The repeal of Section 59 of New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 sparked a lot of debate here about the use of violence against children. I feel this discussion concentrated on parental rights and often ignored the results of parental violence on children. Sad, because child abuse is a problem in New Zealand.
I think the victims of child abuse suffer three times over (if they survive the original abuse).
- There is the abuse itself. This is not always physical. Psychological violence and just plain neglect are common forms of child abuse.
- Victims of child abuse suffer lifelong psychological problems. Not surprising once we realise that the brain is undergoing important changes and development at this young age. Research has shown physical changes in the brain arising from the abuse and neglect of children (see The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood).
- Society’s refusal to recognise, or even deny, the abuse – both that experienced by the individual in the past and similar abuse of other young children today – is a painful put-down to victims, especially those still suffering the psychological results of the original abuse.
One form of family violence society tends to ignore, or even deny, is that perpetrated by women. There is the widely accepted assumption that the perpetrators of violence are always male. Females usually figure, along with children, as only the victims of violence.
For example, The National Network of Stopping Violence has the slogan “The safety of women and children is paramount.” Their website considers men as only the perpetrator of violence and women as almost always only the victim. (Although it does have a very small note on Women’s Anger). Similarly a writer of a letter to the editor of the NZ Listener stated:
“It is clear that 95 percent of domestic violence is done by men to women and children. And it is obvious that male violence is much more destructive than women’s. Targeting men who are violent is the most effective use of limited resources to get the most behavioural change.”
Unfortunately this view is myopic. Research on family violence is confused by the qualifications and interpretation around statistics for female violence. This is particularly true when the victims are male – incidents are often not even reported and their significance is very often downplayed by authorities and researchers.
However, there is agreement that a major proportion of child abuse incidents are perpetrated by women. New Zealand police statistics indicate that in about 40% of cases children were murdered by women (Family Violence Statistics.pdf (size 191 Kb)). It’s important to acknowledge this for the sake of the children as abuse or neglect of a child by a caregiver (and the main caregiver is usually a women) is particularly damaging psychologically.
For a survivor of abuse perpetrated by one’s mother this is a slap in the face – a refusal to recognise the abuse or even to deny it. This is abuse of the survivior – perpetrated by society itself!