Sparring Partners by Trevor Plumbly
It’s that time again. You know, when all those government paid statisticians release their findings on what improved and what didn’t in the past year. It’s always seemed to me to represent a lot of effort for very little direct good. Ministers either crow about the results or promise that the problem will be addressed, but of course political survival demands that bad bits have as short a shelf life as possible, so the placebos are doled out to us and life goes on as usual. Don’t get me wrong, I love NZ. It’s a wonderful place to live and be a part of, but boy; it’s got its dark side! Every year we learn that domestic violence has increased and every year those responsible for stemming the flow respond by quietly and seriously assuring us that, yet again, they are going to do something about it. Equally, every year I look for outrage, emotion or positive action and find none; it’s sad really that people can conjure up outrage for a bad refereeing decision or emotion for a sporting victory but can’t get past stoicism regarding thugs who treat their partners and children as little more than private punching bags.
The judiciary and the police seem equally helpless. In a recent case, a man estranged from his wife entered the home, shot their two children and then himself. Incredibly, despite numerous incidents and two arrests for breaching protection orders he somehow gained access to a shotgun. Once again serious ministers of justice and the police declare what those on the receiving end already know, ‘Restraint and Protection Orders are difficult to enforce.’ How crazy can things get! If the judiciary doesn’t have the appropriate laws or the police don’t have the powers then they should be provided with them ASAP so that those under threat can feel that protection means more than just a word on a legal document. Domestic violence against the vulnerable is a serious crime so let’s start treating it like that; instead of trying to find reasons and excuses for it, let’s bump it up there with aggravated assault and punish it as such. If court orders can be shrugged off as being ‘difficult’ then it’s time for a much more radical approach than holding yet another enquiry or forming more committees.
It seems to me that the reason we’ve reached this level is that having failed to control violence by punitive measures, the current stance is to psychologically cuddle up to it, analyse its root causes, put it down to family history and hope it gets bred out of the system. This theory provides lots of grey areas for the various authorities to shelter behind, while it seems that black and white only applies to the victims, with white being the times they don’t get bashed around. It’s hard to come up with quick solutions but how about alarm bracelets similar to ‘Medic Alert’ for those under protection orders as well as fast track laws and better education on the problem for judges and the police? This year, thousands of women and children will be abused. The majority of the offenders will be analysed, counselled and then released to repeat the offence, with or without the consent of the victim. Laws are intended to regulate social behaviour and in so doing should protect, educate and where necessary punish, but when it comes to domestic violence the authorities just seem to find it all a bit too ‘difficult’.