Yesterday, hundreds of people took to the streets of Aotearoa New Zealand – crying for change, calling for action. They respectfully demanded attention for the 200 plus children that have been killed in this country in the past two decades alone. All at the hands of caregivers who should have been nurturing them.
In August 2015, Moko Rangitoheriri was killed by two adults who were entrusted with his care. He was just 3 at the time of his torturous death. His killers: Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, were 26 and 43 respectively. Shame, shame, shame. Debate surrounds their convictions of manslaughter. It is hard to imagine they did not murder him. They are parents of young children too, they egged each other on as if it were sport. It was calculated.
Regardless of what we call it, their actions and the outcomes. Their own back stories need to be understood. In most cases, those who kill children, have suffered immensely in their own lives. I do not mean to diminish Shailer and Haerewa’s actions in the slightest. But we must not disregard their lives if we are to prevent further abuses of children under our watch.
We are not yet managing to stop the cycles of violence against women and children. The Haerewa whānau are a case in point. David’s uncle, Ben Haerewa, killed his step-son: 4-year-old James Whakaruru, in 1998. At that time, the Whakaruru whānau had come to the attention of care and protection services 6 times, the Haerewa whānau – 13 times! In 2010, David’s brother John was sentenced to 17 years for the murder of a Wellington woman. Although it does happens occasionally, it is rare for this sort of violence to come out of the blue. The webs of violence go a long way back, and are intricately connected to some of the most powerful forces in our society: Patriarchy, poverty and institutionalised racism. Right now, I want to draw your attention to the connection between our violent society and patriarchy now.
I define patriarchy in the following way:
Patriarchy describes male-dominated power structures, which permeate throughout organised society, in political systems as well as in individual relationships. It is systemic bias against women and non cis-male people. Patriarchy can be recognised as the intuitions and companies that are run in the majority by men that mostly benefit men; where taking maternity leave or breastfeeding a baby at work is a problem; where being a transsexual makes using the toilets an issue. Patriarchy is also a family group or community controlled by powerful men – fathers and grandfathers who give more privilege to boys and men in that group. Patriarchy is a world that benefits cis-men over everyone else.
Among those marching yesterday was Vic Tamati. He is a courageous and committed man. He is insistent that violence needs to stop with the perpetrator, and knows that they cannot do it alone – that community support must surround them. He also recognises that all to often, it is men committing the violence, largely against women and children. He continues to dedicated a large chunk of his adult life to turning the tide around for his own whānau, and also supports others to do the same.
We need more Vics’ out there. More men seeing the sexism at play in their actions. More men understanding that mens’ violence against women and children is structural in its roots and that the buck stops somewhere, somehow. More men seeing that this sexist-violence is everywhere. Enough of women picking up the pieces.
Although Moko’s face is another beautiful brown one, this is everyone’s problem, our collective responsibility. Our Pākehā whānau are just as prone, just as guilty.We have our mainstream media to blame for skewing the view and hiding the realities we face.
We see the faces of Māori and other non-Pākehā in the news more, because that makes it so much easier for a huge swathe of society to wash its hands – unsurprising, the large group that is comprised of white men who weld the most power in this country. The section that does not want to admit that violence is perpetrated by all ilks, and that we are all part of the solution. All lives are affected by men’s violence somewhere along the line.
We all know that Moko was killed by a woman and a man. We also know that David was released from prison weeks before Moko’s death, and that his relationship with Tania was a violent one. We know too, that many children, who experience abuse like Moko did, do so at the hands of their mothers’ partners.
These partners and step-‘fathers’ are not only violent to the children, but to their mothers. These are men who silence mothers, preventing them from seeking help, these are men who seek control and power in the abuse of those they should care for.
We have men’s violence in these epic proportions because we are a patriarchal society. We tell our men that they have the power, that they have the control – and this is what we get. We let our little boys push girls around because “this is how they show they like you” and after all, “boys will be boys”. We encourage our teenage boys to play hours of violent video games while we cook dinner, where they can hire and run over prostitutes for points. We let groups of young men off the hook for drugging and gang-raping underage children. We don’t let little boys cry when they get their immunisations, and we admonish any other signs of less-than masculine behaviour on a daily basis. Because, an unmanly man will have no control, and therefore no power. This is what we are saying.
I plead with readers to look beyond the latest headline. To ask ‘WHY did they do that?’, ‘What got them to that place in their lives’ ‘Why are these men so angry?!’ ‘Why can’t they communicate in non-violent ways?’
And most importantly, ‘What should have been done differently’. The reports of Moko’s death are harrowing and should keep anyone up at night. However, while lying there awake at night, think about how our society is structured as well.
Why are our men killing us they way they are? Why are our women and children not safe in the streets and in their own homes? Our media needs to be asking the same questions. They are our mouth pieces whether we like it or not. They must weave the threads of patriarchy, poverty and racism into their reporting as well as the horrific details. We get nowhere otherwise, all we do is deflect and protect the privilege that men hold in society.
And why we are all pondering, flick $5 to the Women’s Refuge, while finding out more about our patriarchal society: