Sunday, 2 October 2016

The many facets of abuse

How the public and / or the various agents of the state respond to the abuse of women is tempered by many things. The social standing, age, ethnicity, attractiveness of both the victim and the accused will often come into play.  

It's not so long ago in NZ that an outcry about a stripper being badly treated by sporting icons would have been - well, improbable - unless there was a reason why the state, the media or the public wanted to target particular sporting icons. 

The myriad of statements that were made about the ill-treatment of a woman at a rugby team's end of season party were very welcome as anything which exposes and weakens locker room culture is a good thing.  

But people might like to take a moment to ponder how to square all that condemnation with the way that David Cunliffe was mocked and vilified by opposition politicians and influential media commentators for his statement in support of abused women in the build up to the last election. 

Many of those who have been puffing themselves up with self righteousness are hypocrites, and hypocrisy - when mixed with political opportunism - becomes an especially odious thing.

The mockery of Cunliffe for expressing solidarity with abused women has its roots in, and appeals to the same macho, 'laddish' culture that led a group of young, intoxicated sportsmen to act abusively towards a woman who they had employed and who was on her own with them. The sexual element aside, when a group of physically powerful young men gang up on a solo woman, it is an especially unpleasant act of bullying. The noxious culture that gave rise to the aggressive and predatory behaviour of some of the players, also resulted in a lack of empathy or a lack of courage on the part of those who were not involved but who failed to intervene to stop the abuse and to protect the woman.  

It's good that rugby is not being let off the hook but I wish there was as consistent and as loud an outcry from the great and the good about the daily abuses of women in our society. 

I am reminded of a case which involved a woman who lived in terror of and in thrall to a violent and controlling man. He beat her 7-year-old child so badly the boy died from his injuries eight days later.  The woman was charged with failing to provide the necessities of life for not getting medical help for her son. She said she did not do because she had not realised how bad his injuries were and her violent partner had threatened to kill both her and her child if she called a doctor.

She was advised to plead guilty and to throw herself on the mercy of the court. That proved to be bad advice.  She had been bailed to live with family in the North Island and as a result was sentenced in Auckland where the judge sentenced her to 3 years in prison. 

In passing sentence the judge acknowledged that she loved her son and was 'oppressed by her abusive partner, however, whilst he had been at work, her 'good sense should have asserted itself.' He went on to say that he hoped the sentence would act as a 'deterrent' to other women who might be tempted to fail their children in similar ways.  

I don't recall any outrage about the way that woman had been treated - first by her violently abusive partner and then by those who decided to charge her with a crime, by the legal aid lawyer who advised her to plead guilty to that crime, and by the judge - who did not just incarcerate her for three years but who decided to use her as a soap box from which to declare his support for children's rights. 

She served a year in prison and the last I heard of her she was still so stricken with guilt and grief she had contemplated suicide. 

She is powerless - poorly educated, working class and Mãori. The judge is powerful - male, educated, affluent and white. 

He is to be commended for his stance on children's rights but is to be roundly criticised for his complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of a violently abusive relationship. It is well known that victims of domestic violence can be controlled by their abuser even at a distance; that physical and emotional abuse can paralyse a person and reduce their ability to act independently.  

Yes, the child's mother should have sought help; she should have known how badly injured her son was; she should have put him before her own safety, she should have trusted the authorities to protect her and him from her abuser.....'should have ' is all too easy to say from a comfortable distance. 

When a tired and over-worked doctor left her toddler locked in her car because she'd forgotten she had him with her and the child died of hypothermia - it was seen as a tragic accident in which the woman was in need of sympathy and support. 

The cases are not the same obviously but the possibility that a tired, harassed, preoccupied mother could make a terrible mistake that she will live with all her life was - quite properly - accepted by the police and the public.  

The possibility that a physically beaten and psychologically abused woman could be so in terror of her abuser that she was rendered incapable of independent action, was not. 

And now onto the vexed question of Losi Filipo ......

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