Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Have you stopped beating your wife?

An inquiry into tragedy has ended up in farce.

The recommendations of Owen Glenn’s inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence range from the banal (NZ courts are dysfunctional, who knew!) to the farcical (let’s just presume everyone is guilty until they presume otherwise). In that, they are no different to the outcome of the government inquiries this one was intended to mirror. But this one was supposed to be different.

Yes, we all know NZ courts are time-consuming, elephantine and dysfunctional. But reversing the presumption of innocence is not a recipe to fix that: it’s a recipe for lynch-mob injustice. It would turn the loaded question, “Have you stopped beating your wife,” into the way ‘justice’ was done.

Straight from elephantine justice to kangaroo courts in one simple hop.

There was nothing wrong with the inquiry’s intent.

“This is a wonderful country in so many ways and I count myself a proud New Zealander,” said Glenn when he set it up.

But our record on family violence is the dark underbelly of what is often touted as ‘a good society.’ A good society doesn’t victimise its women and children the way we do. “The cost in human lives and human potential is appalling and almost incalculable.  The bleak and shaming reality we face on the home front is what prompted me to set up the Glenn Inquiry.”

 The so-called People’s Report,  the result of the inquiry,

honours the stories of those who were able to come forward, describe their experience of child  abuse and domestic violence and its impact on their lives. It sets out an inside view of what is currently working well, what isn’t and people’s thoughts and suggestions for an ideal system, and ways of taking action.

I wish it did. Rather than a breath of fresh air, however, as Lindsay Mitchell outlines the report is already being used to create new myths around family violence

A large majority of submitters were female.
The resounding impression is that the overwhelming problem lies with men.
Oh and the colonist-blaming conveniently pops up.

Māori were once a people who held in high esteem their tamariki (children) and wāhine (women) because of the treasured roles they had in their whānau, hapū (sub-tribe) and iwi (tribe). Nevertheless, colonisation brought with it new ways, including privileging the place of men, which rendered women and children as their possessions. As Aotearoa was settled, new ways of
treating children and women were introduced to Māori whānau and hapū, which included beating

This last is particularly absurd. It’s true that missionaries have a lot to answer for, but Maori were once a people who spent most of their history enslaving each other; and infanticide was rife --  “particularly the killing of baby girls (who would never grow into warriors), taurekareka (slaves captured in battle), and half-caste children.”1

And the myth that beating only began when missionaries arrives is just that, and was squashed by historian Paul Moon after yet another government enquiry into ‘Maori Parenting’ back in 2011:

Maori history professor Paul Moon, of Auckland University of Technology, dismissed the idea abuse began after the Europeans came. "The proposition that missionaries introduced violence, it's one of those allegations that entered the historical bloodstream and once it's in that bloodstream, it's hard to get out. I would want to see evidence."
    He cited the fact Maori girls were sometimes killed because they were considered less useful than males. "If children were treated as sacred items, how do you explain female infanticide?" Moon said the report's reliance on oral histories and lullabies also raised doubts over its reliability.

The same fantasies seem to have permeated the Glenn Inquiry.

Which is a pity, because unlike the many government inquiries it could have shone a light into a dark place in New Zealand life and come up with new and much-needed answers. Instead, we have the same fantasies and all the usual fogginess. And much absurdity.

1. This Horrid Practice, Paul Moon, Penguin, 2008, pages 123-124

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