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Coddington makes sense on smacking

datePosted on 21:55, June 21st, 2009 by Lew

Words I never thought I’d write, but good grief, The Yes Vote has linked me to proof-positive that despite her previous crimes against logic and argumentation, not to mention evidence, Deborah Coddington can write wisdom from time to time. Her HoS column today makes a strong liberal* case against the S59 referendum by killing** the sacred cow that cries of “nanny state!” are pure and unassailable positions of principle, and arguing that when it comes to discipline there’s a gap between principle and implementation into which society must not permit children to fall.

Act’s John Boscawen has a bill to amend Section 59 – again – so it will be “no longer a crime to use reasonable force” if parents discipline a child.
Here we go, loop de loop. Boscawen says he’s sick of nine years of Labour’s nanny state telling parents what to do, but isn’t this more of the same? You can use a light smack, but not a hard smack? Why not a good, old-fashioned razor-stropping like my father used to give me, followed by Mum with the wooden spoon, and while you’re at it John, bring back six of the best in schools for bad girls like me – never did us any harm, did it?
Truth is, no matter how hard politicians try to flannel, they’re always telling us what to do. Paula Bennett said she didn’t think a smack as part of good parental correction should be a criminal offence and she didn’t want to go into homes and tell people how to parent.
Oh really? Not even when they’re disciplining with the jug cord or vacuum cleaner pipe?

But for the last sentence, this could pass for the usual sort of faux-outraged don’t-tread-on-me doggerel. But what’s remarkable about the last sentence is that it rejects the typical anti-statist line that all intrusions into private affairs are equal and equally meritless – it recognises that the state has a role to play in protecting children from the (however well-meaning) depredations of their parents and that there is a strong public good in the appropriate exercise of that role.

This is based on a deeper argument about the rights of the individual – and the assertion that children are individuals with rights of their own, not their parents’ belongings to be treated according to parents’ sovereign wishes.

It’s no wonder children are not valued as individuals in this country, but instead as some sort of chattel belonging to adults until they reach some magic age – 16 or 18 or 20. We do not own our children, a fact that has yet to be driven home to those selfish individuals who fight their way through the Family Court over who has the offspring, ensuring any remaining family happiness is destroyed forever.
Sadly, I don’t ever see a future in this country where all children are treasured, despite all the good work done by many organisations and individuals.
It’s not just about eliminating the beatings, it includes respecting young people’s presence. I hate it when parents don’t introduce their children to me, as if they don’t exist.

Because, in truth, nobody believes that parents have an unassailable right to treat their children as they please*** – it’s just that people of various political stripes like to be seen to support parental sovereignty without also being on the hook for the hard decisions such a position requires.

Policy is about value judgements, and if the AAS lobby were honest they’d be arguing the value of corporal punishment in parenting: arguing that it will strengthen families, grow good children and create a better society; and how it will do so. To an extent Larry Baldock has tried (33 minute audio), but only to an extent, because even those at the heart of the AAS lobby recognise the weakness of their position in strict analytical terms. So they fall back on symbolic arguments they don’t really believe in, but which are malleable enough to be twisted around to support their misguided cause.

People who claim pure and unassailable statements of principle in terms of policy implementation is usually selling you a bill of goods, but it’s nice for someone so strongly (shall we say) ideological to be pointing it out. More power to your typing fingers, Deborah.

L

* The classical kind, not the latte-sipping kind.
** Or at least beating it with a jug-cord.
*** Ok, some people seem to.

55 Responses to “Coddington makes sense on smacking”

  1. jcuknz on June 22nd, 2009 at 07:48

    I hate it when parents don’t introduce their children to me, as if they don’t exist.

    The “Children should be seen and not heard” concept and as one wit said ” and not seen either”. Oh for the good old days.

  2. Psycho Milt on June 22nd, 2009 at 10:48

    I have to confess to failing to generate any level of surprise that a stranger to logic and argument is promoting the yes vote…

    Policy is about value judgements, and if the AAS lobby were honest they’d be arguing the value of corporal punishment in parenting: arguing that it will strengthen families, grow good children and create a better society; and how it will do so. To an extent Larry Baldock has tried (33 minute audio), but only to an extent, because even those at the heart of the AAS lobby recognise the weakness of their position in strict analytical terms.

    I doubt I’m in agreement with Baldock and McCroskie on anything much beyond this issue, so they probably wouldn’t agree with this interpretation, but fwiw: I wouldn’t ever argue for corporal punishment in parenting as a recommended method – there’s certainly nothing creditable or worthy about hitting a child, so it’s hardly a course to be recommended. What is recommended is some effective means of disciplining your children, because they have a society to belong to when they grow up and you have toteach them that their immediate impulse is not the gold standard of how to behave. That is not something that happens through philosophical discourse with your 3-year-old, in which your better-formulated arguments win out over their inferior ones. If you do your job as a parent, there is necessarily going to be unpleasantness – the only question is the form that unpleasantness will take.

    That’s what it comes down to – smacking may not be the best way of handling discipline, but most parents get to a point where they use it, and there’s no denying it’s quick and effective. Those parents generally aren’t proud of the fact that they resorted to it, certanly wouldn’t recommend it as a preferred method of discipline, but also don’t see any particular reason why hippies, wet liberals and the childless should get away with declaring them criminals for it.

    We do not own our children, a fact that has yet to be driven home to those selfish individuals who fight their way through the Family Court over who has the offspring, ensuring any remaining family happiness is destroyed forever.

    Uh, yeah – I don’t think any of those people who’ve had CYF on their doorstep remained under the impression that their children belonged to them – it’s quite clear who owns them if it decides to exercise that ownership.

  3. roger nome on June 22nd, 2009 at 12:55

    Psych – take a look through the literature on childhood violence and dissociative behavior, It makes for some extremely shocking reading.

    Just read through the abstracts on the following page, then tell me that we shouldn’t be criminalsing violence against children.

    http://scholar.google.co.nz/scholar?q=childhood+violence+dissociation&hl=en&um=1&ie=UTF-8&oi=scholart

    What we want here is evidence-based practice. The fact that a lot of people do it doesn’t make it ok. If that were the case violence against women by their male partners would still be legal and we would have never moved on from the 1950s.

  4. Francois on June 22nd, 2009 at 13:25

    … Even a broken clock…

  5. Psycho Milt on June 22nd, 2009 at 13:50

    Shocking indeed. Do you make a similar argument along the lines of the Josef Fritzl case providing clear evidence for criminalising time out?

    If we’re interested in evidence-based practice for or against smacking, let’s use evidence that involves children who were smacked, ie children like the vast majority of us over 40, not children who were subjected to savage beatings and constant physical cruelty. Someone at Lindsay Mitchell’s blog mentioned the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, and I was interested in this comment from one of the researchers involved:

    Study members in the ‘smacking only’ category of punishment appeared to be particularly high-functioning and achieving members of society, she said.

    “I have looked at just about every study I can lay my hands on, and there are thousands, and I have not found any evidence that an occasional mild smack with an open hand on the clothed behind or the leg or hand is harmful or instils violence in kids,” she said.

    (NB: “smacking only” as in “not beaten with jug cords and lumps of wood,” not as in “smacking the only form of punishment.”

    Re “wife-beating,” it’s exactly this kind of false analogy – being falsely compared with wife-beaters and rapists – that makes parents a little grumpy when debating anti-smacking zealots. If you want to use this analogy, you’re going to have to come up with two things:

    1. A valid reason for comparing grievous bodily harm with a minor slap.

    2. Some explanation of exactly how it’s my duty to subject my wife to discipline in the process of raising her to become a functional member of society. Last I heard, the feminists pretty much had this canard covered, but feel free to have a go.

  6. roger nome on June 22nd, 2009 at 15:05

    Psych –

    We’re not just talking about a mild slap however – Section 59 allowed people to use horse riding crops on their children for goodness’ sake. Precisely because the members of the jury would consider taking to children with sticks and large pieces of leather “reasonable force”. What we need is a cultural shift (such as happened in the 1970 and 1980s with violence against women) – and this needs to be driven by what is seen as legitimate authority (i.e. the government and the courts).

    Presumably you know that no parent has been convicted for giving their child a mild slap as a result of the new law? This is because the police are empowered by the law to dismiss such cases and not bring them to trial. The day the police start hauling parents in for administering a mild slap is the day when you actually have an argument.

  7. roger nome on June 22nd, 2009 at 15:06

    You’re not so subtle and i’m not so broken francois, but thanks for the endorsement of my argument.

  8. Psycho Milt on June 22nd, 2009 at 16:41

    I think “even a broken clock” was a reference to Coddington.

    Section 59 allowed people to use horse riding crops on their children for goodness’ sake.

    Section 59 didn’t allow these things, juries did. Seemingly unlike Bradford et al, I lack the enviable skill of knowing better than the jury after a mere few minutes perusing stories about the case in the newspaper, so couldn’t comment on the validity of juries’ decisions.

    The spin that smacking hasn’t been criminalised was dealt with pretty thoroughly here at the Standard. I don’t know about you, but having the govt make ordinary behaviour illegal and then tell us not to worry because the Police won’t prosecute… somehow, it doesn’t fill me with a warm glow of satisfaction in seeing good legislation implemented well, if you know what I mean.

  9. roger nome on June 22nd, 2009 at 16:48

    So psycho lives up to his name and endorses the use of horse riding crops on children – bravo. I believe you exemplify the all too common attitude at issue here –

    it’s actually pretty common for people to consider violence against children to be ok, but the evidence shows that it clearly isn’t (if you’re at all interested in the mental health/welfare of people). Violence perpetrated against children has profoundly destructive effects, that many people are ignorant of. That’s precisely why we need to retain this amendment.

  10. roger nome on June 22nd, 2009 at 16:50

    “I think “even a broken clock” was a reference to Coddington.”

    Well that would make more sense :-)

  11. millsy on June 22nd, 2009 at 17:02

    So Milt,

    So I take it you think that it is OK for juries to let parents off when they hit their child with implements obtained from the toolshed/kitchen drawer.

  12. Psycho Milt on June 22nd, 2009 at 19:12

    Has the Min of Justice figured out yet it could save zillions on jury trials by just getting you two to read the newspaper and make a pronouncement? Seriously, we’ve got a decade of budget deficits to reduce here…

  13. roger nome on June 22nd, 2009 at 20:50

    Is that all you’ve got milt, a reactionary, conservative throw-away line? The law was broken, it was fixed, and now you want it to be broken again …. great.

  14. Psycho Milt on June 22nd, 2009 at 21:43

    No, it’s not all I’ve got, nor is it in any sense a reactionary or conservative view, and since you asked:

    The law was broken, it was fixed…

    Or in other words, juries were occasionally delivering verdicts you and Millsy didn’t like, so you were happy to see the decision taken out of their hands. I fail to see a heroic victory for justice therein, or any reason why I ought to see one.

    Your view strikes me as fairly typical of the staunch sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority posessed by activists. If 12 people much like us heard all the evidence, saw the people involved face-to-face, heard their testimony, and eventually came to the conclusion that the defendants were not guilty, the activist immediately concludes it can only be due to the 12 being reactionary conservatives who feel violence against children is OK and who need to have their woefully inferior consciousnesses raised by activists wielding “legitimate authority.” The concept that the jurors may be perfectly ordinary people of at least equivalent moral stature to yourselves who’ve come to a different conclusion than the one you’ve leapt to, but based on actual evidence presented in court rather than a cursory glance at the charges, is a ludicrous improbability to be immediately ruled out.

    It would be nice if socialism was about valuing the other members of your society for themselves, rather than viewing as them as recalcitrant churls in constant dire need of consciousness-raising, but sadly that day seems as far off as ever.

  15. millsy on June 22nd, 2009 at 22:52

    So Milt,

    you are pretty much comfortable with the idea of parents being aquitted for beating their children with rubber pipes?

    Why are you so comfortable with parents beating their children? Why do you like hitting?

  16. reid on June 22nd, 2009 at 23:07

    This is based on a deeper argument about the rights of the individual – and the assertion that children are individuals with rights of their own, not their parents’ belongings to be treated according to parents’ sovereign wishes.

    It would be nice if socialism was about valuing the other members of your society for themselves, rather than viewing as them as recalcitrant churls in constant dire need of consciousness-raising, but sadly that day seems as far off as ever.

    Yep.

  17. Lew on June 23rd, 2009 at 10:40

    PM, reid,

    What, apart from Redbaiter’s rantings, does socialism have to do with anything here? Aside from the totally bogus assertions that socialism is all about control, or that anyone in NZ politics is really a socialist, the ‘all yes-voters are busybodies who want to control our lives’ line of argument is just as perverse as the ‘all no-voters are child-beaters’ line. It’s not helping the quality of discourse.

    L

  18. Psycho Milt on June 23rd, 2009 at 11:36

    My use of the term “socialism” here was pretty specific – to account for Roger Nome and Millsy’s view of jurors as reactionaries in need of having their consciousness raised, rather than as people much like themselves. It’s a pretty commmon view among leftist activists, but you’re right – it doesn’t have much bearing on the legislation itself or most of the politicians who supported it, and wasn’t intended to be taken that way.

  19. millsy on June 23rd, 2009 at 12:19

    Milt,

    I ask you again. Are you comfortable with parents being aquitted by juries for hitting their children with rubber hoses and other instruments.

    And do you think it is OK for a man to repeately shove his child to the ground?

  20. Michael on June 23rd, 2009 at 12:22

    So, Psycho Milt, I presume you would be making exactly the same arguments in favour of all-white juries trying black civil-rights activists in the American South in the 1960s? Or black males for rape in the 1930s? After all, the jurors in these cases were presumably adults of broadly similar moral stature to yourself (or any of those reprobate left-wing activists)?

    As for the argument that good parents could be criminalised for a light slap on the wrist, frankly I cannot bring myself to give a fuck. The very existence of this argument simply shows up the massive double standard we have in our society regarding violence against children and violence against adults. You could technically be charged with assault for giving an adult a light slap on the wrist. Heck, you could technically be charged with assault for yanking an adult back onto the footpath out of the way of an oncoming bus. No-one seems to be kicking up a big stink about the laws on assault against adults but as soon as someone tries to pass a law creating the same standards for children we have all sorts of snivelling weasel words about ridiculous possible exceptions and ‘criminalising good parents.’

    If anything, this double standard should show up the massive disconnect many of us still have about violence against children. As I see it, the laws for assault against adults and the laws for assault against children should be exactly the same. We need to demonstrate as a society, to paraphrase what someone above me said, that we will not accept violence against children in the same way we are slowly coming no longer to tolerate marital rape and other forms of violence against women.

  21. Psycho Milt on June 23rd, 2009 at 13:53

    Millsy: stopped beating your wife yet?

    So, Psycho Milt, I presume you would be making exactly the same arguments in favour of all-white juries trying black civil-rights activists in the American South in the 1960s?

    You know, I’m picking you can see the glaring flaw in an analogy comparing racist jury selection with jury selection in NZ just as well as I can…

    As I see it, the laws for assault against adults and the laws for assault against children should be exactly the same.

    That would certainly simplify things. In fact, for the sake of such consistency we could have the law treat adults and children the same in other respects too – maybe then I could call the cops when my kids are misbehaving and have them arrested, thus saving considerable time and effort.

  22. Michael on June 23rd, 2009 at 14:25

    ah yes because what I was driving at there was the fact that juries were racially selected in the American South, not that they were ‘presumably adults of broadly similar moral stature to yourself (or any of those reprobate left-wing activists).’

    you know as well as I do that juries sometimes make wrong or unacceptable decisions (and if they make a decision that lets people off the hook for hitting their children then that is an unacceptable and morally wrong decision that should be legally wrong too).

    and yes advocating for the right of children to be free from physical violence is exactly the same as, say, setting the age for criminal responsibility to age three.

    I thought even libertarians agreed that the exercise of physical force is wrong, and I don’t see why that shouldn’t apply equally to physical force applied against children as it does to force applied against adults.

    Say it with me: ‘I am in favour of hitting children,’ because that’s what you’ve been driving at this whole time with your insidious faux-reasonable arguments, and if you are then you’re not alone, in fact you probably have a couple of million New Zealanders with you, which is as I’ve said the precise reason why the unacceptability of violence against children must be explicitly spelled out in criminal law.

    There are things that are morally wrong. Hitting children is one of them, and we should not be afraid to say so in the clearest possible terms.

    In fact, I’ll go further than that, and say that it is our duty to condemn it in the strongest possible terms, as part of the society-wide shift in consciousness we clearly need to make all forms of violence against children as unacceptable as drink driving or hitting your spouse is or prejudice against gays is becoming.

  23. Graeme on June 23rd, 2009 at 14:41

    Michael, I’m not sure that “violent” and “violence” have the meanings you seem to ascribe to them.

    Is it your view that the sentences “Sam assaulted Max” and “Sam violently assaulted Max” have identical meanings?

    Merriam-Webster (first in my google search for a definition) define violent in four ways:

    1: marked by extreme force or sudden intense activity (a violent attack)
    2 a: notably furious or vehement (a violent denunciation) b: extreme, intense (violent pain) (violent colors)
    3: caused by force : not natural (a violent death)
    4 a: emotionally agitated to the point of loss of self-control (became violent after an insult) b: prone to commit acts of violence (violent prison inmates)

  24. Michael on June 23rd, 2009 at 14:54

    I would have thought that some degree of violence would be implied in any use of the term ‘assault,’ yes. How can one assault someone non-violently?

    Adding ‘violently’ as a qualifier in the second sentence would merely imply some extraordinary degree of violence, since some level of violence is already implicit by definition in the first sentence.

    And yes, violence against children in any form, in all forms, should be morally and legally unacceptable.

  25. Graeme on June 23rd, 2009 at 15:56

    I would have thought that some degree of violence would be implied in any use of the term ‘assault,’ yes. How can one assault someone non-violently?

    Some degree of force – certainly. I had a debate with a flatmate over the meaning of violent/violence a while back – all the definitions are pretty similar: the clear implication was that not all force is violent.

    How can one assault someone non-violently? From the meaning of violent one could argue: by using force that does not go so far as to be “extreme force”, or “intense”, etc.

    I think arguments like this are among the reasons so many were outraged (or just quite defensive) over the legislative change to section 59. Arguments were being made over “hitting”, “beating” and “violence” that just didn’t square with many people. Parents who instinctively comprehend a difference between an ‘assault’ and a ‘violent assault’ were thinking “yes, I’ve smacked my kids, and I know I shouldn’t have, and I felt guilty, and I know there’s a better way … but you’re lumping me together with those who are violent, with those who hit and with those who beat … it’s hard to defend smacking, but I’m going to defend myself against that“.

    If proponents of the move had toned down the rhetoric and instead argued:

    “we know the vast majority if parents who smack aren’t violent, and don’t beat their children, are just as sick at the levels of child abuse in this country as we are. This law change isn’t about parents who smack, it’s about the violent ones, the ones who use the law to get away with abuse. This law change bans smacking, but if we don’t do it we won’t even be able to begin to address the needs of those children who do grow up in violent homes. Most parents who occasionally smack their children, feel guilty about and know that there is a better way to raise happy and healthy kids; these people – the vast majority of New Zealand parents – will have nothing to fear from this law change – the police will not investigate or prosecute a minor smack. Yes smacking will not be something you’re allowed to do any more, but you know you shouldn’t do it, and feel guilty when you do; and isn’t it a small price to pay to offer some protection to the children who do grow up in violents households?

    I don’t believe we’d be where we are now.

  26. Psycho Milt on June 23rd, 2009 at 16:18

    you know as well as I do that juries sometimes make wrong or unacceptable decisions (and if they make a decision that lets people off the hook for hitting their children then that is an unacceptable and morally wrong decision that should be legally wrong too).

    We’re certainly in agreement that juries occasionally make the wrong decision. What I don’t share is the activist’s unshakeable conviction (yours, for example) that he can identify those incorrect decisions based on a cursory examination of the facts, thanks to his superior morality.

    and yes advocating for the right of children to be free from physical violence is exactly the same as, say, setting the age for criminal responsibility to age three.

    Well, do you want the law to treat children the same as adults or not? It’s a two-way street.

    Say it with me: ‘I am in favour of hitting children,’ because that’s what you’ve been driving at this whole time with your insidious faux-reasonable arguments, and if you are then you’re not alone, in fact you probably have a couple of million New Zealanders with you, which is as I’ve said the precise reason why the unacceptability of violence against children must be explicitly spelled out in criminal law.

    Perhaps you didn’t actually read the thread?

  27. millsy on June 23rd, 2009 at 16:57

    Milt, just suck it in and say that you are OK with parents belting their children with implements gained from garden shed and kitchens. Is that so hard?

  28. Michael on June 23rd, 2009 at 17:03

    Well, do you want the law to treat children the same as adults or not? It’s a two-way street.

    no it is not! and children should not be treated the same way in law as are adults! they should enjoy the same protections as adults from assault, however.

    you seem to think that if children are granted the full protection of the law from assault then we must treat them the same way as adults in every particular. there are two huge differences between adults and children, however. the first is that children are not responsible for their actions in the same way that adults are (and therefore as per my example earlier should not be treated as criminally responsible in the same way that adults are). the second is that there is an enormous power imbalance inherent in any relationship between children and adults, and this, if anything, means children should enjoy stronger protections in law than adults.

    it is the combination of these two things that means that children are unable to act on their own behalf and means that adults can enact laws to permit an exercise of force on children that would never be tolerated against an adult.

  29. Michael on June 23rd, 2009 at 18:30

    We’re certainly in agreement that juries occasionally make the wrong decision. What I don’t share is the activist’s unshakeable conviction (yours, for example) that he can identify those incorrect decisions based on a cursory examination of the facts, thanks to his superior morality.

    this is the new social conservative tactic to defend whatever awful cause they’re advancing, be it denying gays the full civil rights that heterosexuals enjoy or children the protection of the law from assault. it’s misusing the liberal discourse of tolerance to imply that there are a number of competing ‘moralities’ of equal validity, and that to impose universal legal and moral standards of behaviour is an unconscionable imposition on individual rights. to which I say yes, indeed there are many different moral outlooks. some of them justify slavery or human trafficking or hitting children, and these ones are not the ones on which to build a decent society that treats human beings with decency and respect.

  30. Psycho Milt on June 23rd, 2009 at 18:56

    Millsy: so you are still beating your wife then?

    Michael: one gets the impression your only involvement with children is that you were one once. Just for the record: children are not an oppressed class, they’re children. Again, try actually reading the thread.

    Re “misusing the liberal discourse of tolerance,” all I can say is that Burning Sense of Moral Superiority =/= Compelling Argument.

  31. Lew on June 23rd, 2009 at 22:37

    PM,

    You might think Millsy’s question is beneath contempt, but that’s the sort of thing – the Timaru riding crop case and similar – this law was intended to prevent; that, and changing the culture of childrearing so that such behaviour is seen as unconscionably wrong, rather than the sort of thing a parent could do and reasonably expect to be acquitted for. The mechanism for these two imperatives – securing the rights of children to be free from assault to the same extent as other members of society – uses primarily legal means for the former imperative and symbolic means for the second imperative.

    It wasn’t for the purpose of stamping out all child abuse everywhere, and it wasn’t to turn every home into a hippy paradise where children and adults live in magical rainbow-tinged harmony just because the government says so; and it certainly wasn’t to give children the false impression that they hold all the same rights as adults – only that they hold one critical negative right; to be free from assault and have that freedom secured by the state. No, children aren’t an oppressed minority, but that isn’t to say they shouldn’t be accorded the same freedom from assault accorded other citizens. Or does it?

    You may disagree with the agenda and consequently the repeal – but I think that if you do, it’s incumbent upon you to argue the justification: the case for assault as a value proposition; and/or the position that the occasional parent getting away with beating their kids with riding crops and such is a reasonable price to pay for all the so-called good parents being able to continue on their merry smacking way; and/or that children aren’t deserving of the most fundamental negative right to be free from assault. It seems that few who intend to vote no are prepared to argue any of these cases wholeheartedly, but instead are content to mutter darkly about socialists*, the end of the family, and parents being jailed for doing what parents do.

    That few such forthright justifications have emerged indicates that the AAS lobby realises that in the cold light of day, their dearly-held beliefs don’t stack up as strongly as they might think, and they’re clinging to tradition and superstition rather than reason, logic and, as you say, compelling argument. Not only do I not trust the endpoint, I don’t trust the process by which it was arrived at which, as far as I can figure, is “this is how it’s always been therefore it’s right”. Well, no.

    L

    * I accept based on your explanation that this doesn’t include you, though.

  32. Michael on June 23rd, 2009 at 23:54

    Michael: one gets the impression your only involvement with children is that you were one once. Just for the record: children are not an oppressed class, they’re children. Again, try actually reading the thread.

    snide condescension isn’t really an argument, champ

    I think arguments like this are among the reasons so many were outraged (or just quite defensive) over the legislative change to section 59. Arguments were being made over “hitting”, “beating” and “violence” that just didn’t square with many people. Parents who instinctively comprehend a difference between an ‘assault’ and a ‘violent assault’ were thinking “yes, I’ve smacked my kids, and I know I shouldn’t have, and I felt guilty, and I know there’s a better way … but you’re lumping me together with those who are violent, with those who hit and with those who beat … it’s hard to defend smacking, but I’m going to defend myself against that“.

    well there are differences in law between common assault, aggravated assault, grievous bodily harm, etc etc etc. presumably if one slapped a child on the wrist and were charged for it the charge would be ‘common assault’ rather than, say, ‘grievous bodily harm’ or ‘assault with intent to injure.’

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything Lew has just said.

  33. dave on June 24th, 2009 at 00:25

    Well, do you want the law to treat children the same as adults or not? It’s a two-way street.

    Do you mean prosecute children for hitting their parents?

  34. Psycho Milt on June 24th, 2009 at 06:54

    Lew: Millsy’s questions are basically Robinsod’s “pigfucker” one – “I know he doesn’t, I just want to see him deny it.”

    You may disagree with the agenda and consequently the repeal – but I think that if you do, it’s incumbent upon you to argue the justification: the case for assault as a value proposition; and/or the position that the occasional parent getting away with beating their kids with riding crops and such is a reasonable price to pay for all the so-called good parents being able to continue on their merry smacking way; and/or that children aren’t deserving of the most fundamental negative right to be free from assault.

    I don’t think there’s anything to it beyond what I’ve already said: the fact that a jury has occasionally defined “reasonable force” in a way we don’t like isn’t sufficient justification for taking those decisions out of the hands of juries and giving them to the Police, which strikes me as rank foolishness. Bradford et al immediately leap to the conclusion, in cases like these, that the juries are clearly some kind of throwbacks to the dark ages who think beating a kid with a riding crop or a piece of wood is just fine. But there’s an alternative conclusion: that they were ordinary people who weighed up the crime against the provocation the parent was subjected to, the effect a criminal conviction would have on the parent and the effect being removed from their family would have on the child, and in all conscience couldn’t bring themselves to convict. Bradford and her fellow activists seem to be saying that alternative is indisputably morally wrong, is unacceptable and the opportunity to reach such conclusions must be removed from juries. Well, sure – they’re entitled to see the world in black and white if they wish, but many of us have a little more empathy with our fellow humans than that.

  35. Psycho Milt on June 24th, 2009 at 06:59

    Do you mean prosecute children for hitting their parents?

    That would certainly be very foolish, but Michael seems to be arguing for it.

  36. Graeme on June 24th, 2009 at 11:00

    That would certainly be very foolish, but Michael seems to be arguing for it.

    He does not. He is arguing that as an adult breaks the law if they assualt an adult, they should also be breaking the law if they assault a child.

    Adults are not protected in law from assaults by children (i.e. the age of partial criminal responsiblity is 14), and children won’t be either.

    … that’s the sort of thing – the Timaru riding crop case and similar – this law was intended to prevent;

    I believe that that’s what Chester Borrows’ proposed amendment was intended to prevent. The more strident change actually proposed and adopted here was intended to do this but in addition to also precluding parents who smack from pleading the defence of reasonable force.

    well there are differences in law between common assault, aggravated assault, grievous bodily harm, etc etc etc. presumably if one slapped a child on the wrist and were charged for it the charge would be ‘common assault’ rather than, say, ‘grievous bodily harm’ or ‘assault with intent to injure.’

    I suspect it would be assault on a child, but this misses my point. Of course there are differences between the different classes of assault, the problem was that Sue Bradford and others didn’t seem to recognise that a light smack on the hand was in any way different from a beating with a riding crop. People heard the rhetoric – the need to protect kids from parents who beat, hit or smack their kids – and they were immediately turned off what could have been an empowering message.

  37. Lew on June 24th, 2009 at 12:04

    PM,

    Yes, I know Millsy’s question is designed to provoke rather than illuminate, but I think there is a point in there: are you prepared to see the occasional parent acquitted of beating their kid in order to safeguard the rights of the ‘good’ smacking parents? Any sort of policy like this is a tradeoff – we accept that a certain number of murderers and rapists will walk free so as to ensure that it is very unlikely for someone to be wrongly convicted.

    You seem to accept that the benefits to parents outweigh the costs to children.I don’t see it as a worthwhile tradeoff, and I’m interested in the positive side of the argument (ie, what is gained to offset the Timaru riding crop and other such cases?)

    there’s an alternative conclusion: that they were ordinary people who weighed up the crime against the provocation the parent was subjected to, the effect a criminal conviction would have on the parent and the effect being removed from their family would have on the child, and in all conscience couldn’t bring themselves to convict.

    This is the tacit argument that the occasional kid getting beaten with a riding crop is a fair price to pay for the rights of “good” parents to discipline their kids with force, but it’s only the tacit argument. I want to see it demonstrated explicitly. Then, even though I’ll likely still disagree, I’ll at least know that people care about this issue on a rational basis, rather than solely on emotive, traditional or symbolic grounds. It seems to me like this requires arguing that physical force can be a good corrective measure, an assertion which I suspect will be bloody hard to justify, which is why few people are trying to do so.

    L

  38. roger nome on June 24th, 2009 at 12:48

    Psycho milt:

    Do you think it’s ok to name you kids the following?

    “Crystal Meth, Dubya, Incest, International Harvester, Stabbed in Jail”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cletus_Spuckler

  39. Psycho Milt on June 24th, 2009 at 13:18

    You seem to accept that the benefits to parents outweigh the costs to children.I don’t see it as a worthwhile tradeoff, and I’m interested in the positive side of the argument (ie, what is gained to offset the Timaru riding crop and other such cases?)

    The thing is, your question is predicated on us agreeing that the jury’s verdict in that case was wrong and an injustice created. That may be the case, but I don’t know it for a fact. We all have a gut reaction that a situation in which a kid was beaten with a riding crop can’t be one in which no crime was committed, but a jury considered the evidence and found otherwise. So, if we’re considering the issue on rational rather than emotive grounds, I see obvious problems in basing that consideration on second-guessing jury decisions based on our own emotional reaction to those decisions.

    However, for the sake of argument I’ll leave the issue of second-guessing jury decisions aside. Re the cost/benefit ratio, as you say it’s a trade-off. We want to punish the guilty without punishing the innocent, and the chances of doing that cleanly and successfully in every instance are non-existent.

    I base my view of the cost/benefit of this issue on two things:

    1. It’s better for a guilty person to go free than for an innocent person to be convicted – the justice system should and does err on the side of caution in this respect. So, we have to look at how many instances of supposed guilty people going free have occurred due to S59. Even with agreement that we know better than the juries involved, it’s a very small number – ie, the benefit is going to be very significant for the individuals concerned, but not a large number in total. We then have to look at how many innocent people stand to face difficulty because of the new law: that’s trickier. It will be hard to gauge that number because under Bradford’s law, people accused by the Police of assault on a child basically have no option but to plead guilty if the facts of the matter are, for instance, that they did indeed smack the kid. Twice now I’ve seen over at the Hand Mirror the view expressed that a particular case was clearly not an innocent being convicted because the accused pleaded guilty, and therefore obviously accepted a crime had been committed. Ain’t necessarily so.

    It’s also difficult to assess the number of families who’ve suffered unnecessary aggro from CYF thanks to Bradford’s law.

    Beyond that, the suppressing effect on parents willingness to impose discipline on their children is unknown but can be expected to be significant.

    Basically, the benefits are known and apply to a small number, but the costs aren’t known and potentially apply to a very large number.

    2. As a point of principle, juries should be making decisions on people’s guilt or innocence when it comes to serious crimes. Bradford has effectively ended juries deciding guilt or innocence for these offences and put the decision in the hands of the Police. That was bad law-making generated by emotive reactions to individual trial results and should therefore be opposed on that basis alone, regardless of benefit.

  40. Psycho Milt on June 24th, 2009 at 13:20

    Also a wife-beater, Rog?

  41. roger nome on June 24th, 2009 at 16:17

    I don’t havwe a wife psych, never have.

    Go to see you have an astute sense of humour though.

  42. roger nome on June 24th, 2009 at 16:48

    psych –

    I think it’s a good thing that parents will hesitate before commiting violence against their children now. They’re more likely to think for a few minutes about how to discipline their children without violence, rather than lash out with their reptilian brain instincts. Or do you think the reptilian brain has it over the higher brain? It doesn’t any any other case of violence i can think of (possibly self-defence), and that’s why the law punishes violence, because the reptilian brain doesn’t have the faculties for considering long term consequences – that’s where values, ethics and laws come in – some people need to have their primitive instincs curbed by an innate emotional response, which result from the internalisation of ethical standards.

    http://www.benbest.com/science/anatmind/anatmd9.html

    Cletus needs to know, somehow, that it’s better to talk and negotiate with his wife than to bash her, and the law changes in the 1960s enabled Cletus-like people to internalise this (although the reptilian brain still wins out in some cases).

    This is how social change can happen for the best some times, from the top down. The “community” isn’t always right.

  43. Psycho Milt on June 24th, 2009 at 19:09

    I’m not any more chuffed about being compared to Cletus the slack-jawed wife-beater than I was yesterday…

    I think it’s a good thing that parents will hesitate before commiting violence against their children now. They’re more likely to think for a few minutes about how to discipline their children without violence, rather than lash out with their reptilian brain instincts.

    Well, we’re all free to speculate over possible outcomes of this law change. My own view tends towards the effect being that many parents will hesitate to impose any discipline whatsoever on their children.

  44. Lew on June 24th, 2009 at 21:37

    PM,

    Thanks for a thorough and considered response.

    The thing is, your question is predicated on us agreeing that the jury’s verdict in that case was wrong and an injustice created. That may be the case, but I don’t know it for a fact. We all have a gut reaction that a situation in which a kid was beaten with a riding crop can’t be one in which no crime was committed, but a jury considered the evidence and found otherwise.

    That would be the case if I were making the judgement on a legal basis and not on a normative basis. To the extent which it is possible for juries of reasonable people, acting reasonably, to acquit a mother of assault when she horsewhips her kid, it’s the law which is broken, not the jury. Since the facts of the case (that the mother did indeed use a riding crop on her child), any law which acquitted her of assault (absent a conventional defence such as self-defence) ought to be amended to make it not so. To not believe this, I think you need to be able to argue a case in favour of horsewhipping (more on which later).

    The difference here is that you judge the outcome of the case against the law on the presumption that the law and its interpretation by a jury is necessarily just – if she was acquitted, the obviously the force was reasonable. Well, yes, employing a strict legal definition of legal, it’s true. Upon the presumption that the jury is legally right and therefore just, you criticise me for objecting to an outcome I “don’t like” as if there are no grounds for not liking it. I judge the case against what I believe ought to be, and this doesn’t measure up. Determining what is “reasonable” is not the sole domain of juries; politicians make law, and where they see a jury interpreting law in unjust ways, they are entitled to change it.

    I argue this distinction a great deal in defence (!) of George W. Bush, when people complain he wasn’t legitimately elected in 2000. He was, I say, legitimately elected because although the Governor was biased, and the Supreme Court was stacked, they were nevertheless the properly constituted authorities to make the decisions and judgements they made. However, and this is critical, while the outcome was legitimate, it forms an excellent set of arguments for reform of the relevant set of laws.

    1. It’s better for a guilty person to go free than for an innocent person to be convicted – the justice system should and does err on the side of caution in this respect.

    I agree. But the issues of “guilt” and “innocence” here are strictly legal issues, whereas issues of justice are a bit more complex – they have included parents being charged with assault, admitting the charge and being discharged without conviction. To me, this is a good outcome – it demonstrates that it’s not ok to punch your kid in the face, or push him repeatedly to the ground and sends a clear signal to the effect that such behaviour will not be tolerated, but recognises that people oughtn’t be convicted or imprisoned lightly and should be given chances to sort their act out.

    a particular case was clearly not an innocent being convicted because the accused pleaded guilty, and therefore obviously accepted a crime had been committed. Ain’t necessarily so.

    In strict legal terms, that’s exactly what a guilty plea means. When you say it ain’t necessarily so, you’re employing ideas of justice. Mixing strice legal ideas (as you did in the first section) and fuzzier issues of justice (as you did here) is inconsistent.

    Beyond that, the suppressing effect on parents willingness to impose discipline on their children is unknown but can be expected to be significant.

    This is only true if by “impose discipline” you mean “employ corporal punishment”. The point has bee made a thousand times that there are other forms of discipline. I don’t thin parents are simply going to adopt a laissez-faire approach to childrearing; they’ll adapt. To paraphrase the NRA, your lack of imagination shouldn’t circumscribe others’ options.

    Basically, the benefits are known and apply to a small number, but the costs aren’t known and potentially apply to a very large number.

    I don’t accept your logic, but I understand it. Thanks.

    2. As a point of principle, juries should be making decisions on people’s guilt or innocence when it comes to serious crimes.

    I agree. But …

    Bradford has effectively ended juries deciding guilt or innocence for these offences and put the decision in the hands of the Police.

    No, the repeal changed the definition of what is an offence and what isn’t, and granted additional authority to the police in how to deal with an offence where one has been committed. Police don’t decide guilt or innocence; they decide whether to prosecute, just as in any other situation. Guilt or innocence is still decided by a judge or jury.

    L

  45. Psycho Milt on June 25th, 2009 at 07:06

    Since the facts of the case (that the mother did indeed use a riding crop on her child), any law which acquitted her of assault (absent a conventional defence such as self-defence) ought to be amended to make it not so. To not believe this, I think you need to be able to argue a case in favour of horsewhipping (more on which later).

    Not at all, All I need to able to argue is that there may be circumstances in which hitting someone with a riding crop is an understandable response and shouldn’t result in a serious criminal conviction. Personally, I’m not sure there are but it looks like the 12 people who sat through this case thought so.

    The difference here is that you judge the outcome of the case against the law on the presumption that the law and its interpretation by a jury is necessarily just – if she was acquitted, the obviously the force was reasonable. Well, yes, employing a strict legal definition of legal, it’s true. Upon the presumption that the jury is legally right and therefore just, you criticise me for objecting to an outcome I “don’t like” as if there are no grounds for not liking it. I judge the case against what I believe ought to be, and this doesn’t measure up. Determining what is “reasonable” is not the sole domain of juries; politicians make law, and where they see a jury interpreting law in unjust ways, they are entitled to change it.

    I don’t believe my argument is legalistic. The law did nothing more than leave it up to a jury to decide whether the force used was reasonable under the circumstances. If we’re disputing the jury’s decision, it’s a matter of us not accepting the jurors’ opinions of what’s reasonable, nothing to do with whether strict legal criteria have been met or not.

    I agree, jurors are not the sole arbitors of what’s reasonable, and politicians are free to change the law if they brelieve juries are defining “reasonable” in an unjust way. The Borrows amendment was of this type and wouldn’t have met any disagreement with me. However, Bradford’s one simply proposed making the use of force unreasonable by definition, and the butchered version eventually passed makes force for the use of correction by definition unreasonable and leaves the Police, rather than the courts, to decide who will be convicted.

    I know you dispute that last bit, so I’ll elaborate. The Police always have discretion on whether to prosecute, yes. But this law essentially gives them discretion on who will be convicted. It’s fairly straightforward: the majority of parents always have used force on their children for the purposes of correction and continue to do so. As before, the Police will occasionally charge someone for using too much force. That person, if the fact that they used some level of force for correction is not in dispute, has no option but to plead guilty. Effectively, the decision on who will be punished for their use of force now rests with the Police.

    So now it’s my turn to point to legalistic arguments being used. If the person pleads guilty, by definition they commited the crime. Yes, but only if the law is defining crime in a satisfactory way – under Bradford’s law, it isn’t.

    Sorry, out of time – will address your other points later.

  46. roger nome on June 25th, 2009 at 16:21

    PM –

    we’re all free to speculate over possible outcomes of this law change. My own view tends towards the effect being that many parents will hesitate to impose any discipline whatsoever on their children.

    Yes we are free to speculate. I’m just not sure why you assume that parents will let their children get away with things they don’t want them to, without any sanction at all. That few simply lacks credibility. What’s more likely is that parents will look to non-violent ways of discipling children, such as time out, or the removal of privelages – you know, giving children choices and teaching them to be responsible adults – as opposed to thugs. A good idea no?

  47. roger nome on June 25th, 2009 at 16:40

    “All I need to able to argue is that there may be circumstances in which hitting someone with a riding crop is an understandable response”

    In that case she would have gotten off anyhow with self-defence etc no?

    “However, Bradford’s one”

    But that’s not the law we have. You know police discretion

    ” and leaves the Police, rather than the courts, to decide who will be convicted.”

    No – you’re confused, the legal instituions still decide, but the police decide whether it’s in the interest of “the community” to prosecute. Did you know that there are specialist child abuse detectives that deal with these things – people with specialist experience in the field? Makes sense to me to let the people with the knowledge decide where interventions are appropriate.

  48. roger nome on June 25th, 2009 at 16:43

    “As before, the Police will occasionally charge someone for using too much force. That person, if the fact that they used some level of force for correction is not in dispute, has no option but to plead guilty.”

    Yes, but if you’re picking the child up to remove them to their “time-out” space – do you really think the child abuse detetcive is going to think it in the interest of the community to prosectue you? Really – i think you’re making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

  49. Psycho Milt on June 25th, 2009 at 19:57

    This is only true if by “impose discipline” you mean “employ corporal punishment”. The point has bee made a thousand times that there are other forms of discipline. I don’t thin parents are simply going to adopt a laissez-faire approach to childrearing; they’ll adapt. To paraphrase the NRA, your lack of imagination shouldn’t circumscribe others’ options.

    The point has been made a thousand times, yes – by people who seem to be under the impression that the parents who’ve smacked their children at some point (ie, the great majority) are simply “lacking imagination.” This is one reason I can’t take anti-smackers very seriously – they often seem to have no concept of parenting except as an abstract, theoretical concept (eg, Millsy, Michael and Roger Nome).

    Everything that I’ve seen from Bradford and a lot of other anti-smackers suggests that children must be protected, that actions that would be illegal when carried out against other adults must not be carried out against children and so on. The rhetoric from govt agencies and NGOs has been along the same lines – children must be protected from their parents. I’ve seen jack shit from any of these people that implies even a modicum of respect for the concept that parents are obligated to turn their children into citizens, actively against their children’s natural inclinations, and that this is inevitably going to involve unpleasantness for the children. That propaganda must inevitably have an effect, before we even start to consider the parents who genuinely do lack the imagination to use forms of discipline other than smacking.

  50. Psycho Milt on June 25th, 2009 at 19:57

    What’s more likely is that parents will look to non-violent ways of discipling children, such as time out…

    What? You support subjecting children to kidnapping and unlawful detention? Would you be allowed to do that to an adult? What’s wrong with you?

    No – you’re confused, the legal instituions still decide, but the police decide whether it’s in the interest of “the community” to prosecute.

    Confused, my arse. If witnesses saw you smack your child and the Police decide to prosecute, you’re going to plead guilty or else; if witnesses saw you smack your child and the cops decide not to bother with it, you’re in the clear. The legal institutions are just expensive extraneous paperwork in that process.

    Yes, but if you’re picking the child up to remove them to their “time-out” space – do you really think the child abuse detetcive is going to think it in the interest of the community to prosectue you? Really – i think you’re making a mountain out of a mole-hill.

    Those who’ve done nothing wrong simply won’t draw the attention of the state’s enforcers, huh? Fuck that – draft laws that don’t leave everything up to the cops, or don’t draft laws. We have a right to expect some level of competence from the nation’s legislators, given the advice available to them.

  51. roger nome on June 29th, 2009 at 11:19

    “You support subjecting children to kidnapping and unlawful detention?”

    No.

    ” If witnesses saw you smack your child and the Police decide to prosecute, you’re going to plead guilty”

    Well leave the child’s arse alone then. What’s so hard about that? Think before you lash out – normal adults have to do that every day.

    “draft laws that don’t leave everything up to the cops”

    People who don’t hit their kids will have nothing to worry about – why are you worried?

  52. Not so fast on June 29th, 2009 at 13:09

    The issue is not so much that there are parents out there who want to smack their children, I’m sure every good parent is torn up when they feel the need to physically (or any other sort of) discipline their kids. The real push back in my view is the speed of change. I think most of us inherit parenting skills from our own parents, and is why there is such a strong resentment to being told it is wrong (because their own parents are being labelled child beaters by the anti-smacking lobby).
    If there was a good program of education put in place to show other viable options it probably would have a much greater effective change than Bradford’s bill, and not met with such resistance. The slogan ‘education before legislation’ is pretty apt I think.

  53. Anita on June 29th, 2009 at 13:18

    Not so fast,

    There has been positive parenting education in place for decades, and behaviour has been changing. The two questions I think this raises are:

    1) If some people don’t want to change, what should we do? While many people’s parenting practices have changed as a result of the education and wider societal change toward a stronger emphasis on individual rights, some people’s hasn’t – if education and broad societal pressure hasn’t worked, then what?

    2) When is it right to change the legislation? There has been significant social change and many would argue that the legislation was lagging behind.

    Finally, I totally agree the “child beaters” rhetoric is spectacularly counterproductive; it has helped dig a deeper divide and entrenched the attitudes of many parents who do smack.

  54. Not so fast on June 29th, 2009 at 13:57

    Anita,

    First I don’t know much about the positive parenting education that is in place (and given I have two children under 5 I would have expected to know, since I am in the target audience). But if as you say, behaviour has been changing, then what is the real issue? By which I mean why was Sue Bradford so adamant that the law had to be changed anyway? In my understanding of the way the law had been working, the reasonable force defence was seldomly used, and that the judge was ultimately responsible for deciding if it was valid. The issue in that case would seem to be that guidelines for the judiciary were what needed to be changed if people were able to use that defence for beating their children.

    I think though we are talking about change over generations. For one generation physical discipline was the norm, for the next generation they may use it sparingly and in conjunction with other methods, the generation of parents to come may be ‘the one’ where smacking just isn’t considered. The Bradford bill in itself can’t be lauded as having achieved this, but the debate about it certainly can.

    And I agree on the rhetoric being counter-productive. I’ll brazenly predict the referendum result will be over 75% (of those that make a valid vote) voting No.
    Not because they ‘want to beat their kids’ but because they are offended by the ‘child beater’ label.

  55. roger nome on June 30th, 2009 at 11:35

    NSF –

    True that the law change is no silver bullet for solving violence against children, and there will be few court cases in which it will actually make a difference.

    But as has been pointed out so many times, it’s the message that it sends to child abusers that’s important – as with so many issues in politics it’s the threat of force wich is important for deterance not its actual use (see nuclear weapons).

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