Are you affected by family harm?
Sally Tai-Rakena Constable
Te¯ na¯ koutou katoa, I’m Sally Tai-Rakena, a family harm constable based in Tu¯ rangi. In my column this month, I want to talk about what family harm is and how to recognise it. Family harm is whatever is affecting the health and wellbeing of a family. Alcohol/drug addiction, physical/mental/verbal abuse, mental health and financial hardship are key drivers of family harm. Lack of employment and skills contribute to some families being unable to provide and all these factors can cause families to break down and children to be unsafe. Physical, mental and verbal abuse is traumatising to all family members. Physical abuse is clear to recognise. Partners and children will have the marks and bruises. Physical abuse is pushing and shoving, dragging by the arm, slaps to the face, punches and kicks to the body and strangulation. If you or your child are being physically abused in any of these ways, contact police immediately. Verbal abuse is yelling, swearing, name calling, belittling and making threats. If you are subjected daily to verbal abuse, insulted and called dumb, fat, stupid and useless, your self-esteem will get lower and lower, until you feel lost. Mental abuse can be harder to recognise and is often more subtle. It is aimed at undermining your selfesteem and making you reliant on your abuser, a cycle of power and control that can be very difficult to break out of. Does your partner or family member humiliate you, especially in public? Do they blame all their problems on you and accuse you of doing everything wrong? Is everything always your fault? Do they tell you what to wear, eat or watch on TV? Do they make it difficult for you to maintain or make friends or keep in touch with family? Do you feel isolated and therefore more reliant on your partner? Does your partner constantly criticise you, make fun of how you look or what you are wearing? Do you feel that whatever you do, nothing is ever good enough for them? Does your partner constantly accuse you of cheating? Do they demand respect and obedience but give you little in return? As police and support services, these are the types of questions we ask. If you were nodding your head to some of them, it is likely there is a mentally abusive dynamic in your relationship and it may be time to reach out for help. If your partner restricts your access to money, doesn’t encourage you to work, makes it difficult for you to pay bills or buy clothes, that’s financial control. People will control and manipulate somebody by restricting their access to money or a vehicle because that means you can’t make your own decisions and become more reliant on the abuser. People in verbally or mentally abusive relationships often find the signs hard to recognise. There’s no physical violence but they don’t realise that they’re being controlled or manipulated. There may be only one or two elements of abuse in their relationship but it is still deeply damaging to experience it. Making threats to take the children away from them is why many women remain in abusive relationships. They are scared, intimidated and fearful for their children but remaining and continuing to expose the children to family harm will have long lasting effects. Ask yourself: What’s my children’s behaviour like? Has there been a sudden change? Are they withdrawn or aggressive? Are they wetting the bed? Are they anxious? Do they cling to me or cry when I leave the room? Has their behaviour at school taken a turn for the worse? Do you think you might be in a family harm relationship? Ask yourself: how does this person make me feel? What am I getting out of this relationship? Why do I feel like I am walking on eggshells around my partner all the time? If somebody asks you, ‘Are you okay?’ Ask yourself: why are they asking? What are they seeing when they look at me? If any of this is familiar to you or has made you stop and think, please reach out to a person you trust and talk to them about what is happening to you. You can talk to our partner support services and they will help you. Speak to a police officer or come into the Tu¯ rangi or Taupo¯ station and ask to speak to the Family Harm Team. Together, we can break the cycle. Ma te wa/till next time, stay safe. Sally