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Govt's announcement not meaningful without survivor participation - Backbone Collective

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Government has this afternoon announced the establishment of a new joint venture business unit to lead prevention and reduction in family violence and sexual violence.

The Backbone Collective is adamant that if the new business unit is to succeed in its aim it must involve survivors from the outset in the design, development and implementation of the national strategy and action plan.

Deborah Mackenzie, Backbone Co Founder explains,

"The Government suggests that the needs and priorities of victims and perpetrators, along with their families, will sit at the heart of all decisions and services. It doesn’t feel like survivors/victims are at the heart of all decisions when the Government has already announced a joined-up approach to achieving an agreed set of outcomes which survivors are not part of. It feels like victim/survivors are the last ones invited to the party yet again and yet everyone at the party will be talking about what is best for them. It makes no sense."

As Under-secretary Logie acknowledges victims/survivors have been reporting failures in the current system. These failures have been happening for many years and it will take a concerted and unflinching commitment from Government over many years to come to build a safe and effective system.

Backbone is an independent unfunded organization, set up just over 18 months ago to give women who have experienced violence and abuse a safe way to say how the system responded to them.

Deborah explains "We believe that the people who use the system know best how the system works and can be improved. In the last 18 months we have heard from hundreds of women and children escaping violence that the system response they receive often makes things worse not better. Countless women have told us that had they known what they know now, they would never have left their abuser because the system, particularly the Family Court, has become their new abuser."

Deborah adds "Women have told us that there is no safe forum other than Backbone to have their voices heard. There is nowhere for victims to safely complain to when things go wrong. There is no single entity responsible for independently monitoring the quality and performance of the system to ensure the system continually improves and delivers on its objectives. Women don’t feel they are being listened to - they don’t yet feel they are at the centre - they don’t feel their voices are being heard at all."

Deborah continues "We suspect our members will view this as simply the first step in a long process. We are sure they will now wait in anticipation to hear how their voices, their experiences, their insights and ideas will be gathered and used to inform further developments - now and into the future. Then and only then will the system become truly accountable to those who use it."

The Backbone Collective is pleased to see the new national focus on collective responsibility and a new focus on developing a system that works for those affected by violence and abuse. This is a positive and encouraging first step - but it is only a first step.

The whole system is only as strong as its weakest link. The challenge for this new Joint Venture business unit will be to ensure that all links (large and small) in the chain of system response are strong, safe and effective and that those affected by violence and abuse trust the system to have equitable access and equitable outcomes.

Backbone believes that all parts of the system response - including Oranga Tamariki, Police, the Family Court - must start to see themselves as collectively responsible for ensuring the safety and long-term recovery of victims/survivors and at the same time share the responsibility for holding the abusers to account. For example, if one psychologist writing a report for one Family Court judge fails to do this, then the whole system response for that family or whanau fails.

Deborah Mackenzie concludes "Survivors of violence and abuse know exactly what is wrong with the current system response, they are the experts. If the Government wants to know how to build a joined up response they need to talk to survivors before any money or time is invested in this initiative. Survivors know where the weakest links and breaks in the chain are. They live the failure daily."

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