8 Apr 2021

Study shows poverty accounts for more Māori being victims of crime

7:29 am on 8 April 2021

Poverty continues to be the major reason why Māori are the victims of crime more often than non-Māori, a new study has confirmed.

Police car on the street at night

Photo: 123RF

The Ministry of Justice study has found Māori continue to experience 38 per cent of crime, compared to 30 per cent for the general population.

"One of the unfortunate things that we find from this result is that nothing's really changed over the last 15 years. Māori have consistently been overrepresented as victims of crime, pretty much by about the same amount as what this survey shows," the Ministry of Justice deputy secretary, sector, Tim Hampton said.

It also found that being young meant Māori were more likely to be a victim of crime, which Hampton said was because the Māori population were on average younger than the general population.

"We can't do anything explicitly about that but it does highlight the importance of supporting our rangatahi and young adults because they are more likely to be the victims of crime".

Criminologist Tracey McIntosh said Māori often feel uncomfortable in their own community from a young age.

"When they walk into the dairy they realise they're not wanted there, that when they go into a bank they're not wanted there, and this may be right through into social services, and just what that's like to feel that all the time.

"People who told me this said that they've felt this way since they were very young, since they were five years old, where they recognise that there were very few places in their own community where they were welcome".

New findings from the Ministry of Justice which looked at Victims of Crime surveys from 2018 and 2019 support this.

It found 12 percent of violence committed against Māori was by someone from their own whānau or in the community, that compares to the national average of 7 percent.

Living in state housing and being unemployed also makes it more likely Māori will be attacked.

Poverty also increase the chances their homes would be burgled - in the most deprived areas, burglars strike 39 Māori homes in every 100, which is 13 more than the average.

Hampton said it was clear what the problems were.

"They are the same sorts of things that we need to be addressing to close the gaps around Māori health outcomes and Māori education outcomes so the majority of it comes back to those same old issues of trying to lift the overall well-being of Māori".

While the findings didn't come as a shock to JustSpeak director Tania Mead, she said it had never been more clear what the government needed to do.

"The best way for us to reduce people's experience of harm and support healthy communities is to dismantle institutional racism and social and economic inequality and this is just further evidence on the existing enormous piles of evidence that urgent change is needed for the government to tackle those drivers of social harm and inequality".

An unexpected finding was that Māori living in the South Island experience interpersonal violence at much higher rates than in other areas.

Figures show 16 percent of Māori in the South Island experience interpersonal violence compared to the average for Māori of 12 percent.

Hampton said they didn't know why this was.

A small number of people (5 percent) were the victims of the majority (81 percent) of all violent interpersonal offences inflicted on tangata whenua.

McIntosh said healing those communities where harm was most concentrated won't be easy.

"It can be very messy work to do but I think this is one where you have to draw on the expertise that sits within communities.

"If there are jobs that are scarce, if there's access to education that's scarce, if there's all of those elements but there's an abundance of other things of what we call social hazards in terms of alcohol and drugs, how do you change that balance around?"

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National party justice spokesperson Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

National party justice spokesperson Simon Bridges said it was clear not enough was being done by the government.

"The rhetoric is at one level but actually the outcomes and the actions just aren't there, and I think New Zealanders will be concerned by that".

In a statement Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said work was underway to fix the problems by reducing child poverty and sexual violence.

A $30 million pilot programme based in the Waikato and Christchurch to help families suffering from violence has had some success.

Māori impacted by violence living in these areas saw an 18 per cent reduction in re-victimisation, compared to other areas.

Overall, there was a 48 per cent reduction in children witnessing or being exposed to family violence.

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