OPINION:

Don't look back, no what-ifs. Nothing to be gained from wishing things could have been different. But surely that's what we need to do from time to time. There must be the opportunity to pause, reflect and learn what we can. I've been thinking about Malcolm Rewa since he was found guilty last week of the murder of Susan Burdett 27 years ago. He went to trial three times for her murder. He will be sentenced in March.

What if Rewa's mother Lovinia Aroha Toka hadn't met her untimely death from a car accident when Rewa was just 6-months-old? What if his father Maurice Morgan Lewis had whangaid him to his grandparents as he did with his two older sons Manu and Steven?

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What if Lewis had sent for Rewa to come and live with him when he married his second wife, Ruby? What if Rewa had got to know and become friends with his six other brothers and sisters from Maurice and Ruby? What if his father had kept up contact and insisted on seeing his son from time to time as he was growing up? So many what ifs. What if just one of these situations could have been different, how many lives might that have been impacted? For the better. Could have prevented the hurt, pain and suffering inflicted by Rewa as an adult. On innocent victims and their families. On women who he sexually assaulted and violently raped. We'll never know and therein lies the lost opportunity to learn from this tragic story.

Research tells us that around 2 per cent of children are born bad with psychopathic tendencies. The signs are there from an early age. Others who turn bad have to spend time learning. Bad doesn't arrive out of thin air. By the time Rewa was 7, he was getting angry. He started to transform into a disturbed youth — an impressive feat in a few short years.

Over the years Maori men have told me of their whangai (adoption) experiences. It made me cry a number of times. Many went to live with immediate and extended family members when they were small children, sometimes as newborns. It happened because it was thought necessary or best. The lucky ones went to live with their grandparents. Being whangai was openly spoken about — nothing to hide. Experiences differed. Some of the stories are harrowing. Most of the men who shared theirs with me are gone now. They told of years of indifference, brutality, pain and suffering as whangai. I was present when one decided to share all at his 60th birthday party. That put a damper on the party and brought it to an early close. We like to think of whangai in glowing terms, but the reality for many was a dismal and harmful existence. One man just last week told me the army was his escape as soon as he turned 16. There he found the "whānau" he never had in Civvy Street. He made friends for life.

The majority of Maori men of Rewa's age grew up in loving families. They talk of the love and nurturing they received. They speak with veneration of their grandparents in particular who were central to their lives. The respect and love they had for them. I know one man who daily refers lovingly to his papa and kuia, and he's in his early 70s. He was precious to them. He was their whangai, and they doted on him and he on them. It could have been otherwise. He might have been whangaid elsewhere.

What can we learn from the early years that shaped Malcolm Rewa? Should we even bother? I think so because in my view it's only a matter of time before another tragedy unfolds. We shouldn't wait and watch a troubled child or young adult progress from good to bad to very ugly. We need to look and scrutinise who is in their lives during their formative years? I don't know if Malcolm Rewa was born a monster. His serial sex offending was horrific. His life of crime wicked. By studying his early years and upbringing, we might find out how to prevent another young man from following in his footsteps. All children should be assured they will receive love, care and protection from those to whom they are entrusted to.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua district councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness