Family violence victims given ‘new voice’ by survivor-founded NGO

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By Anna Leask NZ Herald

A survivor of family violence has set up a new initiative to help victims, saying there is an “overwhelming disarray” in New Zealand’s current response system to violence against women.

The Backbone Collective is an independent body aiming to take action against domestic and sexual violence towards women.

The collective was formed by a national coalition of survivors of violence, led by Ruth Herbert.

“I can’t change the system alone – I can’t even change it working with a small group of other committed women – we can only change the system if we join our voices together to make one very loud chorus,” she said.

“By working together we can turn things around for our daughters and granddaughters.”


Hebert previously worked as the director of family violence at the Ministry of Social Development and was the executive director of the Glenn Inquiry – an independent inquiry that provided a detailed outline of initiatives and reforms required to develop an integrated system for family violence in New Zealand.

“I have spoken out for a long time about how the response system needs to listen to the voices of survivors of Violence Against Women if it wants to make a difference.

“I am a survivor of domestic and sexual violence and I receive regular contact from other survivors who have trusted me with their stories and experience of the system – and in particular their struggles with the system.

“I remain passionate about ensuring women’s voices are heard… The time is right for The Backbone Collective.”

The Backbone Collective was formed by a national coalition of survivors of violence, led by Ruth Herbert. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Backbone Collective was formed by a national coalition of survivors of violence, led by Ruth Herbert. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Further, she said the Family Court was failing to keep women safe, and they were returning to violent partners as it was easier than “battling” the “too-hard” legal system and trying to hold their abusers accountable.

Herbert said Backbone would focus on examining the present response system through the eyes of its users – women who have experienced violence and abuse.

It would also act as a watchdog of the Government, the legal system and all agencies working within the response system by tracking actual progress against government work programmes and recommendations from other major reports.

“We want to make sure that the system that is supposed to protect women and their children is more consistent and powerful than the abuser,” she said.

“No one else is asking women how to achieve this goal.

“Women are the expert users of New Zealand’s response system – this is why we use their feedback as evidence for change.

“Women who have experienced violence and abuse are central to improving the system. We want to hear from women who have experienced violence or abuse.”

Herbert said the current system had “huge cracks” but feedback from women could make “all the difference”.

“You can’t fix what you don’t measure. We need to monitor and measure the system to see where it is going wrong,” she said.


Herbert said a “wrap around” approach was needed to curb New Zealand’s rate of intimate partner violence which is the worst in the developed world.

“An integrated system would wrap around women and their children, keep them safe and help them rebuild their lives,” she explained.

“Each part of the system would ‘talk to the others’ and share information about how to best support a woman and her family.

“Processes that women go through after reporting violence can include communicating with the police, GPs, safe houses and family courts as well as countless NGOs and Government departments.

“Women need to know that when they reach out for help the system will be there to help them (but) instead women tell us they are finding a system that doesn’t understand their experience, that minimises the violence and abuse and that fails to protect them and their children.”

Visit The Backbone Collective for more information.

If you’re in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don’t stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it’s not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 – 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day – 0508 744
• It’s Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice:
• National Network of Stopping Violence:
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men’s violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

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