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My Early Years is not a particularly pleasant story, so I shall be brief: they are nothing but a waste-land, one where I escape and ponder the abstract possibility of a life in a parallel universe; my selves split between worlds by a single quantum event; each violent act gives way to a multiverse; my distended self, dashed across space-time. Once upon a time, aged six, I crawled into my wardrobe and pushed my tiny fists against the drywall, foolishly looking for snow, desperately seeking Susan. Such exposure to Ultraviolence is nothing short of a haunting, night and day. I was never scared of the dark, never frightened of spectres or demons under a trundle bed. Why should a child fear the dead and dispossessed when the horror lives and breathes in a room at the end of hall? My childhood is a litany of sad moments and revelations, nightmarish terrors veiled by wishes and dreams and hopes, a life lived in fantasy beyond the four-walls of a weatherboard home. You can forgive me for not wanting to remember them here, now.
These detached musings began a week ago when chatter of Chris Brown’s dismal attempts to secure a visa to perform in New Zealand began to trickle down through various social media platforms. Already denied entry to Australia, Brown’s lifelong dream of performing to a sea of pox-ridden, hyped-up teenagers in Auckland was almost certainly quashed when the impregnable Crusher Collins, huffing and puffing beneath her armoured power suit, proudly declared: “he can bugger off”. Why? Because Brown’s rap sheet includes a number of felonies: possession of cannabis, battery and various misdemeanour assaults, firearms charges, and, of course, the domestic assault of his then-girlfriend Robyn Fenty, known to the world as Rihanna. But what strikes me as a survivor of domestic violence is not the bureaucratic refusal to sanction international movement across artificially conceived boundaries, but rather the sheer hypocrisy of the dialogue it has created.
Truthfully, I couldn’t give a flying fuck about Chris Brown. Honestly, just let him and his shitty music into New Zealand. And while you’re at it, seeing as you care so much, why don’t you deport every violent, abusive, “prominent” prick from this country? Don’t care where, just not here. Try the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s big enough to sustain life by now, surely. Believe me when I say someone will colonise that trash vortex eventually; why not let the First People be the perpetrators of violence against women and children?
No? Too much for you? I’ll begin again.
With or without Brown, New Zealand and Australia’s cultural propensity towards domestic violence is already well-established. According to the White Ribbon campaign in Australia, one woman every week is killed by their partner (www.whiteribbon.org.au). This year to date, 63 women—mothers, sisters, daughters—have been murdered by their partners across the ditch. In New Zealand the situation is equally disturbing, with statistics compiled by Women’s Refuge revealing: “Police are called to around 200 domestic violence situations a day—that’s one every seven minutes on average; police estimate only 18 per cent of domestic violence incidents are reported; at least 74,785 children and young people aged under 17 were present at domestic violence situations attended by police; 84 per cent of those arrested for domestic violence are men; 16 per cent are women” (www.womensrefuge.org.nz). Of all these numbers, the fact that authorities believe less than a fifth of violent incidents in the home are reported is the most unsettling. It certainly raises the question: how is Brown worse than what already exists in New Zealand?
And yet, despite all the hysteria surrounding Brown, there are many who support his entry to New Zealand and believe his experience could provide, for youth affected by domestic violence, an opportunity for necessary dialogue. Speaking out following Crusher’s vehement rejection of letting another wife-beater into the country, former New Zealand Women’s Refuge chief executive Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Dame June Jackson, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Dame June Mariu, and Lady Tureiti-Moxon all agreed: Brown should be allowed to perform in New Zealand. His perspective is unique, they declared, and the National Urban Māori Authority went so far as to invite him to their marae to speak with young people about his exposure to—and experiences of—domestic violence. To this, the nation’s best and finest replied that “victims”, not attackers, should receive such an honour; a platform on which to dispel our wisdom forged in violence. Just last week on Newstalk ZB, Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union, criticised the apparent willingness of Māoridom to defend Brown’s actions, instead calling for victims of violence in the home to speak up. The subtlety with which Williams clearly posited domestic abuse as an issue for Māoridom and not the upper-middle, predominantly white classes was not lost, nor was his simultaneous suggestion that we are, and always will be, victims. In inviting Brown to speak, New Zealand exposed the sad fact that our lexicon presumes a level of submission to the cruel and remorseless nature of violence, an inability to separate ourselves from a rough past. It does not follow that a child born into violence is predisposed to violence. When the country calls us “victims”, when the nation asks us to speak, I hesitate. I pause and ask myself, “of what, exactly, are we victims? A country’s pathological desire to dilute the real problem of violence in the home by consistently refusing to unmask its features?” Make no mistake; I am a victim of nothing but the patriarchal assumptions you’ve made of me and every other survivor of domestic abuse. Recall now the fact only 18 per cent of instances are reported, and question why Williams felt justified in erroneously declaring that the problem of compliance lay with Māoridom alone.
For too long New Zealand has ignored the fact domestic violence is the most pernicious symptom of a wider social disease: male privilege and its proprietary right over women and children. When it comes to exposing the face of domestic violence in New Zealand, the real hurdle seems to be that we cannot see the forest for the trees. All the oxygen we’ve wasted over Brown’s entry to New Zealand and still the politicians, pundits, and Kiwi Twitterati, crawling like sticky weevils from the woodwork to score points in the bloody sport of domestic violence, have roundly failed to identify the problem of culture. Even our most “prized” journalists have missed the point, with Duncan Garner tweeting the now-infamous photograph of Rihanna’s bruised and bloodied face as the real “reason” why Brown isn’t allowed in the country. Of course Garner wants to talk about domestic violence, because there’s nothing more pressing on the MediaWorks agenda than hashing it out for three hours on afternoon talkback radio with doddery old white listeners over a young black man’s criminal record. Full disclosure: Garner’s position on domestic violence vexes me more than any other pundit throwing their hat in the ring, more than Jan Logie, Crusher Collins, or Tariana Turia combined, because his knee-jerk reaction reflects the inarticulate nature of New Zealanders when trying to address the culture surrounding domestic violence. Let’s not forget: in the wake of the manslaughter charges two children faced for the death of Railside Dairy owner Arun Kumar, Garner used his weekly cringeworthy op-ed in The Dominion Post to advocate for “deadbeat parents” to be sterilised. The following extract provides his acute assessment of—and response to—intergenerational violence and extreme poverty in New Zealand:
“The sad reality is we have a bunch of uneducated, drug-abusing mongrels bringing young people into this world… The truth is these people don’t deserve to have babies. But that’s a whole new debate, isn’t it?”
—The Dominion Post, June 20, 2015
The assertion that “deadbeat” parents lie at the core of New Zealand’s problem with intergenerational violence is lazy, poorly researched, defensive rhetoric. Perhaps Garner had nothing constructive to offer before deadline. Perhaps he was so consumed by patriarchal rage, he simply purged a bunch of vengeful words. Perhaps no-one was working in editorial. I’ll never know. But the real “sad reality” is that only a special brand of lickspittle little gobshites in New Zealand are capable of such a suggestion: a harsher criminal justice system and negative eugenics as the solution to the country’s culture of domestic violence. That it was published as an opinion is irrelevant; frivolous thoughts of the uninformed mean nothing to me and the countless others who spin this country’s tragic wheel of misfortune; those who spend far too much of their formative years hiding; curled under beds, behind drawers, in cupboards and wardrobes, beneath the house balled up in the dirt; anywhere dark and small enough to escape their miserable, invisible existence until the tempest subsides.
We as a country seem to relish the punishment and denigration collectively dished out to Brown for being a cog in a violent machine. And it should come as no surprise then that the commentary surrounding his history also fails to acknowledge he himself is the victim of intergenerational violence, conditioned by a brutish step-father on how to treat women. New Zealanders are aghast with Brown’s behaviour, clutching their hands and keyboards to their bare breasts, as evidenced by this charming ditty of a hash-tag trending nationwide on Twitter: #notodomesticviolence. But slacktivism, the most redundant of all internet behaviours, is a puerile waste when a series of white upper-middle class men will continue to be allowed to traipse through the New Zealand countryside, bounding over knuckled hillocks, living it up on golf courses, seemingly absolved of their sins against women and children: Sean Penn, Sean Connery, Gary Oldman, Mel Gibson, Nicolas Cage, Michael Fassbender, Bill Murray, Ozzy Osbourne, Tommy Lee, Jimmy Page, Roman Polanski, Tony Veitch, countless, faceless “prominent” New Zealanders (should I keep going?). I believe in redemption and rehabilitation, but don’t confuse the culture of domestic violence with the question of individual consequence.
And so, it is with a heavy heart that I must finish by telling you that in a country where the rigmarole around Once Were Warriors rests on whether it is in fact the nation’s favourite romantic comedy; where the Glossary of Kiwiana replaces “men’s singlet” with “wife-beater”; where Veitch, who fractured Kristin Dunne-Powell’s spine in four places and paid her $100,000 hush-money, now hosts his own television show; where “prominent” New Zealanders are forever circumventing punitive action, it is embarrassing (and depressing) to be a survivor of domestic violence. This past fortnight has seen the country’s Bright Young Things leap at the opportunity to pay lip service to the questions of intergenerational violence, systemic child abuse, and the issues of poverty that plague children like Brown and myself for the rest of our lives, all the while misrepresenting the problem. Domestic violence is not an “issue” isolated to low socioeconomic areas; it is not confined to the ever-dwindling number of state homes, nor has it been driven by cosmopolitans to the regions. Violence is not remote. It is next door. It is in your schools, your universities, your offices, and your government. From where I stand it cannot be denied that this country hasn’t a bloody clue. How can they when people steadfastly refuse to acknowledge domestic violence occurs in all communities? From Waiheke Island to Cannons Creek, from Blenheim to Bluff, violence in the home is like a cancer: it does not discriminate. Your gender, your sexuality, your race, your age, your religion, and your tax bracket are nothing to a swinging fist.
I stop short of putting my name to this piece, because it’s not about me, it’s about you. I acknowledge my anonymity will naturally reduce the weight of my argument, the poor frustrated reader being unable to position their faithful author alongside the text. But you see, I was never there. I could be anyone’s child. I could be your mother, sister, brother, wife, husband, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, friend, student, or teacher. Come closer and you will see I am everyone and no-one. You wouldn’t recognise me, even if you tried, because New Zealand doesn’t know the face of domestic violence. No one does.