Reported cases of family violence are increasing in Southland, but some advocacy groups hope the growing numbers indicate that victims are no longer willing to keep silent about the epidemic.
In 2016 there were 5358 family violence investigations in the Southern district. That's a 61% increase in reported cases since 2007. In fact, nowhere in New Zealand was there a decrease in family violence investigations over the same time period.
Statistics like these present an interpretation problem: are they indicative of a true rise in family violence, or are more victims coming forward on an issue that people traditionally kept quiet on?
Shine communications and marketing manager Holly Carrington said she saw it as a sign that more people were willing to speak up as most incidents of family violence still went unreported.
"I think we probably have a long way to go before the stats start going down and we see that as a good thing. There's just so much hidden," she said.
"Until it's completely unacceptable and across the board people see it happening and know that they need to do something about it, that's when we'll know that we've turned the corner."
In rural areas like Southland, it was even easier for victims to be kept isolated by abusers and it took longer for police to arrive and government agencies to be available to assist families in need, she said.
Safe in the South co-ordinator Saniya Thompson agreed, saying they would never know whether the rise in reported cases was indicative of a true rise in family violence or more willingness to step forward and report, but the hope was that it was the latter. Estimates showed that three-quarters of family violence went unreported, she said.
It's been almost a year since Community Champions initiative launched in Southland and independent research evaluating the programme was set to come out this April, Mrs Thompson said.
The idea behind the programme is that people who are well known in a community could become trained and vetted points of contact for someone seeking advice or help.
Te Anau resident Sarah Greaney was the first Fiordlander to become a community champion last year, and now six more Fiordland residents would soon be joining her, as well as one person in Riverton.
Mrs Greaney said the hope was that with greater advocacy work being done — such as through Shine, the Community Champions initiative, Women's Refuge and the Sophie Elliott Foundation — younger generations became more aware of what constituted acceptable behaviour and what didn't.
"I think the more that it's highlighted and reported and talked about, there's an element of people not keeping things like that behind closed doors, which perhaps in other generations they would have done."
Shine is running its annual "Light it Orange" fundraising week until tomorrow (March 9). This year fundraising efforts are focusing on helping the thousands of Kiwi children affected by family violence and supporting Shine's free domestic abuse Helpline. Anyone can sign up via www.lightitorange.co.nz to join hundreds of schools, workplaces, clubs, businesses, and individuals raising funds for Shine.
Anyone seeking help for emotional or physical abuse can call its Helpline for free from any phone in New Zealand, between 9am and 11pm, 7 days a week, on 0508-744-633.
Anyone interested in potentially becoming a Community Champion can contact Saniya Thompson at (03) 211-1697.