Posts Tagged jimmy mason

Deborah Morris-Travers comments on the Sunday show’s portrayal of her childhood and the smacking issue

August 12, 2009

Some months ago Sunday reporter Simon Mercep interviewed Jimmy Mason, the Christchurch father convicted for punching his son in the face. Following the show Sunday received a lot of correspondence and decided to interview more people about their experiences of physical punishment.

The Sunday programme for 9 August carried interviews with my family, and also with Simon Barnett.

In the telling of my story, as a child growing up in the 1970s, I related the strict and, at times, harsh physical punishment we received as a child. My parents talked about an era in which there was little information or support available for parents and they did what they thought was right at the time.

In my interview with Sunday, I noted that my older sister, in particular, had experienced a lot of physical punishment and that this had undermined her self-esteem, her confidence and sense of place in the family.

On one particular occasion I rang 111 and spoke to the operator about needing the Police to help my sister. The beating that was taking place ended so I told the operator I no longer needed help. I tried hanging up but discovered the operator was still there asking if everything was okay!

As a 9 year old this wasn’t something I could tell my parents about. It wasn’t until recently that we discussed it. My mother remembers the incident of physical punishment that prompted my call to the Police even though she hadn’t know that I had taken that action.

It is my belief that the anger my sister experienced contributed to her alienation from the family in her early teens, leading her to put herself in risky situations and then leave home at age 15. She later became a parent at 17 and had another child at 20. She went on to use physical punishment with her children.

Throughout her life it was clear that she carried with her anxiety and depression. Central to the story my family sought to tell was the important message that while the circumstances leading to her death were complex, being hit did not help build the resilience, confidence or resourcefulness she would need in adulthood. It undermined her sense of well-being.

As I have reflected on her childhood and teen years I have been struck by the similarity of her experience with the international evidence about the harms of physical punishment, including the potential for:

  • Aggression and delinquency
  • Poor mental health and poor self esteem
  • Learning difficulties
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Criminal and antisocial behaviour
  • Risk of victimisation of more serious abuse

When I have spoken with my parents about all of this they have been clear that as time went on they did start learning new ways to discipline us. This is why, as the middle child, I received less physical punishment than my sister – who was 5 years older than me.

For me, physical punishment put a great deal of pressure on my relationship with my parents. It made me angry and resentful. I didn’t trust them or respect them. Nevertheless, I was lucky to be a lot more resilient than my sister.

In recent years, partly due to the work I’m doing, we’ve had the opportunity to talk these things through as a family. My parents have related the role of the evangelical Church in promoting the physical punishment of children, they have apologised and we’ve moved on.

My parents have spoken with me about having learned that they could actually reason with us as children. The great thing is that now, as Grandparents, they understand the power of positive parenting and the numerous, non-violent, strategies they can use with children in their care.

And, as a parent now myself I am adamant that hitting children is unnecessary and unacceptable. I am convinced that families can change and we can break the cycle!

On this, it was interesting watching the show on Sunday night, hearing Simon Barnett’s assertion that he didn’t smack in anger, but one of his daughters saying her Dad was angry. It is common for parents to downplay their level of anger when they resort to physical punishment.

It was also worth noting that Simon admitted that hitting his youngest daughter didn’t work. This is what many New Zealand parents are discovering and it is hopefully what Simon’s older daughters will realise when they become parents themselves.

Of course, during the course of filming the Sunday show we had lengthy interviews with Simon Mercep about all of the issues involved, about the positive parenting strategies we employ with my 4 year old daughter, about the law and children’s right to have the same legal protection as all other citizens, and about the need for a YES vote in the referendum. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more discussion on the show about the techniques we use instead of hitting.

The nature of TV shows such as this is that time constraints mean the editing is heavy and viewers get just a snippet of information – and of course it’s the most sensational bits!

We have received dozens of supportive emails in recent days, many of which have referred to the lasting anxiety and depression caused by childhood punishment experiences.

Thanks to everyone for their support. Reflecting on what was supposedly an ‘average 1970s childhood’ wasn’t all that easy. I’m pleased to be parenting in a new era of awareness about how to do things differently!

Brian Rudman: The pro-smackers should apologise for wasting our time and money

June 17, 2009

In today’s Herald, Brian Rudman points out that the $8.9M being spent on the referendum is equivalent to half the money that the government spends on adult education, or a quarter of what Barnardos spends each year on helping children in need.

He continues:

For all their fear-mongering, the pro-smackers have been unable to produce any evidence to back their claims that good parents will be marched off to slappers prison. The best they could come up with as a poster boy for their cause was Christchurch musician and father-of-six, Jimmy Mason. A month ago he was convicted of assaulting his 4-year-old son.

He was dubbed the “ear-flick dad” but witnesses and even he told a different story.

A witness saw him yelling at the boy in downtown Christchurch, saw him yank his ear and hit him in the face with a closed fist. Mr Mason’s version was he gave the boy “a bloody good flick” because he was “being a prat”.

A policewoman testified he repeatedly shouting “f … ing listen” to the child and told her “I hit the big one in the face and that is what I do …”

Later, on what passes as television current affairs these days, Mr Mason was given the chance to recreate his attempts to teach his youngsters safe bike riding practices.

He thought better of repeating the physical violence, or the angry swearing. But if he’s the best the smackers can do by way of a martyr figure, they should apologise for wasting our time – and money.

Read the whole article.

Laila Harre on TVNZ: The Jimmy Mason case is a timely reminder that it’s no longer acceptable to assault children

June 10, 2009

TVNZ has posted Laila Harre’s reaction to the Jimmy Mason case on their web site.

She says:

The law is being used to bring people to account for child assault.  Under the previous law, parents could use the defence of “reasonable force” to correct the child. Juries were often convinced that quite vicious attacks on children were reasonable force.  We needed change the law to protect children from being punched in the face.  We’ve done that, a jury has convicted.

The judge will now have an opportunity to consider a sentence; the judge has indicated that he’s likely to get a non-custodial sentence.  He won’t be sent to prison, he’ll be sent to some kind of anger management class, and that’s exactly what this guy needs.  He needs advice on parenting without using physical discipline.  I think that this case is a timely reminder – it used to be acceptable to do this sort of thing, and it no longer is.

Watch the video!

Family First Advertisements and New Zealand’s Child Discipline Law

June 3, 2009

Once again the public are being subjected to misleading and expensive Family First advertisements in the Sunday papers. Politicians are being lobbied by Family First who are undermining a law that is working well and want to turn the clock back so that parents can assault children within the law.

In 2007 New Zealand’s law changed to give children the same protection under assault law as other citizens in New Zealand. A provision in the 2007 law reminding parents that police have discretion about prosecution in cases of inconsequential assaults means that very few, if any, cases at the lower end of the smacking/hitting spectrum are being prosecuted.

The law change reflects efforts to end the social acceptability of anyone’s right to hit anyone else. Over time, this will lead to better outcomes for children as fewer children will be exposed to violence.

In their most recent attempt to illustrate that “good” parents are being criminalised Family First cited four cases:

In one case investigations were undertaken and no charges laid. In another the parent was charged and then chose to plead guilty. The sentence is not mentioned. In the third the parent was convicted and discharged without penalty.

In two cases the parents concerned were not convicted (and therefore not criminalised). In the second case the parent pleaded guilty himself. And in the other case a discharge without penalty outcome was a compassionate one that sent a message to the parent and society about non-violence, It did not inflict punishment that could cause hardship to the family involved.

Family First seem to be suggesting that Police and CYF should ignore allegations of assault on children. All reports of assault on children should be investigated – there is good evidence that use of physical punishment is a risk factor for child abuse and although not all physical punishment is child abuse. It is appropriate, that if someone is concerned enough to make a report, that the safety of the child or children involved is investigated. Very few, if any cases, of minor assault are leading to prosecution.

Family First need to clearly state their views on what level of assault on children they find acceptable – does it include blows to the head and face for example or striking a child too young too understand how they should be behaving? Do they regard out of control, bad tempered striking out as appropriate parental correction?

We note that Family First are no longer citing the Jimmy Mason “face-punch” case as evidence that the law is not working, as it has in previous ads, and noted in their own press statement that the conviction was “appropriate”.

Family First are clear that they do not approve of child abuse and urge action to address the real causes of child abuse.  But belief in parents’ rights to use physical punishment and belief in its legitimacy as part of child discipline are a real contributing factor to the existence of child abuse. Many children are still beaten because of such beliefs. But Family First do not seem to understand that by sanctioning use of physical discipline they are undermining efforts to reduce abuse.

Jan Pryor: Community agencies value the Families Commission

June 2, 2009

The appointment of Christine Rankin to the Board of the Families Commission has put the spotlight on the work of The Families Commission, particularly our support for the new child discipline law.

The renewed debate on physical punishment shows how poorly the intent and purpose of the new law has been communicated to the public. I was surprised last week to hear a prominent lawyer (among others) say that the new child discipline law had not stopped child abuse. Simply making it illegal to break and enter a home doesn’t stop burglaries and no one expects it to. So it’s puzzling that there is an expectation that one law, on its own, will stop child abuse.

The repeal of Section 59 is part of a whole-of-society effort that is underway to reduce and prevent family violence. A lot of this is focused on building understanding about family violence and changing attitudes so people are less tolerant and more likely to seek help, or report incidents of violence. Some of this is being done through the It’s Not OK campaign, which was developed with the Families Commission leadership, funding and research in partnership with community organisations and other government agencies. The White Ribbon Day campaign is another of the Commission’s projects which is helping to change attitudes toward violence in families.

In an act of courage and leadership Parliament made sure our assault law was consistent with this work and gave children the same protection that was given to their parents. Now, when a parent is charged with assault, there is no longer a legal defence that the parent was using ‘reasonable force’ to discipline the child.

It’s a law that is working well in combination with the other work that is being done. Last week, a Christchurch father who punched his four year old son in the face and flicked his ear was found guilty of assault. The father’s lawyer told the court he was using reasonable force to discipline his son, but this is no longer a defence. The man’s yelling and abusive behaviour had caught the attention of passers by who were concerned enough to report the incident. Their willingness to step forward on behalf of the child is part of a new trend resulting from the It’s Not OK campaign. Research shows that one in five people who have seen the television advertisements have taken some sort of action because they were concerned about their behaviour or the behaviour of someone else. Our belief is that as intolerance grows, more and more people will speak up when they see or hear violent and abusive behaviour within families. It is this sort of action that will make it less likely that another Nia Glassie will die.

Last week, a Christchurch Press columnist criticised the research done by the Commission. He used our recent report on the difficulties shift-working parents have in managing childcare to illustrate his point of view. He felt that the information from these families was simply a statement of what the public already knew. Far from it. This was a small study done within the context of a much bigger project that looks at just what it is that families need in the way of child care services. By drilling down and doing intensive interviews with a range of families we are able to determine patterns of need, whether people’s arrangements work and what would they prefer in the way of support. The resulting information, along with our analysis, is now being made available to government and service providers and should, in time, result in services and support being much more targeted. This in turn should lead to more efficient use and delivery of resources. That’s the thing about research. It provides facts on which to base decisions and services, rather than opinion and anecdotes.

One of the other common statements made about the Commission is that its work could be done by some other government agency. That may be partly true of some of our research so we are careful to make sure we don’t duplicate the work of others. But the Comission is unique in that it was specifically set up to advocate for families and to provide independent and impartial advice to government and to other organisations. We are also tasked with taking the resilience and strengths of families into account in our work rather than focusing on their deficits.

We acknowledge that The Christchurch Press’s columnist is probably not alone in knowing little about the Commission. Our work is often done behind the scenes, in partnership with many other agencies, community organisations and government departments. However I believe a street poll would reveal that the public knows just as little about the work of Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Social Development as it does about the Commission.

But ask any large community agency that works with families who we are and what we do and I am confident you will find they support and value the contribution we are making through our research, information, advice and support.

Jan Pryor is the Chief Commissioner at The Families Commission

Anthea Simcock: It’s not about smacking … or ear flicking

May 25, 2009

Last week a court in Christchurch found James Louis Mason guilty of assaulting his 4-year-old son. CPS, New Zealands Child Protection specialists, are solid supporters of the current legislation that makes it unlawful to assault a child, but concerned that this case has actually created more confusion for the public.

Anthea Simcock, CEO of CPS says “It was unfortunate that this case was the one that tested the law. The public were already confused – the misleading and misinformed “anti smacking” label took hold before the majority of the public had a chance to understand what this law change was actually about. And rather than clarifying section 59, I think many are now more confused than ever, unsure if he was charged over the flick of an ear or a punch to the face.”

Whilst CPS have been unwavering supporters of the current legislation from the outset, they also recognise that many people simply do not understand what the law is about. Confusion and fear is standing in the way of this law being effective in achieving what is was designed to achieve – giving children the same rights that we as adults have and protecting them from being assaulted by adults.

Mrs Simcock likes to use an analogy around school attendance to help people understand and not fear the law.

“It is illegal in New Zealand to not send your child to school. I am sure every parent has, for some reason, kept their child away from school before. No one ever expects that all parents will be charged and made criminals because of those one or two days that most parents have kept their children away from school.

However, we DO expect that those parents who intentionally and repeatedly keep their children out of school, or allow their children to be repeatedly truant, should be dealt with according to the law. These parents are jeopardising the social, academic and pshycological future of their children.”

The same applies to this law, it is not designed to bring fear into parents and stop effective discipline of children. It is there to ensure that those who truly assault their children are brought to justice and the most vulnerable of our society are protected.”

Sadly, even as the New Zealand public continue to grapple with this confusing debate, they are being asked to vote in a referendum to clarify their position on this issue. A referendum which only serves to further confuse. The question posed in the referendum is “should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

“Sure this is a valid question in and of itself” says Mrs Simcock. “But this question does not clarify the issue over section 59 at all. To answer yes – and effectively support the current legislation – automatically implies that any smack should be a criminal offence, which is not at all the intent of the legislation. Many who support the legislation will still be misled into voting against it simply due to the wording of the question.

It is critical that the public understand this law for it to be effective. Its about changing the attitudes of people and making sure that they act in the best interests of the child, and not just think its OK to deal with issues by going into “angry parent mode”.

Tapu Misa: How can we tolerate some forms of violence against children, and not others?

May 25, 2009

Tapu Misa wrote a great article in today’s Herald, in which she talks about the ramifications of the Jimmy Mason case.  She claims that the law is working well as intended.

No, the law isn’t a cure-all for child abuse, it was never meant to be. It’s nonsense to claim, as some do, that the law is a failure because it hasn’t stopped violence against children overnight.

[Jill] Proudfoot [who’s part of a child crisis team at Preventing Violence in the Home that’s routinely called on by police to attend to families after a domestic violence incident] knows as well as anyone the role of poverty and stress, drug and alcohol dependence, and family breakdown and dysfunction. But as she argued in a submission on the proposed law, if the Government was serious about preventing domestic violence and changing attitudes and behaviour, it had to include a strong mandate to not be violent to children; and it couldn’t do that while Section 59 was still on the books.

“The sense of entitlement with which adults physically assault children is no different from the sense of entitlement men have when they batter women, but it is more overtly socially and culturally sanctioned.”

The law corrected the bizarre situation where animals used to have more protection than children:

Proudfoot cites a boy whose father was arrested for beating his mother. He’d been beaten too, “all the time”, but his father was never charged for that. Later, when the father was fined for cruelty to their pet dog (he jammed its tail in the door and refused to release it), the boy was incensed that his dad had been punished for beating the dog but not for beating him.

Misa concludes that one of the key questions for those who want to reject the Child Discipline Law is “how we can tolerate some forms of violence against children, and not others.”

And that’s not helpful for those who are trying to forge a better way – like the Rev Dr Hone Kaa, who’s part of a child advocacy group determined to address Maori child abuse and maltreatment.

“We are actually asking our people to … make a major mind shift about the beliefs of parenting …”

“We believe that smacking is simply another expression of violence against Maori children. If we can break the habit that our whanau have of hitting children, then more serious forms of abuse and maltreatment will also reduce.”

Sunday documentary trivialises the need for legal protection for children

May 24, 2009

TVNZ’s Sunday portrayal of Jimmy Mason’s violent assault against his four-year-old son highlights the importance of the new law that shifts the norm so that force is no longer an acceptable or expected part of parenting, and gives children the same legal protection as other citizens. The child discipline law also ensures that parents are not able to claim a defence for assaulting a child.

The child discipline law is working if it means parents who punch, or otherwise seriously assault their child are found guilty. That is what happened in this case, according to the findings of the jury who heard all of the evidence in the Mason case.

Sunday chose to side with the Mason family. The jury chose to side with the evidence and the right of children not to be assaulted by a parent.

The purpose of the law is to allow children to live free from violence by abolishing the use of force for the purposes of correction. However, parents may use force such as restraint to prevent harm to a child. Preventing harm does not justify the use of violence. Even when parents are in “angry parent mode” there are always better ways than using violence and children will get the message better if they are communicated with in a clear, calm manner without being yelled and sworn at.

Children are let down by a society that doesn’t respond to concerns about their safety so the witnesses who saw Mason’s anger and violence did the right thing by reporting his behaviour and testifying about what they saw. It is essential that adults be prepared to speak out if they see a child being abused or have concerns about a child’s safety.

Violence teaches children that violence is okay, and it undermines a child’s physical and mental health. Jimmy Mason appears not to understand that his actions in anger put his child in danger physically and emotionally.

The child discipline law has not criminalised all parents. Police are closely monitoring the implementation of the law. Statistics show they are exercising discretion and only prosecuting serious assaults on children. Any suggestion that parents are being criminalised unnecessarily is nonsense.

If you saw the programme and were as disappointed as we were, please email them at

Video: Dr Joan Durrant discusses Positive Discipline

May 22, 2009

Dr Joan Durrant offers us this very watchable 10-minute digest of Positive Discipline, her 356 page manual covering establishing goals, providing warmth and structure, understanding how children think and feel, problem solving, and responding with positive discipline.

Watch in particular the first few minutes of the second video, which describe a positive parenting approach to dealing with traffic — exactly the situation which Jimmy Mason was faced with in the recent “face-punching” trial.

Parents are children’s most important teachers.

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You can see more videos on our videos page.

South Island newspapers “get it”: Jimmy Mason and the Child Discipline Law

May 22, 2009

Two editorials appeared in South Island newspapers yesterday which indicate that the mainstream media understand the real issues behind the Jimmy Mason “face-punching” case, and its connection to the referendum.

The Timaru Herald said,

Mason became the poster boy for opponents to the amendment of Section 59 of the Crimes Act, which outlawed the use of “reasonable force” by parents, after he was charged with assault by police. His case was taken up by Family First, who believed it was a test case for police trying to deal with the impact of the so-called “anti-smacking” legislation. Mason was a victim of a silly law, according to the lobby group that believes it is okay to discipline children by hitting them…

The police did the right thing by bringing the case. Members of a civilised society do not teach their children road traffic rules by flicking their ears and punching them in the face. They teach them by leading by example, by patiently explaining to them, by warning them and by coaching them. When all else fails there is a range of remedies open to them. Beating them is not one of them.

And the Southland Times concurs:

The Christchurch musician was shaping up for a while there as a martyrish figure for the smackers’ rights brigade who had been warning so darkly that the change to Section 59 of the Crimes Act would lead to a parade of parents being criminalised for lightly smacking their children.

Have you noticed? That hasn’t happened. Police report that the impact of the law change, which has applied since June 2007, has been minimal…

The law change supported, after compromises, by both Labour and National did reduce so-called parental rights, but only to the extent an act of violence that would be flat-out illegal had Mason done it to your child or mine is no less illegal because it was inflicted on his own.

On most levels, the law change has not made much of a difference. We had been getting just a few cases where parents who beat their children with whips and pieces of wood were invoking parental discipline rights and getting acquitted. Now they won’t.

We look forward to these publications’ colleagues further north joining in their judgement that the current law is working well.

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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