It’s been one year since a nationwide strategy to eliminate family and sexual violence was launched, Emma Hatton talks to Marama Davidson about whether it’s working and what’s next for Te Aorerekura 

Exactly how a bold strategy to eliminate domestic violence will prove itself to the public has yet to be worked out, but the minister in charge is confident the results will be measurable. 

Te Aorerekura, Aotearoa’s first ever national strategy for the elimination of family violence and sexual violence, marked its first anniversary at the end of 2022.

It sets out a framework to drive government action in a unified way, while at the same time bringing the public and community groups, and what they have to offer along. 

Marama Davidson, in charge of the strategy as the inaugural minister for the prevention of family and sexual violence, told Newsroom an interim report from the Productivity Commission on breaking the cycle of disadvantage sent “a really clear message that government systems – social systems in particular – have not been accountable to the right things”.

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“They’ve been accountable to budget sheets and to narrow legislation, which is why we haven’t been accountable to the harm that we have been causing people…we need to be accountable to people impacted by violence, and that is both victim survivors and people who perpetrate harm, and that means we’ve got to measure and ask the right questions. We’ve got a whole new different measurement framework that we have to create.” 

One of the strategy’s first pieces of work has been setting up workforce frameworks. These provide information on what actually is family violence, as well as providing knowledge to guide and support people and organisations to respond to family violence in safe and effective ways.

“The workforce tools lift our understanding across all of our workforces… So we have a minimum level of understanding of dynamics of violence, and that’s all about reducing and eliminating the harm from the system that people experience when when they ask for help. So that’s huge,” Davidson said.

Assessing and getting lived experience from people who had been through the system would be the new way of measuring whether the changes were helping, she said.  

“We really need to be asking how have your whānau been feeling about the service that you’ve received, how are you coping in life, every time you go to school or go to the doctor. 

“This is a whole different way of working, this is revolutionary, and it needs to happen across the system… kaupapa Māori researchers have been doing this for a long time and we are now putting the framework behind that.” 

“The systems are so clunky, and so deeply embedded over generations, that unwinding that is where the hard work is.”
– Marama Davidson

Agency buy-in for the strategy has been broad, with Davidson admitting the hard work wasn’t in convincing organisations something needed to change, but in actually making that change possible within decades-old systems.

“There’s genuine common agreement and shared collective vision about where we’re trying to go and how we do it. The systems are so clunky, and so deeply embedded over generations, that unwinding that is where the hard work is.

“You can have your ministers, CEOs, operational managers…your whole workforce all wanting to change how we do things, but my goodness, have we been working in such a rigid system for so long.” 

Part of Te Aorerekura was giving those workplaces the green light to start moving away from established ways of dealing with family and sexual violence and moving towards trauma-informed and preventative approaches. 

“There are examples everywhere [of this happening already] and we need broader public understanding of how important that is. We’re operating in a current unhelpful political environment and narrative of quick, urgent, punitive, toxic solutions that do not help. and we need the long-term enduring help to make intergenerational change,” Davidson said.

She mentioned schools as one environment when “blunt tools” like suspensions and expulsions had taken precedence over a trauma-informed approach which could better resolve underlying problems.

“When workplaces and agencies feel that they’ve got not just the permission, but an expectation, to practice from a violence-informed place, they also feel better about how they can do the work… they feel empowered.” 

“That’s the biggest thing on my head and shoulders is that we need broad public mandate and a deeper understanding of what healing is – and that’s really challenging in this current narrative.”
– Marama Davidson

Davidson said there was huge momentum from the strategy’s first year in operation which would carry through into 2023. 

“It’s year one of a 25-year strategy and the biggest point for me is I’m hearing about the momentum from the community from violence prevention experts in the sector, from agencies, and particularly our workforce agencies on the ground.  

“From following people and families there is a sense of, OK, we’ve got something solid starting here and that momentum has been building up over the past year.” 

Despite the momentum, and having the first year under her belt, Davidson is worried about the rhetoric on violence in the lead-up to the general election.  

“That’s the biggest thing on my head and shoulders is that we need broad public mandate and a deeper understanding of what healing is – and that’s really challenging in this current narrative.  

“My role and responsibility is to get the examples out of what works, and get out and herald and champion the community leadership that has required the healing approaches that are needed. My role is to get those stories out and get those examples out.” 

She gave the example of a community organisation on the East Coast who helped someone caught driving without a licence.  

“The one that I saw was such a minor breach, it was ridiculous that there would ever be any thought of that person entering into the justice system. 

“A trauma-informed approach would say ‘Well, they didn’t have the driver’s license so they haven’t been served in education. They don’t have the literacy capabilities that they needed and they don’t have the income that they needed’. 

“This person was trying to get their children to school so let’s not penalise that, but let’s see how we can support that person to be in a better position. That’s the approach.” 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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