Family Violence and Sexual Violence Package, Wellbeing Budget 2019.

Professor Jan Jordan, Institute of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington, reflects on how the 2019 budget gives ‘hope’ that we are moving towards ‘a more gender equal society in which safety and respect for all is paramount’.

To introduce a budget based around well-being is a bold initiative that, even before its formal adoption, is attracting international attention. The New York Times referred to the Wellbeing Budget as “as a beacon in increasingly populist times”, while on the other side of the Atlantic, London School of Economics Professor Richard Layard called it a “game-changing event.” Other countries may be starting to question the dominance of crude economic measures as indicators of success and satisfaction but, as Dr Layard stated, there has been “no other major country that has so explicitly adopted well-being as its objective.”

One significant area announced early by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jan Logie was to allocate $320.9 million over four years for sexual violence and family violence sectors. This is by far the largest amount ever set aside for these sectors and sends a powerful message that directly confronts the woefully inadequate funding of this sector historically. When rape is the second most serious crime on our statute books, should the NGOs supporting its victims be reliant on cupcake sales and street collections to keep going?  

The funding will be spread across five broad initiatives: increased investment in prevention; promoting safe, consistent and effective responses to family violence in every community; growing essential specialist sexual violence services; improving the justice response to sexual violence victims; and a joint venture business unit to develop collective strategies for the elimination of family and sexual violence. I will be able to address here only a few aspects of this comprehensive funding package.

The area of largest projected expenditure is in growing specialist sexual violence services ($79 million).  Recognising the importance of providing full and sustainable funding for all victims of sexual abuse and violence has been long overdue. Any adult victim reporting an incident of sexual violence is reliant on professional and appropriate support from three key sectors  - Police, medical examiners, and specialist support agencies. It is shameful that until now only two of these vital services have received anything near adequate funding, so this initiative is to be applauded alongside the incredulity regarding how long these agencies have had to struggle to survive.

In the prevention area, a priority will be programmes for young people promoting safe and healthy relationships. This is an area of key importance given the urgency of challenging the current normalisation of intimate partner violence, of which rape is a common component.  I would argue that teaching young people critical pornography literacy should be an essential part of the content, given the current role pornography is playing as a default sex education programme.

Also identified as a funding area are programmes to help men at risk of using violence to change their behaviours.  An emphasis on early intervention is important, and a necessary complement to treatment services for those who have already offended.  A defining feature within many of these behaviours that will hopefully be addressed is challenging the dominant form of masculinity still lauded by many in this country, a tough controlling expression of superiority and entitlement that justifies the use of all forms of violence.  Embracing true gender equality must involve not only the elimination of violence against women but the end also of harmful and destructive stereotypes of what it is to be a man.

Specific funding has been allocated to develop specialist sexual violence kaupapa Māori services, which will hopefully rectify a major lack in this area. A further arena of pressing concern that will receive funding involves changes to the current criminal justice system for victims of sexual violence, a system widely recognised as a traumatic spectacle that routinely delivers anything but justice.

There will be many balancing acts to achieve in determining how best to allocate the money to specific agencies and services.  The currently high waiting lists for counselling, family/whanau support and refuges may require an immediate injection of funds to prevent on-going trauma and violence while newer initiatives are developed and rolled out.  It will be essential also to ensure that earlier lessons learned regarding the necessity of specialist knowledge and interventions are sustained in ways that recognise the expertise developed over many years by existing NGOs and ensure their on-going viability in what could become a funding lolly scramble.

Overall the emphases and priorities reflected in the Family Violence and Sexual Violence package demonstrate the strongest commitment ever seen to tackling the urgent crisis of violence in this country, particularly against women. It imparts the hope that using a more humane and rights-based framework of analysis will enable us to move beyond the previous government’s preoccupation with the well-being of the rich towards a more gender-equal society in which safety and respect for all is paramount.