Perceptions clash with facts over abuse

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 11/03/2012
VICTIM: James Whakaruru died in Hawke's Bay hospital from extensive internal injuries in April 1999 after prolonged beatings.
VICTIM: James Whakaruru died in Hawke's Bay hospital from extensive internal injuries in April 1999 after prolonged beatings. Just one-third of child deaths are reported in the press, and they are predominantly Maori cases.

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More and more New Zealanders believe child abuse is a cultural issue despite statistics showing that abuse does not discriminate between cultures, a social work lecturer says.

Raema Merchant, a social work lecturer at the Eastern Institute of Technology, said it was unclear how the public had developed a perception that it was a Maori issue.

Her masters thesis at Massey University found about half of the children killed in New Zealand died at the hands of a Pakeha abuser.

Almost 9000 children were victims of physical abuse between 2000 and 2008, yet only 21 became "household names" in the media, she said.

Just one-third of child deaths were reported in the press, and they were predominantly Maori cases.

"Where are they getting it from? Child abuse is not a cultural issue."

A recent survey by Research New Zealand found that 58 per cent of people believed child abuse was a cultural issue, up from 51 per cent the year before.

About 55 per cent believed child abuse was an economic issue, compared with 34 per cent in 2011, something which Merchant said was pleasing.

"I would applaud the people that accept that poverty has a lot to do with it. It's often not so much the poverty of the people but in countries where the gap between rich and poor is the greatest then the child abuse figures tend to be the greatest."

The Research New Zealand telephone survey of 490 people last month found that many people believed the influence of a non-biological parent in a household could contribute to child abuse.

About 53 per cent of people aged over 55 believed the issue in child abuse was one of the male partner not being the biological parent. Younger people (18-34 years) were less likely to believe the so called "Cinderella effect" and only a quarter cited it as a factor.

"My immediate thought about that would be the older people might question how could anybody hurt their own child without realising that people do hurt their own children and statistically just as many birth parents are hurting their children as step parents," Merchant said.

She said New Zealand society needed to reflect on what extent "the Pakeha perceptions are being reflected and encouraged by some".

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