“…..Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which presently allows parents to get away with violent attacks on their children…..All I aim to achieve with repeal is to remove the defence of ‘reasonable force’ which allows some parents to get away with beating their children quite badly, for example with canes, horse crops, hosepipes and pieces of wood.”
Sue Bradford 22nd August 2005 Green Party Website
“But I think we have a problem where the law gives a defence against assault, and people have been quite disturbed about the recent case in Timaru, which is one of a whole series of cases, where people are acquitted against assault on a child even though really any reasonable person would think it was an assault, and in the case of the Timaru woman, she took to her child with a bamboo cane and with a riding crop, and another son of hers has now come forward and says well the mother had a history of abusing the kids… punched, beaten, and whipped her children all of her life”
Prime Minister on Radio Interview with Bob McCoskrie 31st August 2005
“The law sanctions taking to your kids with a piece of 4 x 2 or a horse whip and people have done that and got off in court because of s59 of the Crimes Acts.
Interviewer: Have you seen the facts of the case?
JF: I’ve seen what was reported in the newspapers”
Jeanette Fizsimons Radio Interview with Bob McCoskrie Mid-2005
Interview between Bob McCoskrie (National Director of Family First) and the Mother who was acquitted under s59 of assaulting her son. (originally interviewed 2005 updated June 2006)
What were the circumstances that led to the charges?
I have five children and have spent much of the past fifteen parenting alone, though I have recently married a loving Christian man. Trying to juggle on my own between holding down a full time management position and home life and parenting was not an easy task.
My son had a medical condition as a young child which prevented him from receiving the normal smacks on the bottom a naughty toddler would receive from a loving parent.
What was the medical condition your son had?
My son had a transient form of Oesteogenesis Imperfecta, a type of brittle bone disease, which affected the collagen structure of the bones for first years of his life. This has no effect on him now.
My son therefore has had behavioural problems for a number of years.
These were exacerbated by him playing off his well meaning Grandmother, who lived close by, against me. She unwittingly supported his bad behaviour through negative rather than supportive intervention.
For example if I gave the child time out by putting him in his room when he had been abusive to one of his siblings he would jump out the window and run to her house which was close by, telling her only what suited him and she would arrive on the doorstep and verbally abuse me for putting him in his room without even taking the time to find out what had preceded this.
If I tried to tell her, or the other children tried to tell her she would make excuses for his behaviour. This led to a boy who became very difficult to control.
Late last year I was working in conjunction with the school and a psychologist through some plans to assist with managing my son’s behavioural problems.
My other children are all relatively well behaved, displaying what I would describe as normal childhood naughtiness
Tell us about the incident with your son
I had a call from the school to tell me that my son had deliberately kicked a hole in a toilet entrance door. There were two entrance doors to this particular cloakroom, one was always open and the other locked. Although it was only two meters to walk to the unlocked door my son and another child saw fit to kick the locked door until it opened.
If you recall, school doors they are big, heavy things and it would take some considerable and deliberate force to kick a hole through one of these wearing only school shoes.
What was the date you were called to the school and how old was your son at that time?
My son was twelve years old. I think it was mid October 2004.
My son refused to carry out the schools discipline. The deputy principal told me when she called me he had sworn at her when she attempted to get him to write the school rules. She sent him out to the front gate of the school for me to pick him up to take him home to discipline him.
On the way home from the school I talked to my son about his behaviour and told him it was not acceptable and that I expected him to behave properly and respectfully at school. I told my son that I loved him and that because of his very bad behaviour I had to discipline him. I bent him over the table and gave him six whacks on his trousered bottom with a small bamboo cane.
Could you describe a little more the small bamboo cane?
It is about the thickness of my little finger and between 12 and 18 inches in length. The type you use to stake a small pot plant.
What happened then?
He apologised for his behaviour and I reassured him that I loved him but disliked the behaviour. He told me he wouldn’t behave like this again and I then took him back to school, where he complied with what was required of him there.
Then what happened?
About two weeks after the school incident my son was asked to assist my husband bringing in firewood for the night. He took exception to this simple request and did not respond well to my husband’s encouragement to help. He picked up a baseball bat and swung it full force at my husbands head screaming that he would give him permanent head injuries. Fortunately my husband was able to block the blow and disarm the boy. If my husband had not seen the baseball bat coming, the consequences could have been dire, as the impact to his head could have seriously maimed him or even killed him.
I felt I needed to discipline my son for this severe behaviour and looked for the cane, but could not find it. I saw the riding crop close by and thought that will give him a short sharp sting and then administered discipline with that.
Could you describe a little more the riding crop?
It is about 18 inches long and approximately as thick as my little finger with a rubber handle at one end, and a small leather flap at the other end that is about half an inch wide and one and a half inches long.
Why didn’t you use your hand?
I had spent some time praying about my sons behaviour and read through Scripture and felt as a result of that that I had a responsibility to pull my son back into line quickly and effectively before he got into more serious trouble, in a manner which dealt with it on the spot instead of a punishment which dragged on and even showed a lack of forgiveness. I felt his behaviour called for something more than a smack on the bottom.
(Bear in mind if he had done either of these things as an adult he would have been likely put in prison. I think if any prisoner was asked if they would prefer a whack on the bottom with a cane or a crop to his sentence he would gladly agree to the discipline)
The cane and crop both give a short sharp stinging sensation which is memorable but not injurious. I have tried this on myself. The discipline was entirely controlled, over with very quickly and was very effective. Afterwards he gave me a hug and apologised.
What was the effect of the discipline?
From this point on the boys behaviour changed radically for the better. We had a happy laughing cheerful child who was obedient and a pleasure to have around.
We had regular monthly meetings at the school to discuss my son’s behaviours and progress with a social worker from Special Education Services and attended that month’s meeting as was planned.
The deputy principal opened the meeting by saying there had been a huge improvement in my son’s behaviour at school and asked how things were at home. We told her we had experienced the same.
The SES worker then asked what we thought had bought about this change for the better and I told him about the incidences of the discipline. This do-gooder went purple and nearly fell of his seat. He told me I was not allowed to discipline in this manner, that it was against the law even to smack.
I told him he was wrong, that there was no law against this and that the discipline had worked.
Even though the school acknowledged the radical change for the better in my son’s behaviour, this do-gooder contacted CYFS.
Two social workers from CYFS arrived at my place of work some two weeks later and in a very high handed and officious manner insisted on “interviewing” me in front of my staff and members of the public, telling me I was abusing my child. They clearly had made up their minds that this was the case before even talking to me.
They refused to leave my workplace, even though I was due to finish in an hour, and told them I would be happy to discuss this with them at home after work. They kept on insisting that it was against the law to hit a child, including smacking, and quoted violence begets violence.
I told them that my behaviour was controlled and appropriate for the situation, and their interview in my workplace was not appropriate.
The social workers took exception to my abrupt ending of their power trip and rang the police. They filed to the family court, without even investigating fully the circumstances of discipline and with out offering the family any support, an exparte order seeking interim custody for my son, on the grounds that he was being physically abused.
The exparte order meant we were not even informed they were doing this and we had no right of reply to defend it.
The court awarded CYFS interim custody of my son, based on the hearsay of one social worker alone and without calling evidence to substantiate the social workers claim.
The department then uplifted my son, maintaining abuse, and the social worker set on a path of character assassination of me because, I believe, I offended him by refusing to discuss the matter in my workplace or back down and admit abuse (which of course had not occurred).
The social worker then set on a campaign to get the police to prosecute me in order to bolster his claims of abuse. The Police came and interviewed me and it was clear to me during the interview that the police officer was supportive of my actions.
When were charges laid?
Charges were not laid for some five months after the interview and as I understand were laid with a great deal of reluctance by the Police but under pressure from CYFS.
When the Police officer bought me the summons he was apologetic and he told me about section 59 and how it allowed for reasonable force in the circumstances. He suggested to me that I had a defence under this section.
Why do you think you were acquitted?
I did not give evidence at the trial and called no evidence in my defence. The prosecution witnesses clearly showed in their evidence that this was a boy who was exhibiting extreme and irrational behaviour and needed to be quickly bought into line.
Why did you not give evidence at the trial or call evidence? Did you have a lawyer?
Yes I did have a lawyer. He cross examined the prosecution witnesses over the course of the trial. As their evidence was very compelling that this was a boy out of control in his behaviour and that the discipline was controlled and effective there was no need for me to give evidence. The jury decided the case based on the evidence provided by the prosecution alone.
The evidence presented by the prosecution showed that the boy’s behaviour changed for the better after the discipline.
The jury clearly thought that under the circumstances presented by the prosecution, the boy’s behaviour was out of control and the discipline which bought him quickly into line was reasonable.
The jury had people from all walks of life including grandparents, professional people, mums, dads and even a school teacher. They reached their unanimous decision within an hour.
What are the media not reporting OR distorting about the facts of the case?
The media immediately picked up on this and threw a negative slant in their news coverage, labeling this abuse even though it was proven not to be.
The media has downplayed my son’s radical outrageous behaviour and has focused on the method of discipline as having been inappropriate the circumstances, irrespective of the circumstances which led to this discipline and the fact of the jury finding it not to be an assault.
Some members of the media have openly verbally attacked the jury and their decision, but only the jury and those in the court room saw the case presented as a whole and the jury’s decision was reached upon all the relevant information the prosecution presented.
Was there physical harm to your son as a result of the riding crop?
It has been said in the media the discipline produced welts on the boy’s legs. The evidence in the court described a mark on my son’s upper leg as a small linear red mark, which was not apparent when checked again 2 hours after the punishment. This is hugely different from a welt.
I thought it was reported as a horse whip?
The media has changed the term riding crop to a horse whip. Horse whip conjures up visions of a long stock type whip, where in fact a riding crop is a small item, about 18 inches long and is designed to give a short sharp sting with no seen physical effects. Even though the evidence showed to the contrary, the media have claimed this was a beating. The discipline was controlled and effective.
What other methods of discipline have you used?
I have always used a number of methods to discipline my children which have included a warning, an apology, time out, loss of privilege, and smacking. This depended on the nature of what had occured. I only ever had used a cane or a riding crop to bring into line very extreme behaviour and it worked when nothing else did. The media has branded me a violent angry uncaring woman who should be whipped herself. To the contrary, I love my children and want them to become responsible adults who’s life reflects personal discipline and respect for others.
Non physical discipline such as a telling off, removal of privilege, grounding and time out did not work with this boy. He just simply didn’t care because he knew he could play his grandmother off against myself and that even if I had imposed such a punishment she would over ride it and he would just laugh at me.
The mainstream media say that my behaviour was unreasonable and abuse irrespective of the court decision. I say to them they do not know my son or his behaviour or even the full circumstances and are not in a position to judge. This was not normal childhood naughtiness, it was outrageous over the top behaviour, and I would further challenge those who have said this that given the same circumstances they would definitely discipline along similar lines.
The Commissioner for Children has become involved and is relying on the above mentioned distortions of truth in mainstream media as being fact, in this case, to push for the repealing of section 59. Yet the Commissioner has admitted that she has physically disciplined her own children.
What have been your dealings with CYFS
I have found CYFS to be highhanded in their dealings, having a particular mindset and a zeal to prove abuse even if it has not occurred, which they will look neither to the left nor right from.
Even though the court of law has ruled an assault did not occur, CYFS are refusing to return my son to me on the grounds he was assaulted. Even though I have given them an undertaking (against my beliefs and in an effort to have my son returned home where he wants to be), not to discipline him in this matter again, they are refusing to return him because they maintain he is likely to be abused, as at one point I said I would simply smack his bottom instead with my hand if he needed it .
Do all CYFS workers operate on this policy
I have spoken to four different CYFS social workers about smacking and they all hold and maintain the belief that it is against the law to smack children. That smacking constitutes violence and violence begets violence (their favourite quote). I have been told it is their policy to remove children from the care of parents who smack to discipline. They will not advocate smacking in any form. I have pointed out that this is contrary to the law which allows for reasonable physical discipline and have been told that this is not relevant, that the department has an anti smacking policy and maintains the right to uplift and hold children who are being disciplined this way.
The implication of this is that their policies are above the law and that they have exclusive right to make law for their department irrespective of the law of the land.
Because I offended the social worker initially by walking out on the interview he tried to conduct at my workplace, he has begun a personal witch hunt and character assassination which has become far removed from the issue at hand which is the interests of my son and his right to be reunited with his family who, irrespective of his behaviour, love him.
The social worker has twisted and distorted comments made by family members to suit his own agenda. He has even on occasion deliberately lied even claiming my son had said things when he interviewing him which my son was very clear that he had not said.
It is also of interest that he carried out an interview with my son without my knowledge and without offering him any adult support – which is in direct breach of the act.
This social worker has put an application before the court for a declaration in respect of two of my other children on the grounds that they “could be at risk of being abused” even though these children and family members have made it clear that this is not the case.
He also physically tried to prevent my son from talking to me on the phone by trying to snatch away the phone as it was passed by my son’s caregiver to my son. This action frightened my son so much that he subsequently ran away and rang me from a house where he felt safe.
The social worker has even stated at one point that I am an evil woman because I stood with my hands on my hips and glared at him. Am I expected to be pleasant smiling and happy because he has wrongfully removed my son from my care? Get real.
Is it true that CYF put your son on drugs to modify his behaviour?
Yes they put him on Risperdel (Ritalin for a week) and is still on it. The side effects have been tiredness, lack of motivation and inability to focus on things for very long. It was after he was put on Risperdel (and after he was taken into care by CYFS) that his behaviour deteriorated to the point that he was suspended 4 times and is now in a private boarding school 300kms away – paid by the taxpayer.
Have you had any other involvement with CYFS
What is truly interesting is that I have provided respite care a CYFS client in 1992, I was appointed by CYFS to supervise access for a family friend in 1997, and have had two 17 year old youths who were under CYFS supervision boarding with me in 1999 and 2003 with the permission of their respective social workers. This hardly would have happened if CYFS felt I was in any way abusive.
What was the family court system like?
The family court system is farcical to say the least. The words of social workers are taken as completely true and the family court always supports CYFS in their exparte applications for interim custody and children are subsequently removed from their homes on suspicion alone. Many children remain in CYFS custody for years because the parents do know how to fight the system or run out of finances to do so, or give up because they can no longer cope with the huge stress of dealing with CYFS and the wiles of the all too powerful social workers.
Why did you agree to the Declaration?
We were bullied into agreeing to the declaration by being told that if we didn’t agree the court process would be drawn out for years during which time my son would be kept in CYFS care.
What have been the costs?
We have had to fight a costly battle, both emotionally and financially, for my children and have only an average chance of succeeding because even though the court of law shows abuse did not occur, because too much weight is placed by the family court on the opinion of the social worker even if it is not reasonably held. Too bad the one we have does not like me – and this is so often what it boils down to.
So far this fight has cost about $10,000 and it is still not over.
What does your son say about all this?
My son is begging CYFS and his family court lawyer to come home (this surely would not be the case if he considered himself abused?) and we are begging to have him here and they refuse outright saying that the family court process must follow through.
The law has said, and a Jury has found, I have not done anything wrong and therefore it follows that my son should be returned home.
CYFS should have withdrawn their applications immediately upon the ruling of the jury and they have not. They should have retuned my son home and they have not. How can this be? CYFS are in flouting the law in doing this.
Nothing has been done at all to strengthen this family. CYFS have failed to uphold their mission statement. “Strengthening Families” is baloney.
Do you know of other families in similar circumstances?
I have personal knowledge of another local family where the husband was accused of abuse by CYFS. He was ordered out of the house by CYFS. As I understand the situation, CYFS insisted on charges being laid and the police withdrew the charges through lack of evidence, but even so, this family is still fighting in family court for custody of their daughter and restoration of their family. Their social worker, who is not the same one as our case, has gone on a personal mission to prove abuse when it has not occurred. Something has to be done to stop power hungry social workers in CYFS from dividing and separating families rather than supporting them und upholding the family unit.
Where to from here?
I will continue to fight for my son through the system.
Why have you decided to speak out in the last year?
With the possible repeal of s59 introduced to Parliament last year, there will be many many more families who may have to endure what we have had to. The truth needs to be told so that MP’s know what is really happening before they put at risk all good parents in NZ