Editorial: One word makes the difference

By Mark Story

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Mark story doesn't believe violence against woman should be classed as an endemic.
Mark story doesn't believe violence against woman should be classed as an endemic.

Plenty of things in this country befit the definition of "endemic".

In haste, I can think of the kereru, Tane Mahuta and the paua fritter. I'd also throw in a few favourites from our own species on my list: Rita Angus, James K Baxter, Janet Frame, Sir Ed and Vincent O'Sullivan.

Whatever, or whoever, makes your list, the word typically elicits pride for those of us lucky enough to hail from these isles.

But yesterday I happened upon the word in a context that imperiled any benevolent association. Given it was White Ribbon Day I took the time to visit the organisation's website.

The first line began: "Violence is endemic within New Zealand ... "

I quarrel with the choice of that word.

Endemic assumes something localised, unique - and naturally occurring.

Violence towards women (or any form of family violence) is not localised, unique to this country or natural.

Anger's unquestionably a natural response but how we handle it is surely a learned behaviour. There's nothing excusably innate about it.

I believe the word White Ribbon was searching for was "epidemic". Regrettably that's not in question. This country is appreciably over-represented by men who bash and verbally abuse females. One in three women experience violence from a partner in their lifetime, while 14 are killed each year by a member of their own family.

It may be the wrong use of the word, but it's an understandable error. While cowardice and thuggery are not symptomatic of simply being born here, "endemic" is sadly no longer synonymous only with this country's national treasures.


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