I think few people will be surprised to hear that another woman has been killed by a man who she had a protection order against.
Police have named Sarwan Lata Singh as the 38-year-old woman found dead at a Wellington home in the suburb of Woodridge early Tuesday.
A man has been charged with her murder – and with breaching a protection order meant to keep him away from her.
The reality is that protection orders are pieces of paper. They are useful as a means of accelerating action if a person is able to report to Police that the order has been breached. Sadly, we have had too many cases of late where women in particular have been killed or seriously injured at the hands of someone who had one of these orders placed on them.
So if a breach of a protection order occurs, what can happen? Police advise says:
The Court will give highest priority to the victim’s safety when considering bail applications. Where there is evidence that a breach of a Protection Order has occurred, the person will be arrested and cannot be bailed by the Police for 24 hours.
A breach includes failing to attend a ‘stopping violence’ programme.
The maximum penalty for breach of a Protection Order is six months in prison or a $5000 fine. The penalty increases to two years in prison where three offences are committed within three years. If other serious crimes of violence are involved, the penalties could be even more serious.
The most recent Ministry of Justice figures show that the number of people convicted of breaching protection orders, by court location and year is:
Court location 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013*
Christchurch 145 166 125 140 87
Hamilton 88 118 113 109 51
Rotorua 86 83 89 84 45
Auckland 89 85 83 94 41
Dunedin 50 33 48 49 27
Wellington 60 47 49 58 20
*Up to June 30, 2013
So are pieces the paper the answer? Probably not but they are part of a multi-pronged approach and this Government has done much to strengthen the legislative framework.
Former Principal Family Court Judge Pete Boshier reflected on his time in the role:
In my time as a judge I have dealt with thousands of family violence cases, and that includes applications by women victims of violence for protection orders. The intensity and range of abuse is deplorable and at times I have felt deeply affected by what I have read. All judges are affected in this way. Family violence in our country will not be eradicated by legislative recognition and ongoing commitment by Police in isolation. Time and time again we need to give messages that family violence is harmful, that it injures our country and that it has enormous consequences. Until we get real about this, our progress in eliminating family violence will be too slow. I dream of a New Zealand in which family violence is not the norm for so many families and where there are happy, safe, secure children whose lives are very different from those of generations that have preceded them.
In the same speech Boshier suggests we create specific charges that are for family violence, ensure that assault charges specifically mention family violence in the way they are recorded and much more to put a public face to family violence offenders.
Of course, these measures all take place after assaults and other forms of violence take place. So, do we leave it down to education programmes to get people to understand what is and isn’t violence, to act early and report often? What other measures need to be put in place? There has been much talk of rape culture of late – do we also have a ‘violence culture’ (it could be argued they are one in the same) and is it always ‘over there’ and ‘not in my backyard’?