Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Arguments

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  • merc,

    Jo Bennett, danger to traffic, I nearly fell asleep at the wheel when he commenced talking, strange little angles he takes for what reason, shock, horror. Being contraire for the sake of an angle can be funny, but not when it's PR driven.
    I think we have a time-lag operating in the media, those who read, contribute to, or have blogs and those who don't or won't.
    I was also thinking as I listened, hell, thanks RB, where do you get the energy and sheer resilience.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Surely, the reasonable force defence entails that unreasonable force is indefensible. So, other than clarifying what constitues unreasonable force, how is the bill different from existing law?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Surely, the reasonable force defence entails that unreasonable force is indefensible. So, other than clarifying what constitues unreasonable force, how is the bill different from existing law?

    The amendment to the wording before its first reading was the part about reasonable force being permitted to ensure the safety of the child or others. The defence is still removed in other circumstances, such as moral instruction.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Easterbrook,

    What does my head in is the mainstream media's constant reference to "anti-smacking" legislation.

    I was listening to bFM news the other morning, to a news item about Sue Bradford's bill. Something seemed odd or missing - then I realised that they had not inserted the now-standard, extremely loaded and unobjective, "anti-smacking" descriptor.

    Good work the b.

    The smacking issue came up in the weekend with non-parent friends, who were asking about how we discipline our 3 year old. I could say with all honesty a) I do smack him sometimes; and b) as effective punishments go, it is useless.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 245 posts Report Reply

  • wendyf,

    I heard the man from Family First. He was scary. I have no doubt he was smacked when he was a child "and is none the worse for it now". The same may be true of the blogger who knows what Sue Bradley needs.
    I smacked my children for disobedience - it was what you did with disobedient children. And oh how I wish I had not. They've grown into great adults, but despite the smacking, not because of it.
    Perhaps the bible quoters are thinking of Jesus' words - "Suffer the little children" and getting the word order wrong.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 80 posts Report Reply

  • Insolent Prick,

    There seem to be several issues, some of which are covered by the Bill, and many of which aren't.

    The first issue is whether physical discipline, such as occasional smacking, is an effective form of discipline. I don't think it is, and none of the evidence I've seen suggests that it is.

    The second issue is whether occasional smacking is harmful to a child. Personally, again, I don't think it is. The fact that it doesn't work doesn't make it harmful, just pointless.

    Most people agree there is a difference--as defined by Chester Burrows--between a short, transitory, non-marking smack (reasonable force, as he wants to define it), and a physical assault. Barnados have argued that the courts have found it difficult to define "reasonable force". Yet almost all the cases they list demonstrate that the Court is able to make the distinction. Parents who beat and seriously assault their children are not given protection from Section 59.

    The fourth point is, as those who disagree with the Bill correctly state--the Bill doesn't actually do anything to protect children who are currently being seriously assaulted, and who presently fall outside Section 59 anyway. Children will continue to be seriously assaulted irrespective of what the law says.

    On the whole, I don't think Section 59 is necessary. It does send the wrong signal to parents. But it distracts from the real issues, by making otherwise competent and caring parents feel like they are breaking the law, when out of pure frustration, they occasionally smack an out-of-control child, when the real evil is the serious assaults committed against children that escape the law.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Surely, the reasonable force defence entails that unreasonable force is indefensible. So, other than clarifying what constitues unreasonable force, how is the bill different from existing law? (3410)

    The amendment to the wording before its first reading was the part about reasonable force being permitted to ensure the safety of the child or others. The defence is still removed in other circumstances, such as moral instruction. (RB)

    My point is that if a judge can currently rule in a case that force used was not reasonable, then why the need for new legislation?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    A foundation of the argument against the removal of the Section 59 defence is that every parent knows the difference between a simple smack and an assault

    My problem with Bradford is that that is exactly the distinction she deliberately refuses to make. She makes out that there is only assault and that opponents of her bill support assault.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    My point is that if a judge can currently rule in a case that force used was not reasonable, then why the need for new legislation?

    The point of such a law is not to prohibit unreasonable force (already prohibited), but to prohibit reasonable force (presently allowed).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3012 posts Report Reply

  • Alastair Jamieson,

    I'm horrified to find myself tempted to agree with outgoing SIS director Richard Woods' comment that 'the internet was central to the work of extremists.' Not that I think his Islamic extremists are what NZ needs to be much worried about, having read some of the vileness on the CYFS watch blog.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    Whether smacking (mild) is effective or not seems to depend as much on the child as on the parent. I know one couple who very occasionlly use it: their older girl is absolutely devastated; the younger one just laughs.

    In my own case - my parents rarely used physical punishment and when they did it was mild and over in a jiffy. Yeah, I think it worked.

    As a parent I've used it when all else has failed. My three year old responds to a slap on the wrist by saying 'No!' back at me and slapping her wrist again in imitation. There's an element of defiance in the gesture, no doubt about it, but she also stops what she was doing. She also has a high pain threshold - a product of a medically troubled start to life. So it doesn't really hurt her much, but it gets the message through when all else has failed.

    All this is a long winded way of saying this is very much a horses for courses thing. And whatever legislation emerges from this needs to reflect that.

    I think - and I'm not defending the nuttier religio-whackos here - a lot of the opposition to the Bradfod bill is because she was not, earlier on, careful enough about distinguishing between child abuse and correction. I've talked to a number of people who are genuinely outraged about that.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 805 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    My point is that if a judge can currently rule in a case that force used was not reasonable, then why the need for new legislation?

    It's a jury that gets to make the call in a defended hearing, and some juries have made strange decisions. I found the much-discussed Timaru case alarming, because the mother used the riding crop on a clearly disturbed child, who was subsequently prescribed an anti-psychotic medication. (The conduct that provoked her assault read to me quite like an autistic meltdown, something I know about, but I freely grant that that is mere supposition.)

    I found her vociferous defence of her actions, and similar vociferous defences in online forums - that it was in fact reasonable force - more disturbing than the assault in some ways.

    But as I said, I'm not 100% comfortable with my own view. I'm more used to railing against the idea that the law should be a "signal" rather than an enforced offence. But this is where I ended up.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    It's my unresearched belief that since teachers were banned from hitting children the incidence of child abuse perpetrated by teachers has substantially reduced. I think that's because there's a "line in the sand" - getting physical with the kids in any way is a career limiting move, so the opportunity for Christian Brothers type behaviour isn't there any more.

    Maybe a smacking ban for parents will have a similar effect.

    On Alistair's point, nutters (mostly of a right-wing persuasion) are amongst the main perpetrators of terrorism in developed states - e.g:
    - David Copeland's bombings in London (1999)
    - The Oklahoma City bomb
    - The Unabomber
    - Recent letter bomb attacks on speed camera-related companies in the UK
    - The Tokyo nerve gas attacks

    It's interesting that the security forces in most western nations devote very little resources to monitoring such people.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4501 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Gracewood,

    Before I had a child, I was 100% confident that I would need to use smacking as a last-resort punishment when all else had failed.

    Now, as the father of a 3yo, I see the absolute horror engendered by even the mention of timeout, and wonder what I could possibly have been thinking when I even considered smacking.

    Now possibly he is an absolute angel, and the next one will laugh off timeout as a joke, but at this stage I really can't see the reason to use any form of physical discipline against a defenceless child. The thought of hitting my boy makes me sick.

    Orkland • Since Nov 2006 • 167 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I'm more used to railing against the idea that the law should be a "signal" rather than an enforced offence.

    Yeah, remember the time when the Green Party used to stand up for the rule of law?

    I respect them a lot for taking some of the (frequently ridiculed) principled positions on various matters, supporting the rule of law when basicially everyone else opposed it.

    Passing laws you don't want enforced is antithetical to so much of the Greens' views on other justice issues. The Green Party would have been justifiably outraged if the Homosexual Law Reform Bill had failed on the basis that the offences it removed just wouldn't be actively enforced by the police.

    Legislation should make law, not "send messages".

    I generally try to avoid cliches, but if a law is too stupid to be enforced it is too stupid to be a law. And passing a law on the understanding that it is too stupid to be enforced can only drastically reduce respect for the rule of law - if loving parents can ignore this legislative change without fear (as proponents suggest) - then what other laws just aren't worth following?

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3012 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I acknowledge all that, Graeme, but like I said, I felt obliged to also consider the moral argument posed by Sue Bradford. I think this is actually a situation where the social sanction embodied in the law is relevant.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19116 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Tan,

    Why do some parents want to hold on so dearly to the right to hit their own children? Members of the public aren’t allowed to, and neither are the non-related care givers. In fact, when training a dog, you are never supposed to hit (ref - It’s me or the dog).

    When you stand back and look at the act, you can only be abhorred

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Passing laws you don't want enforced is antithetical to so much of the Greens' views on other justice issues. The Green Party would have been justifiably outraged if the Homosexual Law Reform Bill had failed on the basis that the offences it removed just wouldn't be actively enforced by the police.

    The charge in question is already actively not enforced in a number of areas. Assaults that take place on rugby fields every weekend are almost never even looked at by the police - there would have to be serious permanent injury for someone to be charged. Lots of drunken push and shoves and a couple of punches on Saturday night never see more than a 'sober up and stop being dickheads' from the police.

    That might sound very ad-hoc, but the law empowers the police to only pursue arrest and conviction when it's in the public interest. It's something that's reasonably well understood in the police prosecutions sections, and in most areas works out reasonably well. In the past twenty years they've put a lot more heat on domestic assault incidents, recognising that victims often don't complain about their partners, more recently I suspect the heat has gone off ritual child sex abuse cases, as the public 'hysteria' about those has died down and they've had a bit of a reality check about some of the cases they were pursuing.

    So this law change is actually increasing consistency, because it gives children the same protection that any rugby player has. That is, that there is a law which protects them from being assaulted, and the police will look at each situation that they're called to and decide whether or not to press charges.

    If we were to say that laws always need to be enforced, then every drunken assault, rugby field punch up, high school scrap would end up in court. Clearly that doesn't happen now, the same thing would apply with every smack on the hand that a kid gets.

    Personally I'm of the opinion that children should have higher levels of protection than adults, because children aren't necessarily able to protect themselves, or seek police or other support independently of their parents. But giving them the same levels of protection seems legally fair.

    We're going to be left with a situation where, if in the view of police, a parent has 'taken things too far' and brought out a block of wood or a riding crop and beaten their child, then police are not going to have to worry about whether the law backs them up. Their consideration is going to be 'is it in the public interest to prosecute this parent'. If the kid has been seriously hurt, or there seems to be a likelihood that the force is increasing as time goes on, then clearly there will be a public interest and prosecution will proceed.

    Previously some parents have gotten away with what's essentially out of control beatings of their children. The law needs to adjust and we trust the police, as we do in umpteen other areas, to have brains when it comes to knowing when to enforce it.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6227 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    The fourth point is, as those who disagree with the Bill correctly state--the Bill doesn't actually do anything to protect children who are currently being seriously assaulted, and who presently fall outside Section 59 anyway. Children will continue to be seriously assaulted irrespective of what the law says.

    I'm not sure what your/their point is. The bill seeks to address problem X. How is pointing out that it doesn't address problem Y addressing the bill at all?

    If it can help deal with the fact that police have been having trouble getting convictions of some clearly inappropriate treatment of children, then it's a good thing, yes?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6227 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I'm not sure what your/their point is. The bill seeks to address problem X. How is pointing out that it doesn't address problem Y addressing the bill at all?

    The point is that many *supporters* of the bill assert that there is no problem X.

    The bill, unamended by the Borrows' amendment, seeks to address the problem of light smacking. If this isn't viewed as a problem, then the major rationale remaing for the bill is that it addresses problem Y - actual abuse. If this too falls away, then the rationale for the bill fails.

    There are good arguments for light smacking to be criminal - those who support the passage of this bill unamended should be making them.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3012 posts Report Reply

  • plum,

    I've been reading Robert Altemeyer's excellent The Authoritarians (it's being released for free chapter-by-chapter download -- a great read for the social psych layperson), and it occurs to me that a large section of people opposed to the bill are authoritarian in a specific way.

    They see smacking as an essential tool to child-rearing because it teaches that actions have consequences. (They clearly have an authoritarian belief in the transformative powers of violence, and Altemeyer would probably say that belief in smacking would track with support for capital punishment and preventive wars in foreign countries). The point here is that smacking is for them is an educational staple.

    For other parents, smacking is rare, something that happens when they're at the end of their tether, and they instantly regret it.

    The strategy of the bill's opponents is to appeal to the uninformed moderates, pulling them to the right. That requires keeping mum on how integral they believe smacking to be.

    The Greens' messaging on this has been abysmal, with Sue Bradford coming across on National Radio the other day as whiny and threatening to take her ball home if Chester didn't play by her rules. She clearly has been rattled by the oppo (e.g. the death threats on cyfswatch), so I don't hold that against her. But someone else needs to come off the bench and sub for her.

    Also, has anyone noticed how effectively the right has leveraged the Net on this? Look up smacking bill bradford on Technorati and gape in awe at the vitriol marshalled against Sue. While rude bloggers tend to be liberals in the US, they're social conservatives in Aotearoa.

    Wellington • Since Feb 2007 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Nais,

    Smacking with a bare hand on a bottom, hand or back of the legs as a last resort may be ok depending on the circumstances.

    Belting kids across the head with your clenched fist; taking to them with the jug cord and leaving 3 pin plug indentations in their skin for hours after; using your leather belt, the poker, riding crop or whatever.....all WAY over the top and suggest an element of pre-meditation if you've had to resort to a weapon.

    All the above were experienced by my mates at school; none ever experienced by me or my sibblngs. The tone of my mother's voice was enough to stop you dead in your tracks and time out on the rug whilst everyone else played on was sheer unadulterated hell.

    Shouldn't our kids get the same protection as any one of us?

    BTW what would have happened to me if seen...my youngest bit a chunk (missing skin, blood etc) out of my eldest and my instinctive reaction was to grab my son's arm and bite him hard so he understood the pain he'd inflicted on his sister .. Reasonable force? He was screaming, she was sceaming and I was a basket case bawling my eyes out.....he apologised, I apologised and he never bit anyone again.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • James Wendelborn,

    Y'know, parents who hit their kids *should* be made to feel guilty. It doesn't work and it's morally wrong. This law change does something important: it makes violence towards children - any violence, even a "light smack" - an anachronism. It's an attitude shift that needs to happen now in order to benefit future generations.

    Is it ironic I feel like smacking the people who smack their kids?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Nais, I've had a similar moment, phew. In the bad old days, the Police didn't pay too much attention to domestic violence, they sure do now, because of Moral Focus by Legal Attention. I think this is similar in that it's the focus given, or what I think RB called the Moral Focus.
    The Authoritarian (old days Patriarchal) argument is a strong one, ruler of my domain and all within it, type psychology, they still exist.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I find the dichotomy between this debate and the drinking age debate interesting.

    I was never a fan of the we must do something (and what else can Parliament do?) to attack underage drinking argument, and I'm not a fan of the analagous we must do something (and what else can Parliament do?) to attack child abuse argument.

    However, I find it interesting that many of those who attacked the proposal to raise the drinking age don't like the similarly-themed response this time 'round, and many who thought it a goodargument for raising the drinking age are finding logical flaws this time.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3012 posts Report Reply

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