Yesterday, my talkback session was dominated by the nation’s reaction to the death of Grace Millane. The 22-year-old student from Essex in New Zealand on a backpackers trip fresh from graduating from university.
The grief and anger has been striking. Perhaps driven on not just by the horror of the crime, but also the feeling she was a good person, from a good family and this trip which should have been the stuff of dreams became that of nightmares and to cap it off it came so close to Christmas. A time of peace and family.
So for 3 hours we talked about our reaction as individuals, as men, as women and as a nation.
There was an interesting debate about responsibility. Of course ,the sole responsibility was that of the perpetrator.
A friend of mine posted this on social media:
"THIS IS SO SO SO SO SAD BUT LET'S RE WORD THIS GUYS AND GIRLS .. IT WAS NOT HER FAULT, IT WAS NOT TINDERS FAULT, IT WAS NOT BECAUSE OF ANYTHING SHE DID. NOT HER FAULT. A MAN KILLED HER. VIOLENCE TOWARDS WOMEN MUST BE SPOKEN ABOUT DIFFERENTLY. A MAN KILLED HER FULL STOP.
But in that conversation about violence towards women, who has the responsibility to talk differently? I dared to suggest that men need to talk to other men to take the casual violence towards women out of their vocabulary.
But, surprisingly, men phoned to complain that this was man bashing. To which I always counter that there’s little sympathy at this time for men who complain about verbal man bashing when women are getting literally killed and bashed.
The conversation veered onto whether we are a violent society relatively and there were a few who did not want the nation to take responsibility for Grace’s death and yet later in the day the Prime Minister did exactly that at a press conference while on the verge of tears.
I would suggest that while our homicide figures have been falling, the undertow of violence runs deep in our veins. My text machine was running hot with suggestions about the sort of justice that should be meted out to the killer. I couldn’t read many of them out. Honestly, they’d turn your hair blue.
We have an abhorrence of violence but we are violent punishers nonetheless. And yesterday we were searching the closet for our pitchforks and burning torches and ready to form vigilante gangs.
Due to the stupidity of overseas news services the name of the accused became easily discoverable online and then it was spread like wildfire. When I got home last night my sons showed me their Facebook feeds which were full of the mentions of the name, photographs of the man and suggestions of unspeakable acts of retribution.
Has there ever been such a wide scale flaunting of name suppression in New Zealand’s legal history and it led to a warning from police to the public to stop breaking the law.
Justice Minister Andrew Little said if we want justice to be done we need to leave the police to do their job, which is continue to gather the evidence. We want the police to present the strongest possible case.
So I say this. We all understand the depth of feeling but we all need to comply with a higher standard. Breaking the suppression law and suggesting violence on the perpetrator makes us no better than he is.
My biggest fear is that due to a misplaced sense of justice the people of New Zealand could jeopardise the process of justice and that would be a huge crime and offence against the Millane family there could be. A family who have already suffered in New Zealand more than we can bear.