Scope, context and approach
1.1Family violence destroys lives and takes a significant toll on New Zealand society. New Zealand has the highest reported rate of family violence in the developed world, and nearly half of all homicides are related to family violence. Disproportionately, family violence affects the lives of women and children, and women are overwhelmingly more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than commit homicide themselves. The consequences of family violence can be devastating both for the victims and their families. Discussing intimate partner violence, Jane Maslow Cohen writes:
Terrible and tragic things happen within the contexts of battering relationships, even beyond the violence and resultant injury itself. These tragedies include the death of the battered victim; the physical and psychological abuse of others, especially children, within the household; the destruction of employment situations and opportunities; the withering away of basic trust, particularly trust in intimacy; and, often, the waste of what might, and should, have been rewarding and productive lives.
1.2Unsurprisingly, most family violence homicides are committed by those who have a history of perpetrating violence, usually against the deceased. Most homicide offenders are men. In a very small number of cases, accounting for less than five per cent of all homicides in New Zealand, a victim of family violence kills their abuser. In intimate partner killings, these offenders are almost always women. Whatever their gender or relationship to an aggressor, however, victims of family violence who kill their abusers have typically suffered years of physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse that can be severe and extreme.
1.3In this Report, we consider how the law responds to victims of family violence who commit homicide and whether the law can be improved.