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GG's Views On Smacking Kids Attack Family

SOCIETY FOR PROMOTION OF COMMUNITY STANDARDS INC.
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville, Wellington
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Sir John Kennedy-Good KBE QSO
Professor T V O'Donnell MD FRACP CBE
Marilyn Pryor
FOUNDER
Patricia Bartlett OBE

Governor-General’s Views On Smacking Kids Attack Family

PRESS RELEASE Monday 17 June 2002

The view that “smacking kids is assault”, expressed by the Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright in the weekend, is “quite erroneous” according to Rev. Gordon Dempsey, President of the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards. Expressing the views of the Society’s executive committee, he said that Dame Silvia’s comments “were an attempt to cast doubt on the legality of smacking as a legitimate and lawful means of chastisement and discipline when used by responsible and loving parents. Section 59 of the Crimes Act gives all parents the right to use ‘reasonable force’ to punish their kids and it appears that Dame Silvia wants these parental rights removed.”

Cartwright, a former high court judge, has been reported in the Sunday Star Times (16 June, p.1) as having criticised “a quirk in the law that allows parents to smack their children.” In a break with the Governor-General’s normally independent stance, she told a Save the Children national conference in Wellington that “parents who smack their children could be committing a technical assault.”

Rev. Dempsey said, “it was disingenuous for a former high court judge to suggest that the vast majority of caring parents who occasionally smacked their kids for defiance and other serious transgressions, could be committing a technical assault. Such suggestions were erroneous in common sense and in law and had the effect of undermining the law which protected the rights of parents to certain freedoms relating to the choice of discipline of their own children.”

Cartwright went on to state: “If you are 18 months old and can’t speak yet, no one really knows whether your misbehaviour was so calculated, so deviant as to warrant the bruising and internal injuries visited on you as punishment.”

“This statement is fallacious” said Dempsey, “as it begs the question of whether violence, the illegitimate use of force, can be lawfully used to discipline children. It suggests that some might hold that inflicting bruises and internal injuries on an infant could be warranted if the misbehaviour was ‘so calculated, so deviant as to warrant’ it. In fact no responsible person would suggest such brutality could be justified under any circumstance. Furthermore, the law does not allow for it, and yet Cartwright states, ‘the line between physical punishment and serious assault was so blurred it did not really exist.’ Anyone with common sense can identify the fallacy in her argument”.

Cartwright went on to add: “If you were an adult, no matter how deviant your behaviour, you cannot be punished by another in such a way without the intervention of the law. But we can guess – no 18 month-old child could possibly deserve such a brutal physical assault.”

“She suggests in effect,” said Dempsey “that the public is so stupid that it cannot tell the difference between reasonable force in punishment and a brutal physical assault. Having erroneously asserted that ‘the line between physical punishment and serious assault’ is so ‘blurred’ that a distinction does not really exist, she suggests that reasonable physical punishment amounts to infant bashing. Has she not heard of common sense?”

Cartwright is reported as saying “violence begets violence”. Dempsey responded: “Few parents who use smacking sparingly would disagree with the plain meaning of this statement. However, Cartwright uses it as a catchcry against so-called ‘assaults’ by smacking, to at best call into question and at worst condemn, all responsible parents who sparingly use this form of discipline. She fails to distinguish between the transitory pain inflicted by a smack and grievous bodily harm inflicted as a result of the illegitimate use of force (violence). She also fails to point out the psychological damage inflicted upon many kids by parents who avoid smacking and resort to prolonged verbal abuse and unreasonable deprivations as a substitute.”

“What about the impact on children of the repetitive exposure of adults and young persons to brutal scenes of graphic violence, especially sexual violence?” asks Rev. Dempsey. “The Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, was quoted in a major article on censorship (NZ Herald, Dec. 1, 2001) as saying: ‘There are now journals and so on which pretty well define that for anyone with a propensity to sexual violence, that [propensity] will be heightened by exposure to sexually violent images.’ Increasingly, he notes, research is telling us how likely it might be for such sexually violent images to be injurious to the public good.”

When is Dame Silvia going to speak out on the avalanche of graphic violence and sexual violence that has invaded our public theatres, TV programmes and computer games, all under the banner of ‘entertainment’? One would think that one whose husband was the Chairperson of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and a member of the Film and Literature Board of Review, might occasionally step outside the ‘Governor-General’s normally independent stance‘ and comment on such matters.”

“The Society agrees with Dame Cartwright that the level of child abuse in New Zealand is ‘shocking’. However, abrogating the rights of decent-minded and responsible parents to discipline their children will do nothing to tackle this problem. It will only exacerbate it. The two private member’s bills which seek to outlaw smacking and which ‘continue to languish in the parliamentary ballot’ said Dempsey, “will be opposed by the Society should they ever come before Parliament.”

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