British Backpacker’s Death: Call For Change To Violence In New Zealand

The past few weeks have been filled with mourning in New Zealand after the death of a British backpacker, Grace Millane, who went missing on the 1st of December, just before her 22nd birthday in Auckland city. After failure to keep in touch with her family and to reply to birthday wishes, her parents grew worried, and a missing person’s investigation was quickly initiated. In the following week, it was then uncovered that Millane had been murdered by a 26 year old male, with whom she had been on a date. The upsetting circumstance of Millane’s death has been the catalyst to finally addressing New Zealand’s high rate of male violence.

New Zealand has the worst statistics for male violence out of all OECD countries. It has also been revealed through a United Nations report that one out of three women in the country would experience domestic violence in their life. These are extremely alarming figures, considering the international image that New Zealand projects as a well-acknowledged, peace-keeping state, and a staunch upholder of human rights. This positive image has been shaken in the wake of Millane’s death as it made international news.

Several vigils were held across New Zealand to pay tribute to Grace Millane, as well as to the many other women who have been victim to male violence. One of the attendees at the Auckland vigil in Saint Patrick’s square was Mark Longely, whose daughter, Emily, had also been murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2011. At the vigil, Longely stated that there have been about 105 women killed by their partners within the time frame of Emily and Grace’s deaths — a clear indication of the severity of New Zealand’s problem. Longely stated that, “Men say they are not the problem, but they can be part of the solution.” He strongly calls for change to New Zealand’s attitude towards violence, not only from perpetrators, but also from the rest of the men in society.

However, these changes may take an entire generation to come into effect. In order to address problems like domestic violence we must alter the way women are viewed, and also teach men to speak up when they see other’s behaviour as unacceptable. Furthermore, domestic violence is cyclical in nature, as males who have grown up in violent households have much higher chances of becoming offenders themselves, which perpetuates the pattern of abuse. In order to truly address this issue, there may need to be a change to New Zealand’s culture entirely.

Jan Logie, the Parliamentary Undersecretary to the Minister of Justice, declared that New Zealand has been making certain strides in addressing domestic violence, including spending $70 million on improving family violence services and responses to domestic harm. Logie also asserted that the government has been working with WorkSafe, who oversees the health and safety of businesses to create guidelines around preventing sexual harassment at work. These developments, though new, have the potential to change which behaviours are thought to be appropriate, as well as to provide better support services for those who have been victims. Logie further announced that there will soon be a national strategy currently being developed, which will put an end to family and sexual violence.

Although minimizing violence will be a demanding task, New Zealand needs a radical policy around domestic violence, so any development which will come out of this national strategy should be welcomed.

Also following Grace Millane’s death, many prominent New Zealand women have also written and signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, calling for a better plan to end violence towards women and stimulate better public awareness of the issue. It was signed by 50 women in total, with several politicians like former Prime Minister Helen Clark as participants, including other media and NGO personalities. In the letter, it states: “Women going on solo adventures or meeting new people for dates are not the problem here. Men who commit acts of violence against women are. But violence is preventable if we work together at an individual, whānau (family), community, regional and national level.”

New Zealand is a long way from becoming the peaceful country it paints itself to be, and a long way away from eliminating domestic violence. However, a drastic and effective change may be coming about, as the issue has now been bought to public attention, though unfortunately, it had taken the death of another young women to illuminate.