Hidden harm

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It’s a form of violence so extreme, a new offence had to be created to stamp it out – but despite weekly reports of strangulations, only a few Queenstowners have been held to account.

Central Lakes Family Services (formerly Jigsaw) assistant manager Fiona Young says strangulation is a “really common disclosure”.

They generally hear reports of it every week, she says.

“We’re still hearing it, we’re still having clients disclose it, we’re seeing it in the referrals from police where clients have disclosed it.

“It’s certainly a common thing that victims have experienced. Sometimes it’s historic, sometimes it’s recent.”

A new offence of strangulation came into effect last December, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Since then, just four prosecutions have been taken against offenders under the new strangulation offence in the Queenstown area.

Of the four, two were in December, one was in January, and one was in June.

Nationally, 876 prosecutions were initiated between December 2018 and June this year.

Mountain Scene tried to find out how many people had been convicted locally, but an Official Information Act request was declined by the Ministry of Justice.

It said releasing the information could identify individuals, because the numbers were so low.

Young says the low number of prosecutions making it to court is “disappointing”.

“I would like to see it utilised more, and obviously it’s a really good charge that they’ve brought in.

“We would expect to be seeing those charges become more utilised as time goes on, and obviously everyone gets used to the parameters of the charges.”

Young describes strangulation as “a different kettle of fish”.

“There’s more of an element of intent, and intention to harm someone.”

Police say a big part of the problem is people not being willing to make formal complaints.

Queenstown copper sergeant Blair Duffy says they’re reliant on people coming forward.

“Often they don’t want to lodge a formal complaint or go through the court process.

“It’s certainly accepted by Queenstown police that Central Lakes Family Services will deal with a higher number of family violence victims.”

About 76 per cent of family violence goes unreported, he says. In some situations, victims wanted to hold their partner accountable, but didn’t want to disclose the full extent of the violence.

Young agrees.

“Sometimes there may be a level of fear from the client.

“Often when the violence is that extreme, often clients aren’t actually willing to make statements about it.

“They might report it, but when it comes to the reality of forcing that through by actually doing an interview, they pull out.”

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz