The New Zealand Police annual report states that an act of family violence is reported every four minutes. Police were called out to 155,000 family harm incidents this past year but predict the number will hit 209,000 calls – one every two and a half minutes – by 2025.

On Wednesday, Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence Marama

Davidson approved five funding grants to support national-level family violence and sexual violence prevention initiatives for LGBTQIA+ people, disabled people, older people, and new migrant communities.

This announcement comes ahead of the launch of the first ever National Strategy for eliminating family violence and sexual violence, which will incorporate insights from public engagement across New Zealand in May-June 2021.

The public engagement included working with diverse communities, building on the initial work undertaken with the communities so far.

During the announcement, Marama Davidson said, “Community-based initiatives are proven to help prevent family violence and sexual violence. A total of $1.578 million will go towards developing resources, raising awareness, and expanding local programmes for people with different needs and experiences of violence in their communities.”

She added that action against violence cannot just be reactive, rather developing prevention and healing components to stop violence from happening in the first place is essential.

Family harm counsellors and public health professionals like Vishal Rishi, Director of the Asian Network, share similar sentiments to Minister. As a someone who works at the grassroots level, Rishi has witnessed the disconnect between national campaigns like White Ribbon, commemorated on November 25 every year, that targets the local New Zealanders but fails to resonate with migrant community.

The reason for this, he believes, is because national campaigns focus more on jargons, while the problem with the migrant community lies in the fact that people refuse to accept or even understand the concept and definitions of family violence. This, Rishi believes, is one of the biggest issues within the migrant community.

As a lead up to White Ribbon Day, Indian Weekender caught up with Rishi, a White Ribbon Ambassador, to talk about the Indian community’s refusal to accept or understand the issues of family harm, the problem with accepting status quo, and how words matter when it comes to family violence.

‘The numbers that are reported in the police system are just the tip of the iceberg.’

Rishi says, “There are many incidents which are not even reported to the Police or people do not even seek help.

“People have started to say they are stressed or depressed, but for some of us, we don't really know the meaning of stress and depression and what those who suffer from it have gone through in their lives.

“The same thing applies to the definition of family violence; it does not resonate with the community. Hitting someone is the only sort of domestic violence definition that most in the Indian or migrant people are aware of, but it is so much more than that. And that is the biggest issue.

“We need to get people talking about these issues. Because unless you understand the root causes and where it originates from, we won’t be able to stop it. Hitting someone is an outcome of a lot of preventative things we could have done in the past.”

‘We can't blame our behaviour on culture or saying that this is the norm in our culture or emulate what we have grown up seeing in our homes.’

Talking about status quo behaviour, Rishi says, “A very simple example of this is that in most homes, male members are served first, and then they sit, and the women keep feeding them. It’s a very cultural thing, very simple, very normal. Women will pick up the utensils after they are finished from the table and put them in the dishwasher or wash them – again, a very simple thing. It happens in every home, right?

“But the impressions this creates on the young minds that are watching, on the young boy or girl in the family, is that ‘Dad and I will sit while my mum and sister will serve.’ This is what registers in the young people minds, that this is my work and that is their work, which is not right. 

“In some homes, yelling and shouting is very normal. And that’s because they don't know the impact it would have, on their families or young ones, or on relationships in the future.  And that’s why we see after 25 or 30 years, people have separated because women have had enough! They are broken, but the issue is by the time she breaks away, sometimes it's too late.

“That's why I believe we need to start talking within our communities about accepting yes, that such a thing exists and that it is wrong.”

‘We stopped using the terms like family violence or domestic violence at our workshops because whenever we did, men would not come to the workshops.’

Rishi adds, “We changed our terminology from family violence to family harmony in 2011.

Harmony mean love, love mean family love, people would then openly relate to it. When we used words like family violence or domestic violence, they didn’t see themselves in that bracket – even though they are, they are just not aware of it, or willing to accept it.

So, when we changed the terminology, more people started to come in, we started to squeeze some of the components and definitions of family violence into the delivery of the workshops.

In our ethnic communities, we use the term family harm. Family harm is not necessarily domestic violence, but any harm that might befall the family. So, when the community started to see the words family and harm together, they started to get inquisitive to know what harm consisted of – that’s when we explained that harm could be related to family violence, domestic violence, gambling, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and range of issues.

So, we don’t talk about it directly, because rather we embed these principles or definition in our health seminars, health workshops and well-being delivery.”

‘Covid has in a way been a blessing in disguise where we’ve started talking about community issues, which is a good start.’

Highlighting the positives of a rather dark issue, Rishi concludes, “There’s still a lot more work that’s needed with faith-based institutions and grassroots organisations but these last two years of Covid, has enabled our community leaders to think differently about social issues. Prior to this, no one was even interested in these things because everyone was settling down, settling in into the new country. Now, they are thinking socially, which is great.”