The violent rampage and suicide of Jamie Ginns over the weekend was extensively covered in the media, but coverage was generally trite and failed to highlight the important issues. Bystanders were asked to desribe the various scenes of mayhem and police were repeatedly challenged about why it took them so long to identify Ginns as a suspect in the first assault on the night of Friday 2nd December. Media probed whether Ginns had a criminal history and when they eventually found out that he did they became very excited.
The fact that there was a protection order in place against Ginns wasn’t mentioned anywhere until on Monday morning the head of Women’s Refuge, Heather Henare, referred to it on Radio New Zealand. Henare as usual took the opportunity to speak about domestic violence in gender-specific terms as though only men ever commit it and only women ever suffer from it, beat up the issue as much as she could and of course called for ongoing funding for her organisation, but as usual she failed to discuss anything that might improve realistic understanding or management of this or other violence. Other media hardly noticed the issue of the protection order but Radio New Zealand did play a short comment from Jill Proudfoot from ‘Shine’, an organization that deals with family violence, telling us that Protection Orders won’t always keep a victim safe. Proudfoot actually stated that when applied against people who had little regard for the law, “a protection order is no use whatsoever and sometimes even escalates the situation”. That seemed a rare piece of wisdom, but unfortunately Ms Proudfoot went on to say that “you have to judge really carefully when you’re talking to the woman whether a protection order is what she really needs”, showing her assumption that domestic violence is only ever done to women and therefore showing she isn’t a whole lot wiser or more honest than most others working the domestic violence industry.
By the time the story became yesterday’s news no further useful analysis had appeared in our media. A lone story in the Herald on Tuesday 6th December brought us journalist Nikki Preston’s insightful discovery that Ginns was a ‘nut case’ and a ‘real troublemaker’, but still made no mention at all of the protection order or the can of worms that raises.
So let’s just open the can a bit. Because no appropriate research has ever been commissioned, we don’t know to what extent protection orders protect anyone. There’s the first wriggly little worm. This is draconian legislation that without any defended trial or reasonable level of proof removes fundamental rights such as the right to free movement in the community, the right to free speech and the right to occupy the property one owns, and further that damages relationships between parents and their children. Yet the state that has imposed this travesty of justice did not even bother to ensure that its effects would be measured.
The second wriggly little worm sneaking out of the can is the possibility that protection orders actually increase risk. Certainly, since this male-bashing legislation has been in place there is little indication that domestic violence has reduced; instead we constantly hear Heather Henare and others complaining about how much worse it is and how much more money they need. To me, it’s obvious that protection orders’ cavalier attacks on people’s liberties and relationships with their children are likely to increase tension, anger and outbursts. Preventing couples in conflict from communicating cannot be expected to assist in resolving or even defusing the problems. For people most at risk of violence from their partners, a protection order is quite likely to tip that partner over the edge. The emotional threats are huge, the biggest one (but only one of many) being that the protection order will restrict that parent’s contact with his/her children to a demeaning supervised situation for a short time each fortnight. I have long stated my belief that protection orders might be useful to partners who were never at much risk at all, in ‘protecting’ them from the discomfort of hearing the other partner’s complaints and appeals about being ditched and robbed. For people truly at high risk of being violently attacked, the protection order can only increase the risk of violence. Even if the violent partner is sent to jail under the protection order’s provisions, sooner or later (s)he will get out of jail.
A third wriggly worm slithers right into the foundations of protection order laws. They were based on the unscientific Duluth fantasy that most domestic violence arises from men trying to maintain patriarchal power and control over their wives and children. If that were true, then protection orders may well have worked. But we know it isn’t true in all but a tiny proportion of cases. Usually, domestic violence arises out of relationship conflict in which both partners feel emotionally threatened to a degree that sees them behave irrationally towards each other. Protection-order legislation as it currently stands was never designed to deal with what domestic violence really is, only what feminists imagined it might be.
Many other worms slither in the can. Simply speaking though, time and time again we see protection orders failing to do what was hoped of them. Yet time and time again media refuse to explore this and domestic violence industry spokespeople refuse to admit it. Jamie Ginns was just another example.