About 10 women used the service between March and June this year, says Punanga Tauturu manager Rebeka Buchanan.
“Without the opportunity for free legal services, women in the past have been held back and have been unable to, or reluctant to seek help, to move them out of the situations they are in.”
Legal aid covers legal advice, maintenance order applications, custody and protection - “anything around children and domestic violence”, says Buchanan.
Three lawyers specialising in family law have been appointed to provide the service.
In addition, Buchanan says, old non-molestation legislation has been replaced under the Family Protection Act.
Previously a non-molestation order would only be in force for a maximum three months and an application would have to be made for it to continue, says Buchanan. However, the Family Protection Act can make a non-molestation order permanent, or have it set in place for as long as required.
She says the normal process for women to access help is to visit Punanga Tauturu for counselling first. Sometimes women are referred to the service by police. Counselling aims to empower women with the skills and knowledge they need for the road ahead.
In the outer islands, support for domestic violence victims has been available on Atiu for some time and over the next two years’ support persons will also be appointed on Aitutaki, Mitiaro and Mangaia.
“It’s difficult, because on the outer islands the people wear so many hats (have many different roles). But the advocate we would choose would undergo training and receive support,” says Buchanan.
Punanga Tauturu sees 10-15 women each week, with most cases involving those who simply aren’t aware of their rights, says Buchanan.
“We work in partnership with other organisations, often through police referrals, and domestic violence comes in many forms. It can be physical but also psychological and emotional. Early intervention is important here. A woman will learn what her rights are, receive counselling, learn how to keep themselves safe and what to do in violent situations. This really gives them some options.”
As well as working with women and children who have been affected by domestic violence, Buchanan is working her way through a double major in psychology and sociology.
“The degree is helping me look at all the gaps in the services provided here, particularly youth and mental health.”
Regarding domestic violence, she says, “we look at the cycle of bad behaviour that moves through the generations.
“We can provide the help to try to break that cycle.”