The latest steps proposed by the Government to try to curb this country's high rate of domestic violence are worthy but do not appear likely to make much difference.
Among a number of possible "new" offences is "non-fatal strangulation". Surely that is an offence already, in the category of at least assault, possibly attempted murder? Another is "coercion to marry". The public can only wonder what that means. Is it a problem here? And if so, is it a form of domestic violence? Is it confined to certain immigrant cultures and is it best countered by the criminal law?
Too often, domestic violence is defined too broadly, blunting attempts to attack it at its core.At that core, by and large, is a problem in certain males. Not all domestic violence is inflicted by men, but much is. The solution is to make those men aware that to strike a woman or child - or another man - reduces their manliness in the eyes of society. The disgust felt by the vast majority of men at the idea of assaulting anyone should be made obvious anytime the subject is raised. When a man worthy of the name hears of such behaviour, or has reason to suspect it, he should do something about it. If showing or even voicing his disappointment to the culprit has no effect, he should report it.
Domestic violence is not a private matter. Too often nothing is done because relatives, friends and neighbours decide it is "none of my business". The latest announced measures will allow others to apply for protection orders on a victim's behalf. Long before it reaches that point, "others" should be encouraged to make their concerns known to the police. The Government's package provides funds for 66 additional police to meet the expected increased demand for protection orders. They would need more staff if a healthy reporting culture can be encouraged.
The Government says it is making it easier for information to be shared between the police and the social agencies and community organisations that deal with family violence. How often have we heard that in recent years? How hard can it be for agencies to work together when suspected domestic violence is reported?
The hard part is doing something about it. Investigating domestic violence involves entering a family's home, confronting the suspected abuser and possibly putting the family at further risk unless the offender is removed.
Now the law does not permit violent correction of children, there is no excuse for domestic abuse. No more children in New Zealand should be suffering or witnessing physical assaults on a parent or siblings and growing up thinking this is normal and permissible. Changing attitudes is harder than writing laws, but laws can help. Some parents might still be determined to ignore the anti-smacking law but they know they need to be careful.
The package is a response to a discussion document issued a year ago and legislation will be introduced next year. It might help, but only if it transmits the message that, as the Prime Minister put it, "a good father, a good stepfather, a good man, does not hit, intimidate or control his spouse, partner, ex-partner or her children."
No real man needs to be told.