Crime, Politics and Food
I’ve been waiting to see what would spur me forward to write the first entry in this blog. I was hoping it would be some sort of stunning culinary discovery or flash of original legal brilliance. Disappointingly its the ongoing saga around youth sexual offending in West Auckland. I’m not sure where the term “Roast Buster” comes from (apart from the poor sod who’s takeaway food bar apparently had that name) but it’s sure was top of the list last week.
The issue keeps on giving, and so far has ensnared every one from the police commissioner and his Minister to the past their use by radio hosts desperately trying to keep the red neck ratings up. There have been endless musings about cultural decay and handwringing about the inability to undertake a prosecution in the absence of actual admissible evidence.
However we seem to have sailed past the real problem. For me that is that we have victims of crime that are for whatever reason unwilling to trust the system enough to report the crime. The ability to gather admissible evidence is core to prosecution of offences, and without it the ability to send credible deterrents is neutered.
While I wouldn’t begin to argue that conviction and punishment are the be all and end all of solving crime, it’s part of the solution. And more importantly it’s the fastest working tool in the box. Changing society’s attitudes may also be a big part of the long term solution, but deterrence through fear of the consequences is a good short term substitute. Conviction and the resulting consequences relatively quickly send the message that behaviour is unacceptable, and will involve significant personal risk. Without it we send the message much the same as that Willie and JT seemed to be, that his is acceptable hijinks. And more importantly we leave the victims isolated and vulnerable to re-victimisation.
So the first response would seem to be to find out why these victims feel they can’t engage with the system, and find a way to modify the system so they can. While pleas for victims to come forward are well meaning, they achieve nothing if the barriers are left untouched. All we are doing is adding to their conflict and distress by giving mixed messages. What we need from our politicians and police is not blame-storming how we got to where we are, but come up with some concrete proposals to support these victims of crime and break down those barriers.
This particular case has been on going for over 2 years, and this isn’t the first example of a suspected rape or sexual assault that can’t be prosecuted because of reluctance on the victims part to provide the evidence required for the legal process. Some estimate say that only 10% of sexual assaults are reported. And these aren’t new estimates.
So what are the NZ Police or wider Justice sector doing about this? We have seen a truck load of resources thrown at this case now it has caught the lime light. But what is being done put in place well researched and thought out permanent structural changes across the board. For all current and future victims. Is the Ministry of Justice funding studies to work out what the barriers are? Are Police working out how to translate this into changes to police procedures to support reporting? I have no idea … but it would be comforting to hear a bit about it if it is.
If anywhere near 90% of offending is unreported there must be some big gains able to be made here. Even a marginal improvement would change the outcomes for a large number of victims and cases. In central government speak, there are lots of low hanging fruit to enable good results to be demonstrated in fairly quick time.
Of course if your goal is to reduce reported crime by 15% by 2017 you’re not going to be wanting to do that are you.