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22 August 2014

by Adam Blanch

Vigilante justice: feminism's latest attack on human rights

There is a simple reason that we place the responsibility of conviction and punishment in the hands of the courts, to prevent the word 'justice' becoming synonymous with 'vengeance' or even worse, false prosecution. It is the responsibility of the court, professionals trained in the matter, to determine that an individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and to determine a just and proportional punishment.

If we lose that simple protection of procedural fairness we might as well start handing out nooses and gallows to any person or group who feels aggrieved. This is precisely what new laws drafted by Robert Clark, the Attorney General of the state of Victoria, will do. Buckling under pressure from vested interest groups, and in contravention of every principle of procedural justice that he (presumably) learnt in his passage through law school, Mr Clark has initiated laws that will allow those who have obtained a apprehended violence order against another person to 'name and shame' that person in the press. In his own words:

the reforms will allow adult victims to publish or authorise the media to publish the existence of a family violence safety notice or intervention order together with the identity of any offender who has been charged with or convicted of contravening the notice or order and the identity of the adult victim.

Currently, such reports cannot be published without a court order, for a very good reason. The person being named and shamed has not been convicted of a crime. An apprehended violence order (AVO), and the accusation of breaching it, is in fact nothing more than the accusation of a criminal act. Their very existence is premised on the idea of 'guilty until proven innocent', and proving yourself innocent is almost impossible.

The reforms also give police the power to issue interim orders on the spot without having to go to court. Effectively, Mr Clark has just placed the power to accuse, prosecute and punish in the hands of any individual who wants it, and removed all accountability. No conviction is required, no evidence need be presented and no defence can be mounted. It's a simple three step process to ruin another person's life. Accuse them of being violent to you and obtain an AVO (no proof required), then accuse them of breaching it (no proof required), then go to the press.

Newspapers like the Herald Sun, who proudly claim responsibility for getting these laws created, will happily dish the dirt on your behalf. Indeed, these laws give the press the ability to publish malicious gossip about people, who have not been convicted of a crime, without the fear of the defamation laws they currently face. For trash journalism, this is the Goose that's about to lay the Golden Egg.

Once a person has been named in the press their reputation is effectively destroyed. Even if they were to somehow prove their innocence in the following proceedings, the damage to their reputation is already done.

So what's the rational for cutting the courts out of the system of prosecution and punishment? Apparently it is to protect the alleged victims of violence by 'empowering' them to publicly humiliate their alleged perpetrators.

Will it protect victims?

The simple answer is a categorical NO. Decades of research show us that punishments such as incarceration, public humiliation and even the death penalty will not deter a person from committing violence. This is because when people commit violence they are, generally speaking, not acting from a rational frame of mind. They are usually highly emotionally charged, the sufferers of a diagnosable mental health issue, and either drunk or high. In short, the part of their brain that has the ability to consider the consequences of their actions and inhibit their behaviours has taken a holiday.

Most people who commit violence also suffer from a profound sense of shame and worthlessness about who they are, and their violence is a defence against those self annihilating feelings. As you might imagine, publicly humiliating such an individual is more likely to increase their likelihood of becoming violent than it is to decrease it. The act of humiliating them will be seen as (and it is) an act of violence against them, and encourage retaliation. Any person foolish enough to do this is putting themselves at even greater risk. Being issued with an apprehended violence order (AVO) has been shown to increase the likelihood of a significant proportion of people reoffending, so imagine what being publicly humiliated will do.

Will it be abused?
The answer is a categorical YES. AVO's are already widely abused in the family court system to create leverage in custody, alimony and property disputes. In a recent national survey it was found that 49% of 12,550 respondents believed that AVO's are being abused for this purpose, including 42% of the women surveyed. Apparently the family court judges and lawyers agree. 90% of QLD judges surveyed and 74% of NSW judges believed this was occurring. Out of 40 family lawyers surveyed almost all of them said they believed it. Proving it is harder, because family law case data is locked up so tightly that no one can get to analyse it.

It works like this. The more a single parent can restrict the other parent's access to the children the more financial support they receive from the government, and an AVO that hasn't been 'disproven' is a great weapon in the fight for primary custody and restricted access.

Many family separations are bitter and acrimonious, and Robert Clark has just handed over the legal equivalent of a loaded gun to whichever partner is willing to use it first. The ability to convict, prosecute and punish your ex on the basis of nothing more than an unproven accusation is vengeance pay dirt. Under these laws, simply obtaining an AVO gives you the ability to defame them in the worst possible way, without the slightest proof and without fear of repercussions. These laws will tear apart lives, families and communities, all on the word of one individual, no proof required.

Will it Backfire?
Again, the answer is a categorical YES. These laws are truly the initiative of the feminist lobby. They are squarely aimed at removing all legal protections from men, who they falsely claim are the majority, even the only, perpetrators of family violence.

The last time they attempted to tip the scales of justice in women's favour was in the now repealed 'aggravated homicide' laws. These laws were intended to make it possible for women who had murdered their spouse to claim that their spouse had been abusing them and therefore escape a murder conviction. However, they also made it possible for men to make the same claim, and some did so successfully.

The Feminist lobby then complained that men, who they declared to be perpetrators simply by virtue of being men, were misusing the law to avoid accountability for murdering their wives, who were assumed to be innocent simply by virtue of being women (yes, this is sexism). The courts didn't agree, and the feminist lobby then lobbied just as hard and just as successfully to have these laws removed as they did to have them created.

Similarly, 'Clark's Laws' cannot be written exclusively to advantage women without being overtly sexist. So, like the aggravated homicide laws they can and will be used by men as well. This is a two edged sword, and women will be equally exposed to the risk of false allegations and life destroying defamation without the possibility of defence. Also, those women who do commit violence (currently this is in the millions in Australia) will equally face the risk of finding themselves sentenced by the court of public opinion.

It is only the feminist lobby's confidence that they can continue to exaggerate the violence committed by men, and hide the violence committed by women, that has them pursue this course. If they believed that people would discover the truth about family violence, that gender is not really a factor, they would abandon this post haste. Perhaps the silver lining in this dark cloud is that it may expose more of women's perpetration and men's victimisation to public scrutiny, and cause people to start questioning the feminist propaganda.

Meanwhile, as always, those who will most keenly suffer from the further removal of legal protections will be the children. The impact of watching their parents attacked and defamed in the press, and witnessing their communities divided and torn apart, will have a significant and lifelong impact on many young lives.

No reasonable person could disagree with the idea that those who are the genuine victims of violence deserve protection and justice. But no reasonable person could possibly believe that giving them the power to exact revenge will bring that about, and that giving people the power to destroy other people's lives based on unproven allegations will reduce the violence and conflict in our society.

Is there another way?

The problem truly lies in the overall approach we take to violence, which is very similar to the approach we used to take towards alcoholism. Less than 80 years ago people who suffered alcoholism were simply blamed for their own condition and thrown away by society. They were viewed as weak, of bad character, morally corrupt and deserving of their fate. Then Alcoholics Anonymous came along and we began to see that they were human beings caught in the grip of a terrible disease, real people who needed our compassion and our help to recover their lives.

Family violence is also a disease, passed from one generation to the next, not a moral choice made by an individual. People do not wake up in the morning and randomly decide to beat-up their spouse or abuse their children. They arrive at that behaviour though a history of trauma, neglect, exposure to violence, poverty and lack of education. It is no accident that most family violence is committed by poor people with addiction problems and psychological issues. Violence is not a choice people make - It's what happens when they've run out of choices.

Male or female, they need our understanding, our compassion and our help. They need the opportunity to heal and recover, to become the person they might have been if life had been kinder to them. They need us to have the wisdom to intervene in the intergenerational cycle of violence in a positive and effective way.

Condemning and punishing the violence of others is the behaviour of people who have failed to come to terms with the violence within themselves. It is easy, self inflating, self gratifying moral posturing – and it is part of the problem, not the solution. It is in fact a form of psychological and social violence, and violence always begets violence.

There is another way. The professional mental health community, the people who should be guiding our policy response on these issues, already know through extensive research what the true causes of family violence are. They know how to successfully intervene. They have the knowledge and the understanding to stop this terrible disease from infecting the next generation. What's lacking is the funds and the political will to put that knowledge into action, resources that are currently being diverted into failed 'gender' programs, sexist propaganda, and lynch-mob laws that will only make things worse.

If the knowledge that any person will now have the power to appoint themself your judge, jury and executioner (without the slightest proof) troubles you then I suggest you write to Mr Clark at robert.clark@parliament.vic.gov.au.
In politics, the loudest voice wins.