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'Family violence victims and their pets brace for Christmas spike'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Victims of family harm are bracing for a spike in violence over the Christmas period - and with it a rise in animal abuse. Police say they’re attending significantly more incidents of family violence already this year due to the impact of Covid-19, and they are worried about what the holiday season will bring.

Auckland Police say family harm is up 18.3% in the last 12 months, with officers attending 47,604 episodes, up from 40,244. They often see a spike from Boxing Day, with victims waiting until Christmas is over to call for help.

"For many families, Christmas is not a happy or festive time of year. The financial stress of Christmas can have a major impact on people’s wellbeing," Detective Inspector Kelly Farrant from Waitematā’s Whāngaia Nga Pa Harakeke says.

"Additional family visiting, children and others home from school or work, increased alcohol consumption and spending, potentially overlaid by any impacts or concerns around COVID and it’s possible we will see an even greater increase as we look towards 2021. And it’s not just people affected - pets can bear the brunt of violence too."

In Canterbury police are already in their busy season, responding to around 40 incidents of family harm a day. They have recently seen a spate of cases involving animal abuse.

"There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t see pets used as manipulation or a control - "If you leave I’m going to hurt the pet"- or a pet actually being injured in an episode of family harm," says Leanne McSkimming, Director the Integrated Safety Response to Family Violence. "It’s a significant barrier to victims leaving because they don’t want to leave their pet, for fear that that pet will be killed."

It’s why New Zealand’s first shelter for pets affected by family violence is preparing to open its doors. Pet Refuge will care for animals while their owners escape abuse. Pets will be transported from around the country to the shelter, which is being built on the outskirts of Auckland.

"Pet Refuge will be a temporary safe haven for pets while their owners find a violence-free home," founder Julie Chapman says. "We know that right now victims are staying in dangerous relationships because they can’t take their pets with them to a safe house, and they fear they will be harmed if they leave them behind. Our shelter will care for their pets until they can be reunited."

The charity is today launching a Christmas appeal to fund running costs, so that when the shelter build is finished it can open its doors immediately. It needs to raise $200,000 for food, bedding and blankets, toys and exercise equipment, medication, transport, and paying vets, expert animal carers, case workers and support staff.

"More than 100 victims have reached out to us for help already, at a really scary time for them, so we can’t open our doors soon enough - but we need the public to help us do that," Chapman says. "No one should have to lead a life of abuse."

Pet Refuge is modelled on the RSPCA New South Wales’ successful domestic violence programme, which is also preparing for an increase in referrals over the festive season. Last December to January the Sydney shelter saw a 35% increase in requests for help, with many pets arriving traumatised.

"Animals are often the forgotten victims in a family violence situation but are also some of the most helpless. They see, hear and feel everything that goes on around them and can often also become the target of the abuse themselves," the RSPCA NSW’s Community Programs Senior Manager Sandra Ma says.

To donate visit or call 09 975 0850.

Victims needing help now should call Women’s Refuge: 0800 Refuge or 0800 733 843

For men who feel they’re going to harm a loved one call 0800 HEY BRO or 0800 439 276

Police are urging the public to contact them if they think someone is at risk

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