Wāhine Māori in violent relationships fearful of system designed to help - report

1:39 pm on 5 December 2019

Agencies and services designed to help Māori women in unsafe relationships often contribute to their entrapment, research has found.

New Zealand charity Shakti has worked with about 300 cases of forced marriage. (File photo).

Photo: 123rf

The E Tū Wāhine, E Tū Whānau report, by the Auckland University of Technology, found Māori women experience racist and judgemental attitudes, and are denied entitlements by staff.

The report found these experiences often left Māori women feeling unsafe, disregarded, and discouraged.

All 28 participants in the study had a personal experience of having children taken into state care, or knew other wāhine who did, and having children removed prevented them from seeking help.

Professor Denise Wilson said there was a common misconception that Māori women in violent relationships were bad mothers, and even liked violence.

She found Māori women in violent relationships were in fact very smart, resourceful, and had a range of strategies to protect their tamariki.

"They function with this primal intelligence that enables them to read their situations and their partner's behaviours, they knew the triggers and tried to prevent violent outbursts from happening.

"They had a whole range of strategies for trying to optimise the protection of their tamariki. One woman and some others talked about activities that they had planted around the house so that if violent episodes looked like they were going to occur, they could put the children into a room and give them the activities to try and minimise the impact on them."

She said many Māori women were fearful of the agencies and services designed to help them.

"One of the real stunning things that we were left with when we had all the interviews together was the realisation that these women didn't necessarily feel vulnerable within their violent relationship, they felt vulnerable when they had to invite others in and seek help.

"The biggest fear that drove them to avoid asking for help was the fact that their children would be taken off them for the very reasons that people think that they're not protecting them, and the other fear was that when they present themselves they get treated in judgemental and discriminatory ways.

"A number talked about encountering racism from the people that they had to interact with."

She said the wāhine and tāne involved in the study claimed that counselling was not effective for dealing with the violence they were living with.

But she said strengthening their cultural identity as Māori was a crucial component in their healing.

"Both the women and the men talked about how a big turning point for them to becoming non-violent was strengthening their cultural identity, and learning around Māori knowledge like values, tikanga, and some of our ancient stories, which really showed how pre-colonisation Māori, whānau and hapū protected women and children and kept everybody safe.

"The key service providers that had a role in that was kaupapa-Māori providers."

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