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Background to family violence indicators

Defining Family Violence

Family violence covers a broad range of controlling behaviours, commonly of a physical, sexual and/or psychological nature, which typically involve fear, intimidation and emotional deprivation. It occurs within a variety of close interpersonal relationships, such as between partners, parents and children, siblings, and in other relationships where significant others are not part of the physical household but are part of the family and/or are fulfilling the function of family1. Common forms of violence in families/whānau include:

  • violence among adult partners
  • abuse/neglect of children by an adult
  • abuse/neglect of older people aged approximately 65 years and over by a person with whom they have a relationship of trust
  • violence perpetrated by a child against their parent
  • violence among siblings2.

Gender and Family Violence

Family violence occurs between family members in families of all cultures, classes, backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances. However, in developing services, policy and interventions, it is important to remember that family violence is heavily gendered. The predominant pattern is one of male violence directed at a female partner, and there is significant co-existence of intimate partner violence and child abuse and neglect. We also know that male perpetrators are more likely to seriously injure and even kill the women and children they are violent towards3.

The reliance on high-level indicators means that there is limited information on the context, meaning, motivation, and consequences of family violence. Data from the 2006 and 2009 New Zealand Crime and Safety Surveys (NZCASS) on partner offences shows that the percentage of females who experienced offences by their partner was not much higher than for males, but females:

  • experienced a significantly higher number of partner offences than males
  • reported more serious partner offences, and were more likely to consider them as crimes and report them to the Police
  • were more likely to report fear and other emotional impacts as a result of the violence.

NZCASS also does not take into account the motivation behind the offence, such as self-defence, which is another factor that influences the meaning of the data about violence. There is no dispute that some women are violent and some men are harmed by violence. However in general, partner violence against women is much more serious in terms of severity, incidence and impact than partner violence against men. Men’s violence against women and children remains a significant social problem.

The 2011 set of family violence indicators

The set of indicators was developed for the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families in 2010. The indicators represent the first step in regular reporting back to the Taskforce to monitor the level of family violence in New Zealand. The indicators attempt to address three key questions:

i. Are the major outcomes of family violence changing: getting more or less severe?

ii. Are incidents of family violence increasing or decreasing year by year across all communities?

iii. Is there specific evidence of reduced tolerance of violence and behaviour change in families across all communities?

These three key questions can only be answered over time. In the medium term we may see an increase in some measures as greater knowledge and intolerance of violence leads to more openness and reporting. We cannot currently disaggregate all the data for different age or ethnic groups, and some data can only be tracked every three years or so. But over time we will deepen and extend the data, and taken all together, the indicators will tell an important story about family violence in New Zealand and what progress is being made.

Each set of data provides a snapshot of family violence on its own. However when looked at together the data can start to tell us a story about family violence. By identifying measures of interest now and collecting them over time, we will be able to see trends in reported family violence.

Key messages from the 2011 Family Violence Indicators

1. Overall there is no sign yet of a reduction in prevalence of family violence. The trend over the last few years has shown increased recorded family violence offences, increased prosecutions, and increased convictions for family violence. This is likely to be due to the growing community awareness of family violence and decreased community tolerance. Changes in Police recording practices, together with greater awareness within Police of family violence, could also explain a large portion of this increase.

2. The latest Police data indicates the rate of family violence offences has plateaued and this is a distinct and sustained change.

3. Raised awareness and decreased tolerance has increased help-seeking by perpetrators, victims and witnesses of family violence.

4. The first set of indicators has been a valuable exercise in identifying current data and gaps. There is an intention to continuously improve upon this first version of the indicators, and the Taskforce agencies will continue to work to review the data so as to provide the most accurate picture of family violence possible.

Gaps and limitations to the current set of indicators

The information in the set of indicators reflects the considerable effort that has been made to collect data relating to family violence in New Zealand. Significant investment has been made by official agencies in both research and record-keeping. This means that by international standards, our knowledge base generally compares well with those of other countries.

However, there are gaps and limitations to the data that is currently available. These gaps and limitations affect our ability to tell a story about the big picture of violence that occurs within families. Our view of different aspects of family violence is highly variable, partial and fragmented.

Family violence covers a broad range of violence and currently the indicators measure different components of family violence: for example, one indicator looks at child abuse while others focus on intimate partner violence. Currently there are also different definitions and terms in use among agencies. The differing use of terms often causes confusion and can lead to seemingly conflicting findings on the extent and nature of violence experienced within the family.

Statistics provided by New Zealand Police, the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Justice only include reported incidences of family violence. Incidences reported to agencies are a very small percentage of all family violence incidences. Findings from the 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey suggest only 21 per cent4 of victims of partner offences reported to Police, and only 61 per cent5 of those victims told someone other than Police about the incident.

Reasons why victims did not report partner offences were that the matter was considered private or too trivial, or that reporting would cause embarrassment. Besides Police, victims were most likely to talk to friends or neighbours, immediate family, and support agencies. Only a quarter of victims of interpersonal violence used any support agency. Therefore government administrative data does not cover violence experienced by the wider population.

Many of the data series contain insufficient detail to permit disaggregation by sub-groups of particular interest including: male/female, refugee and migrant groups, Māori and Pacific peoples, people with disabilities, and the gay, lesbian and transgender communities.

Administrative data is designed to fulfil business functions. This means there is a need to collect specific data that can be used to monitor behaviour change and to inform policy around appropriate interventions in violence within families.

Different data series use different definitions and are collected in different ways, which means that the interpretation of trends is difficult. Different series may show disparate trends and there may be various dynamics underlying each series; this is exacerbated by changes over time in reporting practices.

Where to next?

The development of the set of indicators has helped to identify gaps in information, and the Taskforce is working on ways of improving current data and also looking at ways in which new data can be collected to produce a better picture over time of the trends and prevalence of family violence in New Zealand.

The current set of indicators is a starting point. It has pulled together the information we already have that can tell us how we are doing in our efforts to reduce the prevalence and impact of family violence. This has also highlighted areas for data development, including better recording, analysis, and new indicators.

With each iteration of the indicators we aim to move closer to having a more cohesive picture. This work has given us the opportunity to begin to gather this information and to move toward building a picture of family violence in New Zealand.


1 This definition is consistent with the Government Statement of Policy on Family Violence 1996 and the definition of ‘violence’ in the Family Violence Act 2018.

2 Te Rito New Zealand Family Violence Strategy, 2002, Ministry of Social Development.

3 Taskforce for Action on Violence in Families First Report, 2006, Ministry of Social Development.

4 In 2009 this rose to 25 per cent

5 There is no comparable figure from the 2009 NZCASS

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The following documents are available for download:

Background to family violence indicators

May 2011

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