New Zealand has a problem with violence against women. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the news recently. New changes to the Family Violence Act will hopefully go some way to making this country a safer place.
Before the changes to the Family Violence (Amendment) Act came into effect on the third of this month, strangulation wasn’t penalised as a specific offense in New Zealand courts. Instead, it was lumped in with ‘male assaults female’ or ‘assault with intent to injure’ – offenses that carry two-year and three-year maximum terms, respectively. Under this new legislation, championed by Justice Under-Secretary Jan Logie, strangulation will carry a maximum seven-year sentence. This is significant.
It’s significant because the link between strangulation and murder is strong. That is a statement based on massive amounts of evidence.
According to Women’s Refuge, the vast majority of victims they deal with have been strangled by their perpetrator. One of those perpetrators was Clayton Weatherston in 2008.
In the days before Weatherston killed Sophie Elliot, he strangled her. It’s been reported that Sophie’s friends and mother encouraged Sophie to go to the police at the time, but Sophie had thought it pointless.
It’s shocking to think that, had she done so, Weatherston would have ended up with a mere two to three-year sentence. And that’s assuming a) Elliott would be believed b) Weatherston would be given the maximum sentence. Neither of those could be guaranteed. With the new changes to the Act now in place, however, if a) and b) had occurred (which still, sadly, can’t be guaranteed), Weatherston would have gone to prison for a more substantial seven years.
The only reason Elliott wasn’t killed on that day (only to be killed days later) was because she escaped. The changes to the Family Violence (Amendment) Act reflect the seriousness of strangulation. It is stated in the report that “the difference between a fatal strangulation and a non-fatal strangulation can be merely the number of seconds of pressure applied to the neck. Therefore, in theory, a non-fatal strangulation could often be a failed attempt to kill.”
Lesley Elliott, Sophie’s mother, supports the changes.
Violence against women is a serious issue in New Zealand. New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the world. On average, police attend an incident of family violence every 5 and a half minutes. And that’s just among the 20% of cases that go reported. According to Women’s Refuge chief executive Dr. Ang Jury, strangulation is such a common component of this violence that many victims don’t even think to mention it.
The adjustments made to the Family Violence (Amendment) Act are good, evidence-based changes. While they may not address the root cause, they go some way to make life safer for victims.
What must be addressed going forward is the toxic, hyper-masculine patriarchy that presides over our nation, enabling behaviour that allows violence to flourish. The consequences of such violence can be horrific.
Until we rid ourselves of this stain, New Zealand will not be a safe place.
Rest in peace Sophie Elliott, Grace Millane, and all victims of violence against women in New Zealand.
If you or someone you know is in danger call 111 or contact:
Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)
Shine: 0508 744 633
It's Not OK (0800 456 450)
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - 0Support Villainesse