Last week I spoke to a young man in prison who was remanded in custody after some horrific crimes. He has pleaded guilty and awaits sentence. The indication from the judge is that it will be a long stretch. His only previous conviction is for driving on the wrong class of licence.
Adopted as a baby, the boy saw his mother die when he was 6 years of age, which was a year after his father started to beat him badly, and this continued until he was 21.
The boy started smoking cannabis and drinking early, as kids in his neighbourhood did, but he enjoyed school and, although not succeeding academically, he was engaged, which is probably why he never offended more seriously.
Out with his father a couple of years ago, he saw his father in a confrontation with another man. It quickly degenerated into a wrestling match. Despite attempts to drag the assailant off his dad, he could not pull the assailant off. His father suffered a heart attack during the struggle and died in the shop.
That is when the wheels came off. Subsequent to this event, he became very violent and started beating his partner. He was arrested and identified as being responsible for another attack. Having taken responsibility, he awaits his fate without excuses but recognises that the incident where he watched his father die came before any of his own violent offending. Never having received counselling, he recognises the need for some help to sort himself out.
But our prison system refuses help because he has not been sentenced for the crimes he admits to, because the court system is too slow and hasn't got around to things yet, so the young man remains on remand rather than having been sentenced. ACC is not available because the crime was not perpetrated against him and he did not seek assistance at the time, even though it wouldn't contest that he was a first-hand witness to the death of his father in violent circumstances.
Many will not recognise that he even has a reason to complain, and he isn't — I am, because he went on to become an offender. He is a lesser class of victim because he went on to offend.
Last Saturday morning I heard the story of a young woman who was first sexually assaulted by a close family member as a 15-month-old and this carried on until she was 12. Countless rapes from numerous offenders followed. Her life was worse than the classic Once Were Warriors scenarios of family and sexual violence. No surprises, then, that in an environment abusive of children, alcohol and drugs she turned to crime, and this continued for decades — 144 convictions and 10 prison sentences, mainly for drug-dealing offences.
But with the support of her children she is now tertiary qualified and working with people who have a similar life story towards a totally different outcome.
But when I confronted a senior political figure about such scenarios, and the fact that our policies and legislation refuse to see these victims as worthy of the same compassion and support as others who have never gone on to offend, his response was, "Yes, but she had a choice". Really? Do people honestly believe there was a rational and sober choice made by this victim to become an offender? Sometime the labels just do not fit.
So, it is well past the stage where we need to hold our personal and collective beliefs to account for the complete ignorance these views show for the reality of abuse and the nature of victimisation and its after-effects.
We need to recognise that while some victims have protective factors around them like strong, loving, nurturing families, good role modelling and healthy relationships, other victims are inundated with risk factors. It is little surprise that offending follows and, when it does, we, and those government agencies working on our behalf, need to look behind the triggers for that offending to prevent the victimisation of another generation.
They say that ignorance is bliss, but this is not blissful ignorance because we cannot deny what we know. There is a direct correlation between some offenders and the abuse they endured, which led to an inevitable outcome.
It is time we woke up.
Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government. He is chairman of the Justice Reform Advisory Group, a lawyer and a former policeman.