2 Mar 2020

'Every day I was beaten' - Māori women three times more likely to be killed by partner

11:38 am on 2 March 2020

Māori women are beaten and killed by their partners at the highest rates in New Zealand and they say they are at risk no matter what they do.

Karen Ruddelle (left) and Patricia Walsh are both victims of domestic abuse.

Karen Ruddelle (left) and Patricia Walsh are both victims of domestic abuse. Photo: RNZ

Research shows up to 80 percent of Māori women will experience family violence in their lifetime.

Māori women are three times more likely to be killed by a partner than non-Māori.

But as high profile cases of intimate partner death make the headlines in New Zealand and abroad, there is concern that women are being blamed for not ending the relationship.

It's hard to get out

East Coast woman Patricia Walsh said all three of her past relationships were violent, including her first long-term relationship which started at age 14.

"Every day I was beaten and I had black eyes every week for the whole of those three years," she said.

Later, she would spend nine years with a man who was in and out of prison for abusing her.

But it would be a third relationship that was extremely violent that put her off relationships.

Walsh said she had not been brave enough to step back into a relationship since 1998.

Head shot of young Marori woman with moko kauae

Patricia Walsh. Photo: RNZ Insight/ Leigh-Marama McLachlan

"I was hospitalised, I never had a broken bone, but the stitches - I have had my injuries described as equivalent to somebody in a car crash.

"I have been too scared to go to the hospital because I thought that they were going to tell me that part of my skull was missing, because it felt so mushy."

In New Zealand, one in three women will experience violence in their lives, but research shows that figure is up to 80 percent for Māori women.

But Walsh, now a registered social worker and family harm advocate, said it was not as simple as simply walking away.

She said women in violent relationships felt scared and powerless and some believed they were worthless.

They did not know where they would go, how they would afford the basics or how they would keep their children safe, she said.

"To step out of that space takes a huge amount of mana that we don't actually know we have.

"It is a very complex place to be in and until you experience it, it is actually unhelpful to be asked and to hear those statements - 'why don't you leave'."

High risk of homicide after leaving

The nation went into shock when Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her three children were killed in a car fire by her ex-husband last month.

Hannah and Rowan Baxter and their three children

Hannah Clarke with her to-be ex-husband, Rowan Baxter, and their children. Photo: Facebook

The Family Violence Death Review Committee's Fifth Report Data showed that between 2009 - 2015, half of women killed by their partner were killed after they left them.

AUT professor Denise Wilson

Denise Wilson. Photo: AUT

Auckland University of Technology Professor Denise Wilson of Tainui said leaving a violent relationship does not guarantee safety.

"Leading up to the time, and from the time of leaving, women are highly at risk of homicide," she said.

"It doesn't go away in a few weeks or a few months - in some cases it could be up to a couple of years later that somebody is killed."

The report also showed Māori women were three times more likely to be killed by a partner than non-Māori.

Wilson said Māori women had limited options and faced risks whatever way they chose to handle the situation.

Last month, South Auckland woman Karen Ruddelle was convicted of manslaughter after killing her abusive partner.

Karen Ruddelle in the Auckland High Court.

Karen Ruddelle. Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

Wilson said most women who killed their partners were the primary victims of violence, and they inflicted one - sometimes two - wounds.

But she said the courts were not sympathetic towards women, especially Māori.

"It was disappointing, I think she was cast as being irrational - it was said that she could have just left, but leaving would have meant leaving her 14-year-old son behind.

"Her partner was incredibly angry and violent, had been violent, and it is not that simple, and she acted in self defence. "

Fear of losing kids when reaching for help

Some social services are required to notify Oranga Tamariki if it comes to their attention that a child is living in a violent home.

Wilson said the fear of having their children removed from them was a major barrier to Māori women in violent relationships asking for help.

Part of her research found Māori women were judged and treated poorly when they did seek help from social services.

Nina Stirling runs a women's support group in Whanganui and said women were sometimes in impossible situations.

"The system is poor - it's very poor and it does not help at all the way the system is designed," she said.

"And as it is a western system I would not expect any less... It is of utmost importance to try a different approach, try something new."

Stirling said there was a lot of intergenerational hurt and trauma that whānau were carrying, and they needed help to identify their mamae.

She said her programme Legacy, which had ties to Destiny Church, offered a compassionate and non-judgemental space, with 24-7 support, for women who wanted to live their best lives.

Whānau needed to be more involved in each others lives and regularly check in on those at risk, she said.

Where to get help

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

It's Not OK (0800 456 450)

Shine: 0508 744 633

The National Network of Stopping Violence Services has information on specialist family violence agencies.

Victim Support: 0800 650 654

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

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