James Farmer

Legal Commentary

From Violence to Redemption

Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Domestic (and other) violence rightly gets a lot of press these days.  It is now identified as one of the largest social problems in New Zealand with suggestions that we are among the worst countries in the world in this respect.  The message is loud and clear: “It is not OK” is the catch cry and who could responsibly take issue with that.  

What receives less attention however are its causes.  What leads an otherwise decent, honest, hard-working, sort of bloke to beat his wife or partner?   And, in the case of a bloke who is not decent, honest and hard-working and for whom violence is just part of his daily life, what led him into being that kind of person?   What also receives less attention is domestic violence committed by women – not necessarily, or even usually, physical violence but emotional violence that in itself can trigger physical retaliation.

These are important issues and lawyers can and should play a part in dealing with them.

What triggered me to say something on the topic arose this last weekend when on a weekend break in Queenstown I was walking through the Saturday morning market with a friend and noticed a man sitting quietly on a wall with a poster that read:

“Wearing the colour red, living by the ‘law of lawlessness’ and having the patch with the emblem of the mighty bulldog on your back was what ex-Mongrel Mob leader Tuhoe ‘Bruno’ Isaac called being True Red.  ‘Because all levels of society hated us we created a new society of hatred symbolised by the bulldog.  Its ferocious habits were engraved on our hearts,’ Tuhoe says.  ‘If you weren’t a mobster you weren’t worth knowing.’  He lived this way for 17 years.  

However, constantly living for the bash, beer, prison and the possibility of dying in a pool of blood eventually saw Tuhoe search for another way of doing life.  Leaving the mob was hard.  Not only did he face the rejection of his own and the fierce judgemental prejudices of mainstream society, but with the awakening of his conscience came the realisation of a past filled with inflicting pain on others besides himself, and of a life devoid of any sense of love or hope.  This led him down a path of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation.

True Red is the essential biography of one man’s fascinating journey from the realm of darkness into the world of light.”

The man sitting quietly on the wall had a pile of the book referred to – ‘True Red’ – beside him.  I turned to him and said pointing to the poster: “Is that you?”   He responded: “Yes, it’s a story that had to be told.”

I bought the book, which Tuhoe Isaac signed, and finished reading it 2 days later.(According to the book, purchases can be made from brunotuhoeisaac@gmail.com) The description in the last sentence of the poster was, if anything, an under-statement.  Although extremely well written it was not however an easy read.  The brutality of his early life both before and after joining the Mongrel Mob was shocking, even to a (reasonably) hardened lawyer who has seen through court cases much of the undesirable sides of human nature.

One sad feature of his childhood was frequent instances, from more than one person as he grew up, of sexual abuse (of which his parents were unaware) that ultimately led to his acceptance of that form of abuse as being normal and acceptable.   It is of course fairly well documented that the child victims of such abuse all too often become perpetrators of the same when they are adults.  

The other effect of childhood sexual abuse (and probably of adult sexual abuse as well) is the effect that it has on the ability of the victim to enter into a loving relationship, perhaps from feelings of unworthiness or uncleanliness.    When I was practising at the Bar in New South Wales, I represented a young woman who had been gang raped and who later sought (and obtained) compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme.   As a result of her trauma, she bathed and washed herself several times a day and wore only white (including long white stockings) for years.  

Tuhoe's description of the predatory and demeaning behaviour of gang members, individually and more especially collectively, towards women does not descend into great detail but it is all the more powerful for that.  Many of the victims had clearly been rendered senseless by drugs and alcohol.  But, even today, he also expresses amazement at the numbers of young women who voluntarily entered and became part of the gang world knowing and accepting their fate which was one not only of sexual subjection but also one of being recipients of the "bash".  What issues and features of their own background and lives led them to offer themselves as lambs to the slaughter? One can only guess.

Tuhoe spent a number of periods in prison, one for being party to an offence of rape of which, after the Court of Appeal remitted for a new trial, he was eventually found not guilty.   That, he believed, was an instance where the fact of his membership in a gang led to police assumptions about his guilt and an unwillingness to investigate fully.

His ultimate redemption was the result of one of his sisters, a practising Baptist, finding him desolate and praying with him.   Although the path to his full redemption, as the poster said, had many pitfalls and wrong turns, he did over a number of years eventually change his life and went from, as he says, “the realm of darkness into the world of light”.

He made a full, detailed, confession to the congregation of his church and took steps to seek forgiveness from many who he had wronged.   Although he doesn’t say so in the book, what one can read between the lines is that he is only too painfully aware that the harm that he and his fellow mob members did to others cannot be eradicated.  The victims of that harm will no doubt carry their wounds forever.  An apology and expression of regret may be more significant and beneficial to the wrongdoer than to the victim.  

The book brings to mind the film Once Were Warriors.  That was a story of the bash and of sexual abuse of a young girl by her uncle that led to her suicide.  It too was shocking.  

It is right that we are shocked by violence and abuse, in whatever form it exists.  Unless we are, we will become conditioned to it and accept that what is abnormal is somehow normal.   Does that mean longer sentences for the perpetrators of such crimes?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But what it does mean is that we have to give a higher priority to addressing the social problems that lead to this phenomenon and a higher priority to research that will uncover and give us greater insights into its causes. 

Jim Farmer

15 March 2017

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