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Health leader urges tougher penalties for domestic violence

A leading Maori health provider has called for tougher penalties for men who beat their wives and children.

Darrin Haimona, chief executive of Waikato-based Ngati Haua Healthcare, told a domestic violence conference in Auckland yesterday that traditional Maori culture was no excuse for Maori men who were violent.

He attacked comments last week by Waitakere Judge Philip Recordon, who said men charged for the first time with domestic violence offences should be encouraged to plead guilty and go on non-violence courses, rather than being jailed.

“We need to be consistent in messages saying that violence is taken seriously,” Mr Haimona said.

“I’m saying use jail more as a deterrent, while at the same time that is a difficult statement for me to say when I understand that there are more Maori people within prisons.

“I’m supporting much stronger penalties. The penalties need to fit the crime.”

Under current law, assaults bring heavy penalties of up to 14 years in jail, but men who breach protection orders by visiting estranged partners or failing to attend non-violence courses face only fines of up to $5000 or six months in jail – or two years if they have already offended at least twice in the previous three years.

Surveys suggest that domestic violence is prevalent among Maori. In 2001, 49 per cent of Maori women, but only between 23 and 25 per cent of European, Pacific and other women, said they had been hit, threatened or frightened by a partner some time.

Mr Haimona said this was the reverse of pre-European Maori society, where the role of women and children was one of “divinity and sanctity”.

When European missionaries opened schools in the Waikato, many Maori families boycotted them because they punished children with violence.

“However, when we look at the statistics today, not only is it in the schools where violence is being perpetrated against our children, but we as Maori men and women are doing the violence towards our own children.

“That is absolutely contrary to our traditional values.”

Menstruating women were seen as tapu (sacred) and were not allowed in the garden because dealing with food would have lowered their status.

Today that status had degenerated to the point where a menstruating woman was often seen as paru (dirty).

“That is not a traditional value base,” he said. “Male violence against women and children is not a traditional aspect. This is something we learned in the schools.”

He acknowledged that warfare was also a feature of traditional Maori society, but he said people who infringed the sanctity of women and children, even in war, were regulated by utu. Utu meant revenge, but it also meant “restoring balance”.

Mr Haimona said the only system that existed to restore “balance” after a transgression today was the justice system.

“I don’t want to see more Maori people going through the police and justice system.

“However, that is the only tool that we can legally use, because our traditional ways of dealing with it might have been a bit too harsh.”