Thursday, June 25, 2009

Guest column: Anti-smacking FAQs

By Conrad Reyners

"The law is confusing, it doesn’t define what a smack is or isn’t – parents don’t know what to think, we should just repeal it."

The law is very clear. Section 59(2) clearly states that it is illegal to smack your child for the purpose of correction. The law does let you grab your child to stop them from harming themselves, others, engaging in a criminal offence, or engaging and continuing to engage in disruptive behaivour. This means that parents can still be parents; they can still ensure that their child is behaving and isn’t a danger. But they cannot use force to punish a child after the fact. They can’t try and correct a child’s poor behavior by beating it out of them.

"The law isn’t working – good families are going to become the targets of police investigations and some already have been!"

Again, the law is very clear. Section 59(4) clearly states that the police have discretion to prosecute, and they will only prosecute when there is a clear public interest in doing so. But let’s look at the evidence that family first will try and raise: when Larry Baldock was asked by Sean Plunket on Radio NZ National of a case where he thought someone had been unjustly prosecuted – Baldock could only provide an example of where a grandfather had pushed a child out of a chair. Add that to the father who punched his child in the face, and the father who pushed his son over repeatedly at a rugby game – and you start to see that the NO vote really doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

"The numbers show that parents are getting a raw deal"

Don’t be fooled by their spin of the numbers. Using their own evidence found on their website, we can show that after a rise (indicative of extra police attention and reporting) total incidents of smacking, minor violence and child abuse have gone down, and are continuing to go down, since the passing of Bradford’s bill. Furthermore, the accompanying Police Press release (that Family First doesn’t mention) states "Activity remains "business as usual" for Police and confirms Officers are continuing to use a common sense approach to child assault events." It is true that there has been an increase in police investigations for Child Abuse – but surely this is a good thing? Especially given the No vote’s focus on attacking child abuse at its core, if anything they should be praising this statistic.

"Smacking is not assault, therefore its ok for parents to smack their children for the purposes of correction."

Wrong. Smacking is assault. It’s the physical and intentional application of violence towards another human being. A vulnerable, trusting and defenceless human being. The law is also very clear on what assault means. Section 2 of the Crimes act defines assault as follows:

assault means the act of intentionally applying or attempting to apply force to the person of another, directly or indirectly, or threatening by any act or gesture to apply such force to the person of another, if the person making the threat has, or causes the other to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; and to assault has a corresponding meaning.
A smack quite clearly fits into this definition. If that doesn’t work – then pose the question; is smacking my wife assault? Is smacking a stranger assault? Is smacking my pet animal abuse? These questions nicely illustrate the absurdity of this Family First argument.

Lastly, Family First may argue that smacking is only light and transitory and is not meant to bruise – and therefore, it’s ok. But this again is a fallacious argument. The whole reason for smacking is that it is an infliction of pain, and the threat of further infliction acts as a deterrent. Smacking is designed to be violent, forceful and coercive; because if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t “work”.

"I got smacked, and I turned out fine – why should I not be able to smack my kids?" (Also known as the “I’m a good parent” argument).

There are two reasons why this argument is terrible. Firstly, societies change. One hundred years ago women were the property of their husbands, and until 1985 it was also legal for a husband to rape his wife. Just because something was once legal doesn’t mean its right.

Secondly, as a society, we want to protect children, and the prevailing academic wisdom is that in the long term children respond best to non physical correction. Hitting your kids because they won’t do what you say is archaic, outdated and brutal. Civilized society has moved on.

Lastly, just because you may have not been adversely affected by smacking doesn’t mean that everyone wasn’t. Just because you think you are a good parent, doesn’t mean that all parents adhere to the same high standards that you assume you live by. Some children live in fear of their parents – for whom a smack is a daily occurrence. Anyone who was smacked as a child will have felt the threat, fear and coercion of physical punishment. Knowing that someone who is supposed to protect you, but is larger than you, and more physically powerful than you – is about to physically “correct” your behaivour creates an unforgettable relationship of fear and distrust, regardless of how much “love” they profess to have for their children.

Parenting through fear is not good parenting.

"We want to tackle the root causes of child abuse; this law is a massive diversion."

For starters this position is hypocritical. Smacking a child is assault. It is child abuse by definition. So supporting this law is a damn good way of tackling child abuse. Trying to point out that child abuse is abhorrent but smacking is not is misleading and morally dishonest. It assumes that the person’s definition of what smacking is, is the only definition. But we can quite clearly show (and the case law supports us) that people under the old law, did not hold the same views as to what smacking was. For some people it was the application of force with a horse whip – others defined it as a few clouts with a vacuum cleaner pipe. If Family First really did want to help stop child abuse – then they would be supportive of increasing the tool kit that the police wish to utilize when they suspect child abuse. As we’ve already shown, this law does not stop good parents from being good parents. With that the case, surely people would want to support this law. Lastly, there is no reason why the root causes of child abuse can’t be steadfastly tackled with this law in place anyway. It seems unbelievably contradictory for someone to argue, I want to stop child abuse, but first you have to let me hit my kids.

"The law hasn’t stopped child abuse"

Well for starters, it was never claimed that the law would stop all child abuse straight away. The laws forbidding murder, rape and robbery haven’t stopped those crimes from occurring, but they sure have helped reduce the number of offences that occur. What this law does do, is it tries to protect children who were at risk of being abused, or who were being abused outright. Family First is correct to say that this law could probably not have saved the life of Nia Glassie – but this law can damn sure put in place a system whereby we can try to never let a situation like Nia’s happen again. Furthermore, it sends a clear message to families that violence is never a way of solving problems, dealing with stress or coping with family breakdown. Family First on their own website admit that domestic abuse and family breakdown are major causes of child abuse. However they fail to make the connection between children who are smacked – and then grow up to smack. Banning smacking for the purpose of correction helps to drive a wedge into the vicious cycle of domestic violence that is endemic in our country – and affects us all, not just our children.

So, by looking at the arguments above, and by looking at the responses below each one – we can quite clearly see that Family First, The Sensible Sentencing Trust and other ultra-right wing groups are trying to pull the wool over our eyes once again. There’s nothing new here, just violent, conservative individuals who don’t represent New Zealand, and who don’t represent the hundreds of thousands of decent, loving, and non-violent parents that New Zealand desperately needs more of. Please, VOTE YES in the coming referendum.