This story was originally published on Stuff
The deaths of four women in a fortnight have advocates fearing a further escalation in family and gender violence as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on.
Police have laid murder charges in each of the deaths. All the alleged perpetrators are men. Each has his name suppressed by the courts.
The incidents include a 16-year-old found in Manurewa on September 11; 27-year-old Lena Zhang Harrap who was allegedly sexually violated and killed in Mt Albert on September 23; Michelle Kaipara, 49, who died on September 25; and a 55-year-old Hamilton woman who died after being assaulted in Hamilton on September 22.
“It’s a wake-up call to us because we thought we were doing OK and then this happened,” said Women's Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo.
“I’m angry, I’m grieving for the victims, and their families, their children – and I’m grieving for us as advocates because every loss is a loss for all of us because we are so invested in it.”
Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said the deaths were “unfortunate, tragic events”.
“But they are the inevitable result of what we’ve got going on in this country when it comes to violence against women,” she said.
Jury said the lack of attention to the deaths was also a symptom of that.
“You get a small headline about a body being found then you have nothing more. By the time of trial everyone has well and truly forgotten about them,” she said. “They fall into a vacuum.”
The women’s deaths are part of a spate of homicides in the seven weeks since the August 18 lockdown was announced, including the deaths of three children in Timaru.
The Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) published a plea to agencies, families and whānau to be more alert because of that spike.
“This lockdown is a lot worse than previous experiences, and our homicide statistics tell this story. In seven weeks, we have seen eight family violence homicides,” chair Fiona Cram said. “We know the experience of family violence fuels the risks of death by suicide. It is unclear how many more we have lost over this time.”
Cram said the fear induced around the Delta variant was playing into the hands of abusers.
Family violence thrived where there was a power imbalance and was fed by stressors such as job losses, financial strain, housing insecurity and mental ill health. Equally, tightened controls over borders also limited options for safety, and stories about Covid-19 in hospitals fuelled anxiety, further reducing help-seeking options for survivors.
“It is easier to control people if you can refer to the need to stay in your bubble,” she said.
Cram said there was widespread awareness that the ‘shadow pandemic’ was unlikely to hit its peak during the initial wave of Covid-19, but that violence would worsen for those who were already victims over time.
“The sector knew we were sitting on a ticking time-bomb. Unfortunately, it appears that the Delta variant has lit the fuse.”
She urged people to look out for each other and to reach out to people who had become isolated, no matter who they were.
“This is not a personal problem. This is not something where you can look at a street, someone’s house, and know what’s going on for them. It’s not a special someone who’s at risk.”
Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence Marama Davidson said violence against women was “a deep and long scourge” in Aotearoa that “must end”.
“I share the horror and dismay at that the lives of these women have ended in such a horrific way, and have caused deep pain for their families, loved ones and communities,” she said.
Davidson said she was working across the whole family violence and sexual violence system to prioritise and deliver local community actions which will prevent violence and strengthen communities, whānau and people.
At least 49 people have died in suspicious or homicidal circumstances in New Zealand so far in 2021. At the same time last year there had been 50 suspected homicides. Last year's toll closed at 68.
On average there are 70 homicides in New Zealand each year. The rate of 1.3 homicides per 100,000 people is above the OECD median of 0.95 per 100,000. The Homicide Report's data is provisional and may change depending on the outcome of investigations and court cases.
Police said it was unable to comment further on the cases while they were before the courts.
Where to get help
• Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
• Shine Free call 0508 744 633 between 9am and 11pm (for men and women)
• 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
• Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
• What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily.
• Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00, click link for local helplines.
• The Harbour Online support and information for people affected by sexual abuse.
• Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843
• Male Survivors Aotearoa Helplines across NZ, click to find out more (males only).
• If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.