Before she met her former husband, Sarah was an independent single mum of two boys. She paid her own rent, changed her own tyres, had good friends and a close family.
Women are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic abuse. According to the victims and women’s advocates NEXT spoke to, New Zealand’s ugly reputation for domestic violence is born out of a culture of male privilege that still treats women as subservient possessions of their partner.
Last October, in the middle of the Rugby World Cup, sports commentator Tony Veitch made a post on Facebook attacking people who questioned his behaviour towards a former partner.
Kristin Dunne, the former partner in question, was not surprised by Veitch’s reaction to the online critics. She had been viciously attacked by the public for the things she had apparently done to deserve it.
The most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is when she tries to leave. There is an assumption that it’s easy for women to leave a bad relationship, and when they do the violence will stop.
It took Sarah 10 years to get out of her relationship. She had convinced her husband to move back to New Zealand, where she desperately hoped her family would see what he was doing to her.
The day she got out, her husband had given her a list of “37 things Sarah must change, effective immediately”. The list included demands that she have sex with her husband every day and must smile before and after; that she tell her children from a previous relationship bad things about their father to distance them from him; and she must not invite people to their home without consulting him first.
Women are incredibly vulnerable when they leave their partner as they try to fend for themselves. Too often Drumm has seen women fall into poverty after they escape a violent relationship.
After laying a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority Sarah received an official apology from the police area commander for the way her case was handled. It acknowledged that the male police officers who attended the call-out did not listen to Sarah or her sister’s accusations of assault by her husband, and then misreported the event as not having a violent aspect.
For nearly 20 years Louise Nicholas famously refused to back down on claims she was gang raped as a teenager by four policemen, that was then covered up. Although the officers were eventually acquitted, Nicholas’s case, and her relentless challenges to the way she was treated by police and the justice system, created a new understanding of victim’s rights. And the damning 2007 commission of inquiry into her case forced police to examine the way they treated victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Now Penny is seeing a new culture and language in her recruits. New cops arrive at police college believing they want the glamour roles on the Armed Offenders Squad; and they leave wanting to be a child abuse investigator.
But a cross-sector review of New Zealand’s response and legal framework to domestic violence is underway, and some believe the package of changes is the cultural shift the country needs.
The years of emotional and physical abuse left Sarah with severe psychological scars.