French rugby player, Mathieu Bastareaud, concocted a story to cover up his drunkenness following the French-All Black test on June 20. He accused up to five locals of beating him up and this nation, which has spawned other incidents of violence towards tourists, believed him.
Shamed into telling the truth about what happened at his Wellington hotel early that morning after police threatened to release video evidence, the 20-year-old star player’s reputation is in tatters.
Bastareaud’s story brought cries of outrage. People felt sorry for the player and the French team. There were concerns that the incident might adversely affect tourism and New Zealand’s hosting role for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. There were calls for tougher action against thugs.
But there was no suggestion that the story might not be true and this should be our biggest concern.
Violent offending is so much a part of our everyday life that we are no longer surprised when it happens.
A photo in the Dominion Post June 27 put the situation in sharp focus. The photo shows a male defendant before the court wearing a ‘Wheel of Fortune’-inspired t-shirt with a highly abusive message minus the vowels. His stance in the dock echoes the sentiment on his shirt. Charged with assault, his appearance screams violence. Could his be the face of New Zealand 2009?
New Zealand has highlighted family violence through discussion over the 2007 revision of the Crimes Act 1961 which saw smacking a child made illegal. But there is a sector of society that wants this amendment overturned. During the first week in August, New Zealanders will be asked to vote on a poorly worded referendum. The question: ‘Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?’ is aimed at eliciting a widespread ‘no’ vote which could see the law against using violence to correct bad behaviour overturned.
There is little education about the aims of the referendum and no followup education about alternative ways to discipline children (although several websites feature helpful parenting tips).
New Zealand has a poor record of violence against children and ranks towards the bottom of a list of OECD member countries in terms of child deaths from maltreatment.
Policymakers need to start putting children at the centre of their policy and the country needs to support them by voting to throw out this referendum. Only then will the country start to redress the damage done by a culture of violence present on the roads, sporting fields, playgrounds and in homes. Violence is championed in video games and play stations and forms a part of the nation’s television diet.
No wonder we are not surprised when a visitor reports they’ve been attacked by thugs. It doesn’t occur to us that they could have made up the story. Violence? C’est la vie.
Fr Lyons chairs theWel-com Editorial Advisory Board.