect that allows police to step in and bring one or both people involved in the domestic dispute into custody, thereby giving the two parties a chance to separate and cool down. It also gives the police a chance to help remove any minors who are at risk in the situation.

The police officer told me that before this law the police would end up going to the same residence repeatedly, often with the situation escalating every time.

The first official interview for my study was with Nive Sharat Chandran in Auckland, who was president of the national and global board of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and has spent most of her career working with women’s issues, helping to raise awareness of DV and CA.

She told me more about the law that the police officer had mentioned. She said the law arose after a 40-year-old man raped and killed a teenage girl approximately 10 years ago. Her family pushed for new laws protecting women and children and was supported by multiple women’s groups and the royal commission.

It took almost 10 years of lobbying to get the law passed. Chandran said, “Until this law passed, policemen had their hands tied in regard to being able to step in and help.”

My next stop was at our sister college in Whakatane. Dr. Wiremu Doherty, CEO of Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiārangi and expert in Maori culture, he believes the high rates of DV and CA in Aotearoa stem in part from the Maori people feeling a sense of betrayal.

In 1840, the British government and various North Island Maori chiefs signed the treaty of Waitangi. It was originally meant to protect the rights of the Maori people, but in the long run it allowed the British to strip the Maori of land and rights, much in the same way the American Indians were treated by the U.S. government.

Since the early 1960s, the Maori have tried to regain land titles with little success. This sense of disempowerment among men in the Maori community has led to much of the violence against women, making Maori women victims in two ways, by the government and by their men.

Doherty said he thinks that the outcome of the treaty has led to fewer opportunities for Maori in education and work, leading to increased drug and alcohol use, which are also contributing factors for DV and CA.

Later, I met Victor, a Maori man who is is a corrections officer. He has hosted rehabilitation retreats at his family’s marae (sacred meeting grounds) for Maori transitioning back into society after release from prison, most with drug or DV offenses.

Victor spoke of having good success so far using what he calls a pastoral approach instead of just a judicial approach. “We are trying to use a Maori approach to reach Maori offenders,” he said.

According to Rev. Chris Barnard of the Presbyterian Church in Whakatane, poverty is the most prevalent cause underlying the high DV and CA statistics in the area. Barnard’s church has a program for children and families entitled “Stop the Violence,” which helps those experiencing DV with legal, therapy and housing assistance. The program has been running for only a short time, but he feels it is experiencing “good results.”

It seemed that almost everyone I spoke to echoed the fact that DV and CA are big problems in New Zealand. But there are many passionate people rolling up their sleeves to turn things around. And while culture plays a big role in DV and CA, it seems that sexism is still at the heart of the problem.


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair ,Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter