Cash and bash: it's just not on the same level

IN HIS OWN WRITE

GORDON BROWN
Last updated 10:56 08/12/2012

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OPINION: Various agencies have done an excellent job in the campaign against domestic violence.

They deserve every plaudit for helping to significantly alter attitudes in New Zealand towards domestic violence.

Sports clubs and workplaces are some of the places where the message has been reinforced over and over - that domestic violence is never OK. Television advertisements and a comprehensive media campaign pushed the issue into our national consciousness - and not before time.

A group of men recently signed a pledge supporting that and their names and signatures were published in this newspaper.

I happily declare that mine was among them, and I was happy to oblige, when asked. Who among us could have any reservations about supporting an overdue campaign that stands up against cowardly men bashing their women and/or children?

Now, the unequivocal message sent to communities throughout the country is in danger of being undermined by an amendment to the law which is so excessive that it stands to undo much of the good that has been done.

In a classic case of treating the symptoms, our lawmakers in Parliament this week debated changes to the Family Court.

You cannot legislate for every eventuality without being on a collision course with the law of unintended consequences.

As is usual in such cases where an excess of good intentions overpowers the need for common sense, the result could be calamitous. The intent is admirable, but little else.

The two major points are:

Economic abuse will now become part of the extended definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act.

Victims of economic abuse will be able to get protection orders from the court in the same way victims of physical abuse do. The two will be treated in exactly the same manner.

Before dissecting that further, let's acknowledge the intent.

Women's Refuge is supporting the mooted changes and spokeswoman Heather Henare is reported as saying economic abuse was a serious issue among victims of domestic violence.

The term itself will be new to many readers, but it includes excessive control over the purse strings. That includes restricting access to money, extorting or spending someone else's money or preventing someone from working.

Henare said disabled or elderly people, who were looked after by carers or other family members with control over their finances, were also affected by economic abuse and changes to the law would make it easier for women to recognise it as a true form of abuse.

"Lots of people think that the only way you are abused is physically," she said.

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She pointed out it was a common tactic for a man to exert control over a woman by controlling access to money and limiting the amount of money needed to cover household expenses.

"He comes home and checks the receipts, the mileage on the car, the phone for toll calls, all that kind of stuff. That is a frequent controlling factor that men use in violent relationships."

Right, so there you have the case for the legislation.

To summarise, some men use money and assets to keep their partners or wives under their control. Some of those men are also physically violent towards their partners or wives.

Is the solution to the problem legislation promoting "economic abuse" to the same level as domestic violence?

It's at this point in the debate that we should become worried, for the simple reason that it is patently untrue.

Some of my mates would already pass the threshold cited if it was treated in isolation.

They love their wives, would never dream of raising a finger to them, but are chronically mean individuals.

They impose a Spartan way of life on themselves as well as their significant others, simply because they long ago forgot how to spend money.

Even a Law Society spokesman said the change was unnecessary because that type of abuse was already covered under the wider psychological abuse.

The way to hell, as I am wont to quote, is paved with good intentions and if this over-reaction is allowed to become part of a reformed Family Court, its reputation for dispensing lopsided justice will continue to flourish.

A final observation for the week: The greenies and the environmentalists on the East Coast are already congratulating themselves on their victory in ensuring Brazilian oil company Petrobras has handed back exploration licences it holds for deep-sea oil and gas prospects off the East Cape.

Way to go. That part of New Zealand is already booming and who needed the huge injection of money and jobs into the region?

Any thoughts on how Taranaki would be going if the same happened here a few decades ago?

- Taranaki Daily News

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