Wānaka’s painful little secret

Alcohol has a profound effect on family harm incidents.

In response to a repeating theme in the Police crimeline every week, the Wānaka Sun was concerned at the regularity that police reported “We attended a family harm incident this week.”  In a beautiful little town like ours, with a district population of only 12,000, why are there almost weekly incidents? Reporter Francesca Maria Nespolo takes a look at the role alcohol has on family harm.

There are two approaches to alcohol. For some, it means fun. For others, it means hell. Unfortunately, many Wānaka families would fall in the second category. “We don’t keep a track of the numbers, but I believe that a graph couldn’t picture how critical are the alcoholism consequences on Wānaka’s population. It is a massive problem, in the whole country, which cost millions and millions of dollars to the taxpayers, and here in our area,” said a spokesperson from Central Lakes Family Services.

“[The] economic costs are stratospheric, just as a social one, as for example the huge impact on children and toddlers. Most of the people suffering from this illness are adults in their fifties or sixties; because of the status derived from their age, it is easy for them to get away with it,” she continued. 

“Young people get poisoned way too much, as well, which is probably a result of the massive tourism in the area. Since the region is very wealthy, people don’t want to see that there is a problem. The denial is huge. Plus, because Wākana is missing an emergency department, poisoned people can't go to the hospital, so they don't, and a GP isn’t enough. We always encourage anyone in a family violence situation, or if they know someone who needs help, to report the violence to the police. We are able to engage support services to prevent further harm,” she said.  

Alcoholism has been recognised as an illness since 1956, based on the theory that excessive drinking is caused by a disease of the brain. As a result many clinics, help-centers and groups have been formed. Many are familiar with AA, but far fewer have heard of the parallel community known as Al-Anon. Al-Anon has one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. Al-Anon’s main belief is that alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery. Al-Anon is not new in town however, the Wānaka Al-Anon group closed five years ago due to insufficient members. 

“We do not record our statistics in such a way as to be able to provide the numbers of family harm incidents that involved alcohol. We can say however that a significant proportion of police work involves responding to alcohol-related incidents, which includes family harm, other violent offending, drink driving, and ensuring the safety of intoxicated people or those around them,” said a spokesperson from the Police media team. 

Considering the sky-rocketing number of people who sought help from the Otago's abuse prevention network, the reason might not be the lack of necessity, rather the lack of awareness. “Family harm is a longstanding and complex problem that creates enormous harm in New Zealand. It has contributing factors from multiple levels of society. This issue is not confined to any particular socioeconomic group or community. It occurs in every demographic and every member of Police staff has seen the damage done. Family harm can be prevented, however this requires huge commitment and continuous action across many sectors —  not just Police, but our partner agencies and, of course, the general public. Historically we know family harm incidents too often go unreported, however this is changing. More people are reporting family harm than ever before and we want that to continue. Preventing and properly responding to family violence in New Zealand is a top priority for Police and our partners, and we will continue to take every opportunity to prevent harm and reduce offending and victimisation. Police strongly encourages anyone who has been the victim of a crime to report it,” commented Miriam Reddington, area response manager at Wānaka Police Station. 

Even before reporting a harm, violent patterns can change through group support. Al-Anon groups are founded based on community demands, by calling 0508425266 and expressing interest perhaps Wānaka is a community that might be needed now more than ever. 

If you are experiencing family harm, call police on 111. Alternatively you can call Are U Ok? 0800 456 450 or Central Lakes Family Services 0508 440 255. 


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