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Q+A: Peter Boshier interview

Published: 1:08PM Sunday May 12, 2013 Source: Q+A


SUSAN A very good morning to you.

JUDGE PETER BOSHIER - Former Principal Family Court Judge
 Good morning.

SUSAN This campaign is about men speaking to other men.  Is there any evidence that men are listening - that there is less family violence?

PETER  Well, I think what were doing is beginning to talk about it much more.  Unfortunately, only about 20% of family violence ever surfaces.  Theres an enormous, enormous amount that hasnt been talked about, so one of the real-
SUSAN How did you get that number?  Thats a huge amount we are not talking about.

PETER It is.  It is a huge amount.  Well, people are often unwilling to seek help.  They feel locked in, they feel unable to share it, so one of the real purposes of White Ribbon is to flush it out and to get people talking about it.

SUSAN But youre talking to the men, and so often in these cases we are talking about, generally here, women as the victims of it, and the trouble is they are tied up.  They are tied with children; they are tied up economically, arent they, so often?  How do you break that?  How do you get these women to speak out?

PETER  Well, I think there are three things - three things that I would focus on for change in New Zealand.  And first of all, its attitudinal change.  Weve managed to do this with drink-driving.  Weve managed to do it with smoking.  We can do it with family violence, and weve seen some top rugby players beginning to come out and acknowledge.  The second thing is weve got to give women other options.  Weve got to enable them to feel that there is something that they can do and somewhere they can go.

SUSAN And what are those sort of options?  I know well get to the third one, but what sort of things specifically do you need to give women?

PETER  I think there are two things.  The first is if youre in a violent relationship, you cant just go back to it once the person whos perpetrated the violence has been arrested, otherwise the thing goes round and round in circles.  And the poor children, just like the Once Were Warriors situation, are huddled, listening to their parents fighting.  So weve got to give women, first of all, somewhere to go, secondly, to empower them to make and force change.
SUSAN And the third point?  So weve got a chance in attitude, something for women to do, and whats your third point?

PETER Well, the third thing, and were beginning to see it more and more, is men being accountable, talking, acknowledging and making change.  And we have seen- We have seen men who have been violent in the past who have come out and said, I no longer want to be violent, so were beginning to get men talking about it.

SUSAN So they can change?  At the moment, probably a 20-week course is the best youll get.  Is it enough to get what is possibly ingrained behaviour changed?

PETER  It is not enough, and in legislation that is coming through to reform the Family Court, one of the good things about that legislation is enhanced programmes - broader, more customised.  Look, violence varies, Susan, as you probably know.  Some is contextual - it happens as a result of a marriage break-up.  Other is lethal.  We have men who are virtually pathological, and one 20-week programme isnt enough.  They may need a programme stretching over years.

SUSAN Across society- We have heard often that domestic violence is right across society.  Is that your experience?

SUSAN It doesnt matter if youre a doctor in Remuera or whatever - its right across?

PETER It is, and dont forget that family violence isnt just punching and kicking.  It is often much more insidious, and the control - the psychological violence which there is out there - is just as bad as the physical.

SUSAN Do you see that?  Did you see that in your job - the psychological violence?

PETER  I listened at times to voice recordings on answerphones which women had had in the Family Court and I had access to the recordings that men had made.  Its terrible stuff.  And the other thing were beginning to see more and more is the text messaging and the use of emails.  So now everyones pretty marked - if you sent a bad text message, the chances are itll surface.  And some of the melancholic, awful, intimidating text messaging, often during the night, now is beginning to surface.

SUSAN This week, interestingly, Professor Greg Newbold from the University of Canterbury came out saying that Maori are overrepresented in many of the bad statistics in this country, as we know, sadly.  He was blaming the warrior culture and patriarchal culture of Maori for domestic violence.  Do you buy that argument?

PETER  I dont necessarily buy that argument at all.  The evidence that I have suggests that pre-colonisation many, many years ago, violence was not part of Maori culture, and thats certainly the case in the Pacific.  So I dont think its- I think its far too simplistic to say that we can blame that.
SUSAN Now, in a legal sense youre also advocating some changes, arent you, one being there is actually an offence of domestic violence.


SUSAN Because at the moment, you could be charged with assault, common assault, assault against a women, but it doesnt actually show if its domestic violence.

PETER  Correct.  You see, my point on this is that if you are a drink-driver, you get charged with drink-driving.  Youre branded - you are a drink-driver, and you have to be accountable for that.  But not so, and I cannot understand or fathom this- with violence, there is no offence of domestic violence.  The most that we get is male assaults female, and thats the biggest clue you get that it could be domestic.  We can and should do much better than this.

SUSAN So it would make a difference to have on someones record domestic violence?

PETER  Yes, it would.  I would like, when I see someones list of previous convictions, to be able to see that they have assaulted a woman, a partner, maybe more than one over a period of years and that its been domestic.  At the moment, I dont know.
SUSAN Youre also suggesting some sort of 0800 Crimestoppers, if you like, centralised place for women to go when there is a case of domestic violence.

PETER Yes.  One thing I would very much like us to promote through the Blue [White] Ribbon campaign and other things is who do you go to where you can be safe?  And women may feel fearful that Child, Youth and Family might intervene and take away the children.  They might feel fearful that the police will act in a way they dont want.  Theres got to be a safe way to talk about this.

SUSAN Youre also suggesting somewhere for men to go, like a man stop I think you called it.


SUSAN How would that work?

PETER  Well, it does work.  Im from Gisborne, and Im proud of that fact because its one of the few places in the country thats set up a house where men can go.  One of my points is if men are violent, why should it be the women that have to leave?  I cannot see what the rationale or wisdom of that is, and so I think a place where men can go and talk about whats going on in their lives and how they might change might be a very very constructive thing.
SUSAN You mentioned earlier in the interview men starting to speak.  Are you seeing that more - starting to speak amongst themselves, starting to put the, I guess, peer pressure on each other in a positive way?

PETER Well, I am.  You may have heard of the White Ribbon motorbike ride, where a whole bunch of people visit 86 centres.  And one of these which I went to was just wonderful - very very empowering.  Because I think a lot of men do know - do know that theyve been violent.  They are ashamed of it.  To be able to talk about that with others who have done similarly is a way of getting out there that they need to change.

SUSAN How do you help them, though, if they do want to come out of it?  As we said, a 20-week course isnt going to do it.  A decent man whos done a bad thing - how do you get him right?

PETER  Well, we all know that there is aggression.  There is aggression on the sports field, and controlled aggression is acceptable.

SUSAN We admire it on the sports field.

PETER  We do.  But what we dont admire is the sportsman that then loses the plot, and we used to see this in the old days on rugby fields, but I suggest less so now.  In the old days, aggression was uncontrolled.  There were free-for-all punches.  Its dreadful stuff.  So what Im trying to say, through the White Ribbon campaign, and we all are, is this fact - theres a big difference between controlled aggression and violence. 
SUSAN Do you think we will get there?  You mentioned drink-driving as a good example.  Its a very good example, because in my youth, no one even thought about it.  These days, none of the youth I know would think of drink-driving, and there is a real social stigma on it.  But do you think we will get there in a generation or two with domestic violence?

PETER We will make change.  Look, the fact that Im here today speaking about this - this wouldnt have happened 20 years ago.  And the fact that so many mayors, people are our ambassadors- John Key, Len Brown, Ruben Wiki, the famous rugby league player, are ambassadors, this wouldnt have happened years ago.  Im ever the optimist.

SUSAN Well, good luck.

PETER  Thank you.

SUSAN Very good to talk to you.  Thank you, Peter Boshier.

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