New Zealand is no paradise: Children are not safe here
The final installment of New Zealand is no paradise: Sex, Drugs and Denial, a five-part series about growing up hating New Zealand by Katherine Dolan, written for Stuff Nation.
OPINION: New Zealand is a dangerous place for children, especially girls.
One of my best friends at school was an alcoholic from the age of about 13. She stashed whiskey in her wardrobe and drank herself to sleep every night. She was a witty, intelligent girl, who came from a supportive family, but she had very low self esteem, trusted no one and had sex with guys she didn't like.
I didn't fully understand her lack of confidence until she told a group of us that she'd been raped as a four-year-old by a stranger. A few years later, she attempted suicide.
READ THE SERIES:
* Part one: NZ is no paradise, it is brutal
* Part two: NZ, is it the most sexist place on earth?
* Part three: Rugby, racism and homophobia
* Part four: NZ: A nation of drunks?
* Readers react: Growing up hating NZ
Another classmate of mine, who had developmental problems, started worrying teachers soon after her sixth birthday. She started pulling her underpants down to show the boys, expecting them to be pleased. Eight years later, her grandfather was prosecuted for sexual molestation.
I remember in the neighbouring town, police arrested a couple who kept their severely disabled daughter in a filthy, unlit, unheated shed behind their house. Bear in mind, winter temperatures can be as cold as -10 degrees Celsius. Their idea of parental care was to throw her food scraps occasionally. The neighbours heard noises, but assumed there was an animal inside. She was 14 when the police found her.
My memory is that these incidents did not cause a media scandal, even at the local level. The story about the disabled girl was reported in small print in the crime news of the local newspaper, somewhere in the middle. It's almost as if no one wanted to know.
I cannot find anything about the case online, so it is tempting to believe I imagined it except that I remember, very well, the feeling of nausea and depression on seeing it.
One winter's morning, I decided to warm myself up by taking a long walk to a popular picnic spot. When I arrived, I noticed an unusually long piece of writing on the wall of the toilet block.
Being a compulsive reader I went over to look and realised with a feeling of dread and dull inevitability that it was a self-pitying confession to having raped a seven-year-old girl on that same spot a decade previously.
I think it was at that moment, reading this painful shout into the void, that I decided I hated this f---ing place and I didn't want anything to do with it anymore. I didn't go to the police; I didn't even tell my parents about it. It seemed utterly pointless.
The statistics show that the horrors I'd glimpsed second hand were nothing unusual.
A survey published in 2007 showed that one in four New Zealand girls is sexually abused before the age of 15, with Maori girls suffering roughly twice as much abuse as Caucasian girls.
A 2007 UNICEF study showed that the rate of deaths of children and youths under the age of 19 years in New Zealand caused by accidents, murder, suicide or violence were extremely high compared with other OECD countries, with New Zealand having the highest rate of such deaths along with the United States.
More than a quarter of New Zealand children witness domestic abuse, and poverty adversely affects around 280,000 children.
According to the UNICEF report, sexual abuse made up the smallest percentage of child abuse within New Zealand. Considering a quarter of New Zealand girls experience sexual abuse before age 15, this is a fairly alarming finding. Perhaps sexual violence is easier to hide.
Bruises, cuts, lesions and brain damage are somewhat harder to ignore. A 2012 report prepared for the Ministry of Health by the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service stated that a child is admitted to a New Zealand hospital every second day with injuries resulting from assault, neglect or maltreatment. Nearly half of them are under five.
There have been a number of highly publicised cases in which infants and toddlers have died as a result of severe physical trauma. If you have the stomach for it, look up the names Nia Glassie, Tahini Mohamed, and Duwayne Pailegutu.
In response to publicised cases like these, Plunkett established an ad campaign with the slogan "Never Shake a Baby", as if the problem is simply that people are too ignorant to realise that babies are fragile mechanisms.
Many New Zealanders are proud of their stoicism, particularly the ability to suppress the appearance of emotion and avoid "making a fuss". This can affect the way they treat their kids.
Overt displays of affection in public are considered distasteful. Kids who cry or act out are being "weak", or worse, acting like girls. Children are expected to toe the line, behave and be quiet as early as possible.
If you are crazy warriors like the Spartans, or child-hating vampires like the upper class Victorian British, this grim take on child-rearing makes sense. But if you want to raise people with some ability to show affection for each other when sober, it's not such a good plan.
New Zealand is going through a narcissistic phase at the moment, congratulating itself on what a wonderful, friendly country it is. And indeed, there are many wonderful things about the place.
But the whitewashed kiwi-boosting makes me grind my teeth. It doesn't match anything about the needlessly grim, cruel little world I grew up in.
So, Instead of worrying about new flag designs, it would be nice if we recognised the need to stop despising women and girls, worshiping rugby players, and using alcohol and denial to hide our very real problems.
- Stuff Nation