The Dim-Post

August 14, 2013

Something

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:22 pm

Via AAP:

Political parties and community groups have tentatively welcomed the government’s proposed child abuse laws but concerns about slapping restraining orders on suspected abusers are preventing unequivocal support from many.

The proposed laws, announced on Tuesday, include new responsibilities on government agencies, standard screening of the government children’s workforce and powers that will allow courts to define the guardianship rights of birth parents.

The legislation will also mean Child Harm Prevention Orders will be imposed on any person who has been convicted of, or suspected on the “balance of probabilities,” to have abused a child.

Those orders, which last for up to 10 years, can restrict a person from living, working or associating with children, going to parks and schools and changing their name.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the wide-ranging laws are necessary to protect the country’s most vulnerable children from abuse that “just has to stop”.

“More than 50 children have died in the last five years because of extreme abuse – we know many of their names,” she said when announcing the proposed legislation.

There’s a very famous scene in Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey asks Bernard questions on a controversial policy and gets him to change his support for the policy based on the nature of the questions. You could play a similar game with Bennett’s policy. ‘Do you think we need to protect vulnerable children from their abusers? Yes!’ ‘Do you think faceless bureaucrats should have the power to break up families purely on the basis of suspicion? No!’

Like the story says, the harm prevention orders are imposed on the ‘balance of probabilities’ and are predicted to effect about 80 people a year, which implies that about 41 actual child abusers will be prevented from any contact with children for a ten year period, and about 39 people who aren’t child abusers will suffer the same fate. That seems like a really terrible outcome, especially since the actual child abusers aren’t likely to respect the restriction orders, because they’re, y’know, child abusers.

We shouldn’t get too worried though – it’s a Paula Bennett policy. As usual the details are vague and she’ll probably spend a few days talking about this on TV – ‘We HAVE to do something for the children!’ – and then we’ll hear no more about it until she re-announces the same policy in twelve to eighteen months time. (‘We HAVE to do something!’)

19 Comments »

  1. But Paula did announced the same policy in October of last year. Does this mean that we should now be afraid? I agree that this is a terrible proposal and it appears to have much more dog whistle about it than serious policy analysis.

    Her previous speech is at http://beehive.govt.nz/speech/white-paper-vulnerable-children-launch-11-october-2012

    Comment by Greg Presland — August 14, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

  2. ‘Do you think faceless bureaucrats should have the power to break up families purely on the basis of suspicion? No!’

    Bennett’s policy does not do this.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 14, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

  3. Like the story says, the harm prevention orders are imposed on the ‘balance of probabilities’ and are predicted to effect about 80 people a year, which implies that about 41 actual child abusers will be prevented from any contact with children for a ten year period, and about 39 people who aren’t child abusers will suffer the same fate.

    Is this how statistics work?

    More seriously, “balance of probabilities” is what you use instead of “beyond reasonable doubt”. If we say the latter means it is (say) 99.2% likely someone did and will abuse kids, then the proposed test will in theory catch everyone who is between 50.1% and 99.2% likely to have been an abuser (and to abuse again in the future).

    I’d also note that Bennett’s “about 80 people a year” is a pretty dubious estimate, given that the actual offences in response to which these orders may be given have not yet been specified!

    Bennett’s policy does not do this.

    But it does allow a judge, upon being asked to, to prevent a person from being able to form a “family” with anyone who has children for the next 10 years … on the basis that it is “more likely than not” that the person will harm those children.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 14, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  4. But it does allow a judge, upon being asked to, to prevent a person from being able to form a “family” with anyone who has children for the next 10 years … on the basis that it is “more likely than not” that the person will harm those children.

    Well, judges aren’t faceless bureaucrats, and they won’t be able to do it on mere suspicion, which is the claim I was responding to, but, more importantly, it doesn’t allow what you assert either.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — August 14, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

  5. @ Andrew Geddis woud you put proof beyond reasonable doubt at 99.2%? I would think more like 95%.

    Assuming an even spread that means that the midpoint between 51% and proof beyond reasonable doubt was 73% or that 22 innocent people would be stopped from associating with children.

    And it is not just the forming of families that is at stake. Preventing someone from going where there are children would pretty well require them to stay at home.

    Comment by Greg Presland — August 14, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  6. @Greg,

    It was a random number I pulled out of the air … there is no fixed numerical equivalent of “beyond reasonable doubt”. So 95%, 97.3%, 99.2% … anything will do.

    Also, I think the “assuming an even spread” condition is questionable. If and when this ever is put in place, I’d hope the courts interpret it as “close to, even if not quite, beyond reasonable doubt”.

    @Graeme,

    Even “faceless bureaucrats” aren’t faceless bureaucrats. And sorry – “on the basis that it is “more likely than not” that the person already has harmed children already and will harm those children.”

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 14, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

  7. Comment by max — August 14, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

  8. Andrew: Are those numbers the percentages of positives (‘caught abusers’) that are true positives (actual abusers), or ability of the test to distinguish between an abuser or non-abuser? The two are very different things. If it is the latter, the test would produce a large number of false positives given that the proportion of abusers to non-abusers in our population is likely to be low.

    Comment by wtl — August 14, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

  9. Declared Conflict of Interest: I am a Paediatrician who deals with abused children.

    I haven’t seen anywhere near enough detail to know how this is going to work. Or if it will work.

    But I do know, and so do my colleagues, that the legal threshold to gain a conviction in court for abuse is extremely high. Repeal of Section 59 has helped a bit in this regard. But I see cases of babies with multiple fractures of different ages (and more than you would ever know from the newspapers) where there are only two possible perpetrators; one is the mother, the other is a threatening step-arsehole with past convictions for family violence (real examples). They usually blame a passing two year old, or the dog.

    Child Youth and Family already make decisions based on weight of evidence, either before the case gets to court about 2 years later, or after the verdict (even if no conviction) or even if no court case eventuates. If the law is changed to also make it possible to protect other children who may have future contact with these individuals then I tentatively support the idea.

    Believe me…with some of the cases we deal with on a week by week basis even some of the commentators here would be comfortable that “they had the right man” and watching again and again while the case doesn’t reach the court and the man moves on to another family is more than demoralising. It makes me angry.

    How to balance civil liberties with the increasing need to protect children? I don’t have the answer but maybe the balance needs to move more towards the children?

    Comment by PPCM — August 14, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

  10. @wtl,

    Don’t know. If only we had someone who is interested in the development of algorithms and IT systems to solve problems of computational biology with an emphasis on the analysis of large-scale proteomic data-sets that could answer such problems for us.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 14, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

  11. @ PPCM – I appreciate your comment, showing us the situation from your medical side of things, but…:
    – this policy announcement seems more about sweeping the Gestapo (GCSB & TICS) Bills and the Fonterra scandal off the headlines
    – Bennett has given no real data to allow her policy to be checked for potential efficacy
    – there are massive human rights issues, including false accusations, enforcement orders on false positives (ie innocent people), isolating genuine predators (possibly enhancing their risk of reoffending), etc.
    – not to mention this National govt’s tendency to reach for the feudal tyranny playbook at the drop of a hat, with all the climate of fear that creates in our ‘democracy’…

    And don’t we already have laws that allow CYFS to block access to children they consider at risk? (ie in private family home situations). So the only kids Bennett’s policy supposedly ‘protects’ are those in parks, malls, etc. And what is the incidence of attacks on such kids vs attacks on kids in the home they share with the abuser? Seems this policy is (intentionally) well misdirected…

    Comment by bob — August 14, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

  12. “..while the case doesn’t reach the court and the man moves on to another family ”

    The proposal is that the order will be imposed by the court. So people involved in cases that don’t reach court will be unaffected.

    Comment by BeShakey — August 14, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

  13. there is no fixed numerical equivalent of “beyond reasonable doubt”

    True AG.
    But fortunately for the Nats, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ for the target audience of this pseudo-policy is not a number, but rather I suspect the unconscious mental transposition of the terms “brown person” and/or “bludger”.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 14, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  14. gone fishin’

    Comment by Jon Peas — August 14, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

  15. The part of the initiative that will slap restraining orders on suspected abusers will not be a major part of the whole initative. Paula Bennett is correct in stating that something serious needs to be done in order to address a very serious issue. Restraining orders will only amount to an estimated 80 a year and this will be those that hang out by themselves, observing other people’s children that they do not know, at places such as parks, hanging around outside schools without having a child or relative attending there, etc.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — August 15, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  16. “and this will be those that hang out by themselves, observing other people’s children that they do not know, at places such as parks, hanging around outside schools without having a child or relative attending there, etc.”

    …who will be easily identified because they’ll be wearing trenchcoats and sunglasses so Paula Bennett can personally drive around making sure that no adults go to public parks unless they have children (because only childless people abuse children, right Daniel?).

    seriously? how exactly will these child-watchers be dealt with? if they’ve committed a crime, sure call the police. but if you want police to be constantly patrolling parks, detaining ‘suspicious-looking’ people and serving them with restraining orders sans any judicial process, you’re talking about a very different type of society than what we have now…

    meanwhile, most child abuse happens at home in private, inflicted by people known to the child. you have been watching too many TVs.

    PS. yes child abuse is very bad and wrong and should be policed as vigorously as possible, but this policy is vague waffly nonsense with police state overtones and no real evidence basis… ie. it’s just another classic distraction tactic that will go nowhere.

    Comment by nommopilot — August 15, 2013 @ 10:36 am

  17. @ nommopilot

    No, obviously I can’t paint a completely comprehensive picture and include all details, because not all of the details have been ironed out yet and also because it would take up far too much space, then people such as yourself would accuse me of usurping this blog.

    Police will have high intel on these people but not enough evidence to lay criminal charges. They will be of all different walks of life. It will only be an estimated 80 people a year. Other factors will be taken into consideration and there will be a right to appeal. New Zealanders need to trust that the police know what they’re doing. Too many citizens think they know better than police, some think they can manipulate police because of their position in society or family money and are mistaken in all but the rarest of scenarios. I would be interested, though, in gaining a comprehensive insight into what the view of police officers is in regards to this proposed legislation. History has shown, that if they don’t believe in something, it will in all likelihood not be very practical for society.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — August 16, 2013 @ 10:10 am

  18. “New Zealanders need to trust that the police know what they’re doing.”

    LOL. Tell that to Teina Pora.

    Comment by wtl — August 16, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

  19. “…who will be easily identified because they’ll be wearing trenchcoats and sunglasses so ”
    Funnily enough, went I was a student, heading home from the city on the bus at about 3.30/4pm, I always found that there was at least one trench-coated, slick haired gentleman on the bus with us “youngsters”. We were always suspicious, and amused.

    Bob @ 11″ not to mention this National govt’s tendency to reach for the feudal tyranny playbook at the drop of a hat, with all the climate of fear that creates in our ‘democracy’…”
    Eh? I thought this govt was too relaxed about the thing we should be fearful of. At least they’re doing their bit to dial back the climate of fear over cAGW. Whaddaya mean, off topic?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — August 17, 2013 @ 3:45 pm


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