Self-defence and family violence – is there a problem?
6.13In the context of self-defence, a jury’s understanding of family violence affects how they assess a claim of self-defence by a victim of family violence. Misconceptions can undermine their assessment of the defendant’s credibility or the reasonableness of his or her actions.
6.14We identified in Chapter 2 persisting misconceptions, including the belief that a primary victim of family violence can avoid further violence by leaving an abusive relationship; that fear of future violence is irrational or unreasonable; and, if the primary victim used violence in the past, her fear was not real. We discussed the need to understand family violence as a pattern of harmful behaviour with a cumulative effect and a form of entrapment. Victims’ responses must be considered in the context of:
- the manner in which their choices have been constrained by the violence they have experienced;
- what the past responses to their help seeking have been; and
- the wider structural constraints of their lives, including the structural constraints of their families, whānau and communities.
6.15This shift in thinking is necessary to counter misconceptions that can affect a jury’s assessment of self-defence claims by victims of family violence. In a similar vein, the concepts of imminence, lack of alternatives and proportionality are difficult to reconcile with contemporary understanding of family violence, as we discuss below.