We need to talk about it, and the conversation needs to change By Lizzie Brandon

Just before Easter, the Bays’ community was rocked by a horrific incident at a popular local eatery. The brutal knife attack at Neco Sushi caused panic amongst onlookers but also brought heroes to the fore, putting themselves between the victim and her attacker and sought her medical assistance. Browns Bay Business Association’s town manager, Kim Murdoch, acknowledged these good souls in a written statement: “The quick actions of passers-by at the time of the incident no doubt assisted in giving Neco Sushi’s owner a chance of survival. We salute them for acting so bravely under extremely stressful circumstances.”

As might be expected, in the immediate aftermath, there was significant chatter on social media. Unfortunately, some commentators, however well-intentioned, were ignorant of the circumstances. And the inevitable few were there simply to be incendiary, including the person who unhelpfully declared, “Browns Bay is the crime capital of New Zealand”.

Browns Bay Community Constable Simon Fox recognised it was a frightening and concerning incident, commenting at the time: “The public can be assured that police are investigating the matter on behalf of the coroner to understand the full circumstances of what occurred.”

“We know there are still a lot of questions the public have, and police are making enquiries to find the answers. However, this will take time, and we must allow the process to be carried out.”

“We ask the public to please try and avoid speculation and put our thoughts towards the victim in this matter and their recovery.”

On the flip side, Kim Murdoch says she was blown away by the outpouring of support from people and local organisations wanting to help the victim and her family. “It’s humbled me.” With the family’s blessing, the business association set up a Givealittle page to help cover overheads whilst the shop remains closed. (At the time of going to print, the community had donated more than $5,500.)

In the days following the incident, Simon and Kim visited businesses in close proximity to Neco Sushi to see how staff were coping. “It’s important to acknowledge when you’ve been through a traumatic experience,” said Kim. “Encouraging people to speak up if they’re feeling distressed is part of caring for them.”

“NZ Police has an agency that offers counselling in these instances. It’s all confidential. Trauma can have a delayed response, so I urge anyone experiencing distress to contact me or Simon if they’d like to talk to someone.”

If you would like to make a financial donation to the family, please go to givealittle.co.nz and search for Neco Sushi

Domestic violence: Aotearoa’s hidden shame

As facts came to light, it was quickly established that this had not been a random attack but one of domestic abuse.

In the OECD, New Zealand is ranked the worst developed country for family violence. NZ Police recorded more than 177,450 family harm investigations in the year June 2022/23, a 49 per cent increase from 2017. That’s an average of attending one family violence event every four minutes.

But the actual figure is far worse. NZ Police’s annual report for 2020/21 states: “The NZCVS [New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey] estimates that only 33% is reported.” Furthermore, figures from the Ministry of Justice confirm that almost half of all homicides and reported violent crimes relate to family violence.

‘Why don’t they just leave?’

“Why would someone stay in an abusive relationship? Surely, you’d just pack a bag and get out?”

What a ridiculously naïve and simplistic statement.

The reality is that abusers are incredibly manipulative and can apply enormous pressure to prevent their partners from escaping. Some may control finances; others threaten to harm children or pets. They may have deliberately isolated their partner, weakening their connection with friends and whānau. There’s also the danger and fear, as Women’s Aid UK states: “One of the most important reasons women don’t leave is because it can be incredibly dangerous. The fear that women feel is very real – there is a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation.

“41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a male partner/former partner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 had separated or taken steps to separate from them. Eleven of these 37 women were killed within the first month of separation and 24 were killed within the first year (Femicide Census, 2020).”

It’s time to stop victim-blaming. Instead of asking, “Why don’t they just leave?” the narrative needs to shift onto the perpetrator: “How is the abuse continuing – and what can I do to help?”

‘I’m worried about my friend. What should I do?’

NZ Police says there are signs to look for. “People experiencing family violence may be fearful or nervous, isolated or reclusive, sad or angry, lacking in confidence, keeping secrets, or worried about a loved one’s reaction.

“We ask anyone who has concerns about someone always to call the police if you think someone is in danger – in an emergency, call 111. Your call could save a life.”

If you suspect abuse, start the conversation

Founded in 1990, Shine (Safer Homes in New Zealand Everyday) supports both victims of abuse and perpetrators seeking to break the cycle of violence. Its website contains a wealth of helpful information and guidance, including how to initiate a conversation with a friend or loved one, giving them the encouragement and non-judgemental space to talk. Here’s some of that section:

Be direct about your concerns. Start with general questions like: How are things at home? How’s it going with your partner?

If the answers are vague, ask questions to clarify what they mean and make your questions more specific. It’s terrible that you and your partner have not been getting on well lately. What happens when you argue with them? What do they do when they’re stressed or angry?

If you’re unsure what is happening, ask direct questions about whether they are afraid or being controlled, hurt, or hit: That’s a nasty bruise. Did your partner hurt you? Are you ever afraid of them? Do you feel like you’re being controlled by them? Are there ways that your life and your choices are being restricted?

Many people will not offer this information unless you ask directly; they may think you don’t want to know or be afraid you will not believe them or will judge them badly based on what they have seen or experienced before.

Asking direct questions may help them to feel like they can tell you what’s really going on because you are showing that you are prepared to hear it, take it seriously, and not blame them for it.

Help is available 24/7
Speak with someone now

Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843 | awrefuge.org.nz

Shine 0508 744 633 | 2shine.org.nz/get-help/helpline

Emergency 111

NZ Police’s Help for Family Violence resources

Social Work and Counselling Services (SWCS) of CNSST: professional, confidential and holistic support to Asian whānau experiencing/witnessing family violence or sexual violence

Are you concerned about your harmful behaviour towards a loved one?

Shine runs No Excuses non-violence programmes. “Change is possible – but you will need to be determined and, as much as possible, surround yourself with people who will support that change, and challenge you when they see old, unhelpful behaviours. …To change a behaviour, it’s important to accept responsibility for the abuse, and talk openly about it.”

For more information, call Shine’s Helpline on 0508 744 633 or go to 2shine.org.nz/get-help/i-am-using-abusive-behaviour where you’ll also find links to the National Network of Stopping Violence Services, and the Ministry of Justice register of other approved non-violence programme providers.