Backbone Collective: "overwhelmingly negative feedback" on the Family Court

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The Backbone Collective have released their second report on the Family Court.

The report, Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire (2017), is based on an online survey of 612 women who had experienced violence and abuse. 496 of those women had used the Family Court.

The report notes that the Family Court is a critical part of the response system that women may rely on for protection and further safety following separation from an abusive partner. However the report states,

“The women who participated in this survey reported serious negative outcomes from being involved with the New Zealand Family Court. ... Women told us that the Family Court actively undermined their and their children’s safety in a multitude of ways. They described the Family Court as somewhere where their experience of violence and abuse was not believed, was minimized and not responded to, where their abuser was seen as safe and any risk to them and their children was neither assessed nor considered. Some women talked about experiencing discrimination and Māori women reported racism. Women went to the Family Court often seeking protection for themselves and their children but once their found that their children were not listened to and were subsequently placed in unsafe situations. Women told us of being wrongly accused of a range of things that impacted negatively on decisions being made about them and their children’s lives.”

Key findings of this Family Court survey include:

  • Wāhine Māori experienced racism and found that cultural beliefs and practices are not comprehended in the Family Court.
  • 417 women said their experience of violence and abuse was not believed or responded to, was minimised, or was not accepted into evidence.
  • 83% of women said the Family Court treated their abuser as safe.
  • 58% of women attending Family Court-related appointments, fixtures, or hearings have been threatened, intimidated, or physically assaulted by their abuser.
  • 93% of women do not feel psychologically or physically safe when the Family Court forces or coerces them into joint activities with their abuser.
  • 155 women said the Family Court had forced their child/ren to spend time with the abuser. All of these women were worried about their child’s safety while in the abuser’s care.
  • 107 women have been denied a support person in court or mediation.
  • 120 women have been ordered by the Family Court not to talk to their child about the violence and abuse - thereby forcing women and children to pretend their trauma does not exist.
  • 84 women have been ordered by the Family Court not to talk to others about what is happening to them in the Family Court.
  • 50% of the ‘gagging orders’ against women were initiated by the Judge or the Lawyer for Child.
  • 93% of women have suffered negative health impacts because of how they have been treated during Family Court proceedings.
  • 9% of women have been involved in Family Court proceedings for between 7 and 22 years.
  • Women are up to $500,000 in debt due to having to fund their Family Court proceedings.

Given the consistent and "overwhelmingly negative feedback" from so many women, the Backbone Collective is calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Family Court. The authors state:

“A Royal Commission of Inquiry is the only forum where the women and their families or whanau would feel sufficiently safe to tell their stories, where witnesses with specialist insights into the workings of the Family Court could share their views in confidence and where all their court documents (transcripts, reports, minutes and orders) and procedures can be independently reviewed.”

The report notes that the overall purpose of the Backbone Collective is to enable women to safely tell the Government, the media, and the public about how the 'system' responded to them when they experienced violence and abuse, and how they need it to respond in order to be safe and rebuild their lives.

For more information see the Backbone Collective press release.

Update

A petition demanding a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Family Court has been started on Action Station.

Background information

Responses to the Backbone Collective's work to date on the Family Court are available in the media listed below.

The report published today contains responses to statements made (see page 6).

Also see the previous NZFVC stories Backbone Collective releases first report on the Family Court and New collective for survivors of violence against women launched: The Backbone Collective.

Media

Kids forced to spend time with abusers, lobby group's Family Court survey says, Newshub, 08.06.2017

Domestic violence group calls for Commission of Inquiry into Family Court system, NZ Herald, 08.06.2017

Women say Family Court has made them and their children unsafe - report, Stuff, 08.06.2017

Bar Association calls for calm, Press Release: NZ Bar Association, Scoop, 19.05.2017

Family Court 'broken and dangerous' - lobby group, Radio NZ, 18.05.2017

Calls for a Royal Commission into the Family Court, Radio NZ, 18.05.2017

Victim advocates: Authorities 'not open' to Family Court issues, NZ Herald, 17.05.2017

Family Court - Backbone's response to Judge Ryan's statement, Press Release: The Backbone Collective, Scoop, 20.04.2017

New Zealand Law Society backs Principal Family Court Judge statement, Press release: NZ Law Society, 20.04.2017

Judge dismisses Family Court criticisms, Radio NZ, 20.04.2017

Family court strikes back at the Backbone Collective, Stuff, 20.04.2017

Debate about the Family Court, Press Release: Office of the Principal Family Court Judge, Scoop, 19.04.2017

Family Court head hits back at women's advocacy group's report criticising system, NZ Herald, 19.4.2017

Family violence collective 'inundated' with women's stories of abuse, NZ Herald, 11.04.2017