We have come a long way

This year the big hand on my life clock moves to one of those auspicious times. I am not saying which one – you will have to guess for yourself. This has got me thinking about a number of issues related to our field of practice, the work we undertake, where we are and where we are going. Longevity in a field of practice does allow for the benefit of seeing trends over time.

I have had the privilege for the past twenty-six years of being part of the movement to rid families of violence. Yes I know I am really dating myself. At times it is so easy to think that we have made little, if any progress, in reducing the rates of violence and abuse within homes throughout our communities. While many challenges lie ahead, we have come a long way.

• A long way since Plato and Aristotle extolled the virtues of the public world over the private, therefore relegating the place of women, children and servants to inferior positions.
• A long way since Roman times when men had absolute power within families to hurt members (the paterfamilias) without any redress from the State. Violence was certainly behind closed doors.
• A long way since Judge Buller in 1782 declared that a man could beat his partner with a stick no thicker than his thumb. As he noted at the time, “The husband also might give his wife moderate correction. For as he is to answer for her misbehavior the law thought it reasonable to entrust him with this power of restraining her, by domestic chastisement in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his servant or children.” The expression ‘Rule of Thumb’ is thought to emanate from this time. It is also frightening to consider the brutality against women and children that transpired before this time.
• A long way since rape within marriage was outlawed (1985 in New Zealand).
• A long way since the first New Zealand Women’s Refuge was founded in Christchurch during 1985.
• A long time since the challenge of intervening with those being violent and abusive became an important stream of work (1980s onwards).
• A long way since Police decided it ‘wasn’t just a domestic’ and adopted a pro-arrest policy (1993).
• A long way since the adoption of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 which saw the definition of violence widened to include psychological abuse as well as providing a voice for children. This legislation also saw the support for compulsory intervention for respondents to a Protection Order, along with programmes for applicants and children.
• A short way since the establishment of Family Safety Teams were established to co-ordinate around high risk families.
• A short way since the development of Family Violence Courts in New Zealand.
• A short way since the hitting of children was outlawed and children were accorded the same rights as adults.

It is easy to forget that behind each of these significant social changes are people like you and I, working away with passion and commitment to make our communities safer places for women and children, and men. I am always mindful that men who are not abusive also pay a price for others men’s violence and abusive behaviour. We are also tarred with the same brush.
These changes have for many years been well supported by a raft of Governmental policy initiatives. That also says we have people working on the inside who are passionate about making our families safer places.

At times we can be despondent about what we have achieved. At these times it is good to remember that family violence is well and truly out from behind closed doors. Despite some attempts to push it back, this is not going to happen. We just have to get on with it.

Published on Tuesday, July 29th, 2008, under What Ken thinks

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