The truth behind the lobbyists who want the right to hit kids

New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin was on Q&A on the weekend floating the idea of a referendum on the old section 59 of the Crimes Act, i.e. the one about when it’s “reasonable” to hit your children. I’ll put my cards on the table straight away by refusing to call it that name – you know the one – because let’s be honest, the reason people call it “smacking” is so it sounds different from “hitting”, and the reason I call it “hitting” is because, like Sue Bradford, I refuse to draw lines about where or with what or how hard it’s OK to commit physical violence against children. The language I use may be loaded, but it’s no more than the other side’s.

Unsurprisingly, Family First were on the bandwagon before it even started rolling, with a typical Family First all-hat-no-cattle statement. Their “evidence” that the law isn’t working can be summarised as:

  • There’s more reporting of violence against children therefore more violence against children is occurring (not, “we have greater awareness that hitting kids is bad and thus more reporting is happening”)
  • The Police and CYFS/Oranga Tamariki are investigating a lot of reports of violence against children and choosing not to act on them (which is for some reason terrible)
  • A lot of people still don’t like the law (which definitely has nothing to do with Family First continually spinning bullshit about it)

Family First provide zero evidence that “good parents” are being prosecuted, much less convicted, for “just” a smack. Their assertion, now as it was 10 years ago, is that “good parents” – parents who want to hit their children – don’t like the law saying they shouldn’t. “Good parents” don’t like having the someone checking that their hitting of their children isn’t abusive, even though in the vast majority of cases, no further action is taken.

It feels a bit snarky of me to keep putting “good parents” in scarequotes, but they’re not mine, really. They’re Family First’s.

It’s very interesting when you look at their statements on parenting, and children, and violence, when they’re not discussing section 59, how certain themes come up again and again: poor people are abusers; brown people are abusers; the “real causes” of violence against children are drug abuse and solo mothers and working mothers (under the heading, “breakdown of family structure”) and those things exist in a vacuum.

While protesting against criminalizing some types of violence against children – where Good Parents are asserting their Rightful Authority over children who Need A Stern Lesson, and  exhortations to crack down on real abuse, Family First copy-paste articles from media sources like this one comparing long stints in daycare to child abuse, or this story from Vice, about five people in the Netherlands creating a co-parenting agreement.. Bed-sharing is child abuse too, and isn’t it convenient how that’s less culturally acceptable in Pākehā society, and sometimes the only option you have if you’re poor and living in a small, cold, damp rental?

Family First take articles like this one from Jarrod Gilbert in the Herald about the causes of child abuse, and conveniently cut it off right after the paragraph about 41% of child homicides being committed by mothers, but before the possible explanations for this and well before the conclusion that we aren’t focusing enough on prevention – say, by ensuring that our social services are able to be notified and investigate reports of “low-level” violence against children before situations escalate.

They stick headlines like “Child abuse out of control” on top of articles which specifically state increased numbers of notifications to CYFS may be because people feel more confident seeking help. While panicking about “good parents” having the authorities show up on their door, they positively salivate about “bad” parents having children removed from their care.

That’s the crux of it: the state cannot be swift and harsh enough in its treatment of those parents, those poor and/or Māori and/or unmarried parents who you know are abusing their kids, I mean just look at them; but it is a violent transgression to so much as question a good, white, Christian, married parent whose teenager was totally being disrespectful.

While clamouring for a crackdown on our culture of violence, it is simply impossible for Bob McCoskrie et al to consider that one key way we address a culture of violence is by not having a law which says that violence is okay. Because when people like him are doing it, it’s not violence at all.

I know a lot of genuinely well-intentioned people think this issue is more complex than I do. I appreciate people have different perspectives to me. And yes, if you want to throw that particular stone, I’m not a parent.

But the vital point is that groups like Family First do not want genuine constructive discussion about parenting, and physical discipline, and child development, and how the law sends signals about what is or isn’t socially acceptable. They just want to push a narrow-minded vision of what our society should look like. And if you aren’t the white, middle-class, patriarchal hetero monogamous Christian family unit they hold up as the ideal, they are not going to be here for you.

The disappointment is that their rhetoric gets taken at face value, and they have such a disproportionately loud voice in New Zealand politics. Because we cannot have serious conversations, about difficult topics, with them sitting at the table holding a megaphone to shout everyone else down.

Anne Tolley should apologise for her own words, if not decades of abuse

(Content note: child abuse, minimisation of violence against children)

The question of public apologies by governments for the wrongs of the past is always contentious. I like to think of it as a subconscious acknowledgement by the people in positions of privilege that if they really had to offer heartfelt remorse for all the sins of their cultural past, they’d literally never be able to stop.

But in this case – a report detailing decades of systemic, horrific abuse of children in state care – there’s definitely one thing Social Development Minister Anne Tolley should be apologising for: her own, personal, deliberate minimisation of what survivors went through.

See, here’s what the report found:

The report finds as many boys as girls suffered sexual abuse. In boys’ homes, cell-like units were often used for prolonged isolation, while in girls’ homes, “assumptions were made of promiscuity”.

In foster care situations, the panel describes stories of mothers who were “street angels, house devils”.

“There was often violence by the foster parents, beatings and housework and kitchen tasks, and verbal abuse. Lack of affection was almost standard,” the report says.

“We heard many accounts of foster fathers who came in the child’s bedroom at night to abuse that child, even when the bedroom was shared by other children.”

And here’s what Anne Tolley has to say about that:

asked if the Government would apologise to the children of these institutions, she said: “No”.

“But I do acknowledge that some people in the care of government institutions were failed and let down badly, and that they still suffer the trauma from that experience.”

“Failed and let down” is one hell of a cold way to describe sexual abuse, solitary confinement and beatings.

If Anne Tolley won’t apologise on behalf of the government of New Zealand for decades of child abuse, she should definitely apologise for being utterly incapable of human empathy.

What does it say when a child rapist is painted as the victim?

[Content note: child sexual abuse, rape culture]

There are many, many horrifying aspects to this case recently heard in the Napier District Court, of a 17-year-old who repeatedly raped a 5-year-old girl then waited six months to confess to his pastor and a further two months to confess to the police.

There’s the fact his lawyer is repeatedly quoted calling him “courageous”. There’s the fact he’ll only serve 4.5 years in prison, which works out to about 11 months per rape. Or the fact the judge said there were “no aggravating features” and even the prosecuting lawyer noted that she “didn’t need medical attention” as though trauma is only real when it’s physically damaging. Or the fact that the defence lawyer blames ~The Internet~ for the rapist’s “distorted” views about sex and not his closed religious community (because anti-sex religious movements never propagate distorted views of sex.)

Or the fact that right there is an article depicting a bunch of men basically agreeing that the rape of a 5-year-old girl isn’t really that big a deal as long as (six months later) you grow a conscience.

But beyond this case, the worst part is this, where – seriously – the defence lawyer is trying to make his client sound more sympathetic by emphasising just how little the justice system could do if he didn’t confess:

He had advised the teen that the Crown would face obstacles in securing convictions against him if it was years before the victim complained, as it would be just a case of “one person’s word against another’s”.

That’s right. Because if the little girl in this case grew up and one day needed to tell someone what had happened, needed the man who raped her five times to answer for his crimes, defence lawyer Bill Calver knows full well that in all likelihood, nothing would happen. And a man who raped a child five times would walk free.

Of course, because he was so courageous in coming forward, he’ll just walk free in 4.5 years – or less – instead. At the latest, he will be out at age 23. Maybe it doesn’t feel this way to him now, but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of your whole life (says the wise and ancient 31-year-old).

It’s unbelievable. And yet so unsurprising.

This is what we mean when we talk about rape culture. We mean the constant downplaying of even the most heinous, deliberate assaults by any excuse necessary. We mean the “common knowledge” that even repeatedly raping a child carries very little consequence – for the rapist. We mean the media’s framing of a story – the courageous rapist, the invisible survivor – which tells survivors, and every woman, that their hurt doesn’t matter and their word isn’t good enough and their rapes won’t be taken seriously.

This is why we’re so angry.