June 4, 2023

‘Frightening’: Family violence support service receives reports from whānau ‘we’ve never heard of before’

Family VIP Service's Julie Hart told AM before Cyclone Gabrielle struck "life was pretty calm" but tensions can suddenly rise.

A family violence support service says the spike in family harm incidents in flood-affected areas is “frightening” with many reports from whānau they’ve never heard from before. 

It comes are Police Commissioner Andrew Coster revealed on Monday reports of family harm incidents have increased by around 60 percent since Cyclone Gabrielle. 

Family VIP Services, which assist family violence victims, say most of the spike is deemed “lower risk”, such as verbal disputes that are possibly triggered by stress and trauma. 

But Family VIP Services women’s refuge business manager Julie Hart told AM many of the reports are from families they’ve never heard of before. 

“We don’t have a history of there being offending in those homes.”

Hart told AM tensions can suddenly rise, especially during a natural disaster, and “that can be frightening in itself”, especially if “life was pretty calm for you”.

She said her team haven’t been able to provide their full services because of cut power and no cellphone service. 

“I had the phone with me all week last week, nobody could phone our crisis line. The calls couldn’t come through.”

Hart fears with some communities still without power or cellphone service, “there are probably many whānau out there who have not had the support that they perhaps tried to reach out for”.

Similar scenes were seen in 2020 when Aotearoa was thrown into lockdown. Hart said the phones stopped ringing during that period, but as soon as it ended the phones began to ring and safe homes were full.  

“The day people came out of lockdown – we went from having empty houses to having all three houses across Hawke’s Bay full.”

The Women’s Refuge’s three Hawke’s Bay safe homes were mostly unaffected by Cyclone Gabrielle, but Hart has other concerns as the region battles a water supply crisis. 

“If one of our facilities takes 12 whānau, what do we do about sanitation and things like that, should the water actually go offline?”

And Hart is working desperately to source portable toilets too so victims of family violence can continue to use the facilities no matter the situation. 

She said the homes are without butane cookers and other essential supplies needed if the power is cut again. 

“We still desperately have our name on lists all over town when supplies come in, because you never know if the power goes out again.”

Watch the full interview above. 

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