What is family harm?

There is a lot of discussion recently, in lockdown, around police attending more family harm incidents, and a lot of people don’t seem to know what this really is, so I thought I’d give it a crack. Because domestic violence is PART of family harm, as the police see it, but it is not what that term means.

Family harm, simply put, is any incident in someone’s home where “family” is involved. It’s become a convenient catch all/category for the police to pop incidents in.

So when people read the alarming family violence stats – as pertains to police responding to these incidents and attending them – what they’re reading is  actually very different to what they’re IMAGINING they’re reading about. The official approach looks like this.

Initially this family harm definition and the responses to it were around domestic violence. A renaming of it, a reimagining of it. That domestic violence occurs in families. Which it does. A holistic approach, if you like.

BUT.  Naming all of it family harm – including intimate partner violence –  has, in my opinion, corrupted an already false narrative, and watered it all down.

Because when police are called to a family harm incident they could be attending simply an argument amongst family members OR acute and harmful physical violence. Both of those things are now termed as family harm.

What’s the big deal, you may ask?

Well.

  1.  It significantly raises the stats, because every time someone rings about their family member being a pain in the arse, that’s categorised as family harm. They could be, as I said, going to a verbal family argument or to a scene where someone is in imminent danger of being physically hurt, if they haven’t been already. So the picture looks more alarming than it is, or at least  feeds into our already false narratives around domestic violence. Narratives that are racist, and classist, in the first place. Because Karen and Kevin in Fendalton are NOT reporting family harm. Not because it’s not happening, because it is in much larger numbers than anywhere else in the country, but because it’s this big hidden fucking iceberg and nobody wants to touch it for fear of the whole bloody ship going down.
  2. It allows police to draw conclusions that aren’t necessarily accurate, and colours their view of the people they’re seeing. When’s the last time you heard the police coming to an incident in Remuera, or Fendalton or Khandallah? Those homes and their neighbours  are NOT reporting family violence of ANY sort, or at least very very rarely, and so the figures get even more skewed. Police now approach family violence in a holistic manner – they are supposedly trained to go in with “eyes wide open”. But of course everyone has their own lens and I’m not convinced the police lens isn’t murky as fuck with racism.
  3. The funding. A lot of funding has gone into measures that are supposed to prevent domestic violence. On a micro scale, there are relatively small individual successes, but in my opinion, the move to categorisng all home based incidents as family harm does not add value to prevention. It instead just sets the false narratives more firmly. Imagine turning up to someone’s home and he/she/they has been yelling at their partner. She/he/they has called because they’re sick of it. They’re locked in their bedroom with the kids and waiting for him/her/them to depart but they haven’t, which is why the police have been called. The police are supposed to look around, assess for risk, and make an on the spot decision as to what’s actually going on. They don’t know the history, except for POLs (police reports), and it may be their 5th call to this home. They have to cover their own arses, and so they then do a ROC to OT. (Report of concern to Oranga Tamariki). And they escort the abuser (whatever that abuse may look like) from the premises. Or take him away. Whichever they decide.  And round the hamster wheel we go. If you haven’t figured it out by now, what we’re actually funding is NOT prevention, but instead the “family harm industry”. And it is an industry. Funding requires boxes to be checked, reports to be filed, and dumping DV in with family harm just paints really ugly, and erroneous, pictures about what would actually HELP. (And it’s not more reports).

I would just point out that I am not criticising the police here. They are doing their job. They are directed by their superiors, and by the government who are actually funding and looking at programmes that are supposed to help, and they are doing that with the help of research and feedback from stakeholders who are invited to that particular table. The difficulty for me is this: who IS NOT at the table? I’ll tell you who is. People who are funded by MSD, and buy into the narrative because if you don’t buy into the narrative, you don’t get the funding. Yes. Exactly.

Anyway, I digress.

If we really want to prevent FAMILY harm, then there are measures we could put in place that would do that. But they’re only ever going to work in the communities who call the police more, and to whose houses the police attend most. And that’s half arsed but it’s something. Preventing family harm in communities who are under resourced is really simple, actually. Just resource people better. A living wage, improved and safe housing, and equitable access to ALL resources.  Because who the police are getting called to is under resourced communities.

That looks very different to what would prevent intimate partner violence. That looks like: relationship with both parties, equitable court processes, and the way we bring up our cis boys (because this is very much a gendered issue). There are many other things we can do certainly, and some of us are doing them.

But only in under resourced communities.

 

But you see my problem here?

Family harm funding is well intentioned, but ultimately racist and wrong headed. It is not helping anyone except by giving someone a break if the police take the shitty person in the equation away. To lump IPV in with family violence is just absolutely negligent and not, again, helpful. The government thinks that they are leading with a holistic approach – it is, instead, catch all and catch none. And in my opinion, it’s time for different voices at the table.

Māori women. Ask them. They know.

 

 

 

 

 

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