The Southland Times

How we made Mãori the face of child abuse in NZ


OOur Truth, Tā Mā­tou Pono is a Stuff project in­ves­ti­gat­ing the his­tory of racism. Part one fo­cused on Stuff and its news­pa­pers, and how we have por­trayed Māori.

ne child is only 5 weeks old, but has 20 frac­tures on his tiny body. A 3-month-old has eight bro­ken ribs and a frac­tured skull be­fore she dies of a brain haem­or­rhage.

A tod­dler has a skull frac­ture, two black eyes, and a bro­ken leg when he dies. A 2-year-old girl suf­fo­cates to death, strug­gling for 10 min­utes as her fa­ther pushes her face into a pil­low.

A girl, dead after be­ing swung by her an­kles as pun­ish­ment. Another has a bro­ken arm and a brain in­jury be­fore dy­ing of pneu­mo­nia.

Few crimes have the ca­pac­ity to haunt us like vi­o­lence against a child.

Stuff and its news­pa­pers have cov­ered dozens of cases over decades, with a fo­cus on those that leave us with un­for­get­table, shock­ing im­ages.

Me­dia cov­er­age is why many of us have pre­served a space in our long-term mem­o­ries, a list, if you will, of chil­dren’s names that may in­clude: James Whakaruru, Lilly­bing, Chris and Cru Kahui, Nia Glassie, and Moko Ran­gi­to­heriri.

All of those names, no­tably, be­long to Māori chil­dren. They all suf­fered abuse be­fore they died.

Un­likely to fea­ture on your men­tal list of names, the chil­dren de­scribed at the be­gin­ning of this story, all of whom were Pākehā.

As Stuff reck­ons with its fraught his­tory of cover­ing racial is­sues, we must ex­am­ine how our cov­er­age of child abuse – one of this coun­try’s most grave and in­tractable so­cial crises – has con­tin­u­ally el­e­vated par­tic­u­lar names into the na­tional con­scious­ness.

Has our cov­er­age sought to re­flect the re­al­ity of this is­sue, or has it dis­torted re­al­ity to align with the views of a pre­dom­i­nantly Pākehā read­er­ship?

The an­swer is: our re­port­ing has am­pli­fied child abuse among Māori whā­nau and min­imised vi­o­lence in Pākehā fam­i­lies. We’ve failed Pākehā chil­dren and not ap­plied the same scru­tiny to Pākehā per­pe­tra­tors as we have to Māori.

This anal­y­sis formed part of the na­tional Our Truth, Tā Mā­tou Pono project, which found Stuff and its news­pa­pers have been racist. Col­lec­tively our team of re­porters dis­cov­ered we’ve con­trib­uted to so­cial stigma, marginal­i­sa­tion and neg­a­tive stereo­types against Māori.

We’ve used a mono­cul­tural lens that hasn’t served our jour­nal­ism prin­ci­ples well, or the chil­dren of Aotearoa.

For ev­ery Nia Glassie, there is a Sarah Had­dock-Wood­cock, who was mur­dered by her Pākehā fa­ther after a pro­longed se­ries of grue­some beat­ings.

For ev­ery James Whakaruru, there is a Kelly Gush, who was kicked to death by her mother’s part­ner.

For ev­ery Chris and Cru Kahui, there is a Do­minique and Nikkita Hingston, who were stran­gled to death by their fa­ther.

Data shows Māori are over­rep­re­sented in child abuse sta­tis­tics. The in­ter­sec­tion of race and vi­o­lence is a mat­ter that rightly de­serves se­ri­ous jour­nal­is­tic scru­tiny.

But ex­am­in­ing our cov­er­age shows we’ve not only dis­pro­por­tion­ately cov­ered Māori vic­tims, we’ve done so in racialised ways.

Our news­pa­pers and the ‘roll call of death’

The roots of our re­port­ing likely started at the very be­gin­ning, when our news­pa­pers were formed.

As out­lined in Our Truth, Ta Ma­tou Pono, sev­eral were founded by prom­i­nent set­tlers dur­ing, or shortly after, the New Zealand Wars.

Early edi­tions con­tained por­tray­als of Māori as in­her­ently vi­o­lent and un­civilised. Over time, we de­picted Māori us­ing a range of neg­a­tive stereo­types, in­clud­ing lazi­ness, a re­liance on wel­fare, and prone to drink­ing and drug use.

If there is an ob­vi­ous turn­ing point in our cov­er­age of child abuse in more re­cent times, how­ever, it was in 1999.

Near the end of that year, James Whakaruru was beaten to death by his mother’s part­ner. As the Sun­day StarTimes re­ported, the only un­bruised parts of his body were the soles of his feet.

The killing out­raged the coun­try, and the news­pa­pers du­ti­fully cov­ered the af­ter­math.

Be­sides a hand­ful of men­tions in ed­i­to­ri­als and opin­ion pieces, the fact Whakaruru and his killer were both Māori did not war­rant em­pha­sis. But that would soon change.

In July 2000, 2-year-old Hinewaorik­i Karaitiana-Ma­ti­aha – or as she was known to her fam­ily, Lilly­bing – was taken to a hospi­tal in Master­ton and de­clared dead on ar­rival.

She, like James Whakaruru, had sus­tained grotesque in­juries in­flicted on her by ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers.

In the eyes of the news­pa­pers at the time – in par­tic­u­lar, The Do­min­ion, The Even­ing Post and The Press – the two killings were con­nected. Per­haps not phys­i­cally, but the­mat­i­cally.

Both were cases of Māori

To­day, na­tional cor­re­spon­dent Char­lie Mitchell looks at how our or­gan­i­sa­tion has por­trayed child abuse. We ex­plain how we’ve stig­ma­tised Māori whā­nau by fo­cus­ing on and am­pli­fy­ing child abuse cases about Māori chil­dren while min­imis­ing abuse in Pākehā fam­i­lies.

chil­dren, killed by abuse from Ma¯ori care­givers.

The prox­im­ity of the events then fed a nar­ra­tive, re­peated by the news­pa­pers, that fa­tal child abuse was a Ma¯ori prob­lem.

The shift in tone hap­pened al­most overnight, be­gin­ning in earnest on Au­gust 1, 2000, while the de­tails of Lilly­bing’s death were be­ing un­rav­elled by the po­lice and jour­nal­ists alike.

The Do­min­ion led its front page with the provoca­tive head­line ‘‘Child abuse rife among Maoris – CYF’’.

The story cited data from Child, Youth and Fam­ily (now Oranga Ta­mariki) in the year prior; the to­tal num­ber of con­firmed cases of child abuse among Ma¯ori was slightly lower than among Pa¯keha¯.

A story cit­ing the same data ap­peared in The Even­ing Post on the same day, also on its front page.

Both sto­ries claimed Ma¯ori chil­dren were ‘‘five times more likely’’ to be abused than Pa¯keha¯ chil­dren.

The statis­tic was not cor­rect. At the time, around 25 per cent of chil­dren were Ma¯ori, and 75 per cent Pa¯keha¯: three times higher, not five.

The fig­ure low­ered even fur­ther when com­par­ing Ma¯ori to non-Ma¯ori as a whole.

An anal­y­sis by the Min­istry of So­cial De­vel­op­ment later showed Ma¯ori chil­dren were around 2.5 times more likely to be abused than non-Ma¯ori. A re­view of lit­er­a­ture pre­dom­i­nantly pub­lished in the early 2000s showed the rate of mal­treat­ment among Ma¯ori was con­sis­tently dou­ble that of nonMa¯ori.

A rate two or three times higher than other groups is still sig­nif­i­cant, and the essence of the claim – that Ma¯ori are over­rep­re­sented in child abuse fig­ures – was ac­cu­rate.

But the in­ac­cu­rate ‘‘five times more’’ fig­ure was not cor­rected, and served as a spring­board for fevered cov­er­age in the months af­ter­wards, seem­ingly used as per­mis­sion to cover Lilly­bing’s death in a racialised way.

Turn­ing child abuse into a Ma¯ori prob­lem

The fol­low­ing day, The Even­ing Post led its front page with a story head­lined ‘‘Hine’s ‘Once Were War­riors’ hell’’.

Liken­ing Lilly­bing’s home life to a scene from the 1994 film, it con­tained lurid ac­counts of in­cest, al­co­holism, and vi­o­lence. An ac­com­pa­ny­ing ed­i­to­rial cited the ‘‘five times more likely’’ fig­ure in its con­dem­na­tion of Ma¯ori for child abuse.

‘‘Is this how Maoridom cel­e­brates its war­rior an­ces­try?’’ the news­pa­per asked. ‘‘By prac­tis­ing on its ta­mariki?’’

That same ed­i­to­rial de­scribed a ‘‘roll call of death’’, which in­cluded five names:

James Whakaruru, Lilly­bing, Anaru Rogers, Del­celia Wi­tika, and Craig Manukau.

Noth­ing linked the cases other than they were in­ci­dents of fa­tal child abuse in­volv­ing Ma¯ori which had oc­curred within the pre­vi­ous 11 years.

Nev­er­the­less, the names would en­ter news­pa­per lore, re­peated time and again for nearly two decades af­ter­wards as sig­ni­fiers of child abuse.

The Waikato Times, sim­i­larly, de­scribed its own ‘‘roll of shame’’ in an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished around the same time. It in­cluded the names above, and more: Veronika Tak­erei-Mahu, Ho­hepa Ver­coe, and Mere­ana Ed­monds. Again, all were Ma¯ori.

Ten days after the first story ap­peared, a fea­ture in The Even­ing Post, head­lined ‘‘Once Were Pre­cious’’, cited the in­ac­cu­rate ‘‘five times more likely’’ statis­tic. Al­though the story shared per­spec­tives from Ma¯ori on the is­sue of child abuse, it leaned heav­ily on stereo­types rem­i­nis­cent of those fea­tured in our news­pa­pers more than a cen­tury ear­lier:

‘‘But ugly ques­tions are also asked: are Maori more vi­o­lent? Are they nat­u­rally bad par­ents? Is the war­rior cul­ture still alive?’’ the pa­per asked.

In another ed­i­to­rial that month, The Press – com­ment­ing on a dis­pute about child abuse

As re­cently as last year, we opened an ed­i­to­rial . . . with the names of six chil­dren killed by abuse. All were Ma¯ori.

sta­tis­tics between two Ma¯ori MPs and the head of Women’s Refuge – said: ‘‘New Zealan­ders have again had the mes­sage re­in­forced that some prom­i­nent Maoris are not pre­pared to ac­knowl­edge the child abuse that is de­fil­ing their race.’’

In its own ed­i­to­rial, the Sun­day Star-Times added: ‘‘It’s the prob­lem that al­most dares not speak its name, but we must if the slaugh­ter and shock­ing abuse of Maori chil­dren is to be halted.’’

In the course of a month, a uni­fied ed­i­to­rial line be­came clear across many of our news­pa­pers: child abuse was a Ma¯ori prob­lem, for which Ma¯ori must take re­spon­si­bil­ity, and it stuck in our na­tional con­science.

Pa¯keha¯ fam­i­lies we didn’t fo­cus on

While this was hap­pen­ing, other hor­rific child abuse cases were barely men­tioned.

On Oc­to­ber 1, 2000, Nel­son wo­man Rose­mary Perkin ended the lives of her three daugh­ters, Alice, 8, Maria, 6, and 23-month-old Cherie, and her­self.

It re­ceived lim­ited cov­er­age out­side Nel­son, and was soon for­got­ten by the me­dia. In the two decades since it hap­pened, Perkin has been men­tioned in our news­pa­pers about 40 times; Lilly­bing’s mur­der, which hap­pened at the same time, about 460.

Less than a year later, a sim­i­lar case oc­curred near Motueka. Pauline Hingston went to col­lect her two daugh­ters, Nikkita, 5, and Do­minique, 6. Their fa­ther, Frank, had stran­gled them, be­fore killing him­self.

Both crimes echoed another sev­eral years ear­lier in Whanganui, when Alan Bris­tol killed his three daugh­ters – Tif­fany, Holly, and Clau­dia, aged between 7 and 18 months – and him­self.

Sim­i­lar, too, were the 1999 mur­ders of Ni­cholas and Christina Han, aged 4 and 2 re­spec­tively, who were stabbed to death by their fa­ther, Robert Han, who also killed their mother.

There are many more ex­am­ples we barely re­ported on. These crimes were re­ported dif­fer­ently to the mur­ders of James Whakaruru and Lilly­bing. Why?

In its cov­er­age of the Perkin mur­ders, the Sun­day Star-Times de­scribed the per­pe­tra­tor as ‘‘a lov­ing mother who al­ways put her fam­ily first’’.

In an ed­i­to­rial, The South­land Times de­scribed her as ‘‘that poor wo­man’’. A head­line in the Nel­son Mail, quot­ing a neigh­bour, was ‘‘They were lovely peo­ple’’, re­fer­ring to the Perkin fam­ily, in­clud­ing Rose­mary.

The mur­ders were de­scribed as abuse only once, in a Nel­son Mail ed­i­to­rial, which said it ‘‘ar­guably amounts to one of the worst cases of abuse in years’’.

When Frank Hingston mur­dered his daugh­ters, it was por­trayed as a tragedy that de­scended upon a tightknit com­mu­nity. The case has been men­tioned 35 times since. Not once were the killings de­scribed as child abuse.

Two mur­der cases in­volv­ing sis­ters Saliel Aplin and Olympia Jet­son in 2001, and Co­ral-Ellen Bur­rows two years later, re­ceived con­sid­er­able me­dia cov­er­age. All three girls were killed by their moth­ers’ part­ners.

What news re­port­ing we did was never in the con­text of their eth­nic­ity. There were no ed­i­to­ri­als de­mand­ing Pa¯keha¯ lead­ers take re­spon­si­bil­ity for fa­tal child abuse.

The news firestorm

Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40 chil­dren died from ne­glect, abuse, or mal­treat­ment.

Among the worst cases was Sarah Had­dock-Wood­cock, a 3-month-old from Pu¯ta¯ruru in Waikato who died of a skull frac­ture in 2005. An au­topsy found she had eight bro­ken ribs, se­vere in­ter­nal bleed­ing, and a brain haem­or­rhage.

Her Pa¯keha¯ fa­ther, Joshua Wood­cock, was later con­victed of her mur­der. De­spite it be­ing one of the most de­spi­ca­ble acts of child abuse in re­cent mem­ory, it gar­nered al­most no cov­er­age in our news­pa­pers out­side the Waikato Times.

Other vic­tims in this pe­riod in­cluded Daniel Mar­shall, Kelly Gush, Molly MacRae, Brit­ney Ab­bott, Cameron and Krys­tal Field­ing, Wenda Zeng, Gabriel Har­ri­son-Tay­lor, Kalin St Michael, Alyssa Lit­tle-Mur­phy, Will Mercer, Caleb Moor­head, and Thomas Schu­mann. Their names are rarely men­tioned in the con­text of our fa­tal child abuse record.

The is­sue of child abuse didn’t ramp up again in our news­pa­pers un­til the 2006 deaths of in­fant twins Chris and Cru Kahui, fol­lowed by the 2007 mur­der of Nia Glassie.

Their deaths kicked off a me­dia firestorm that lasted years.

Much like the con­sec­u­tive deaths of James Whakaruru and Lilly­bing, the cases were con­nected by our news­pa­pers, and their names en­tered the canon of abused chil­dren.

The at­ten­tion on the Kahui case was pro­longed, in part due to the length of time between the twins’ deaths and the court ac­quit­ting their fa­ther, Chris Kahui, of mur­der. Since they were killed, they have been re­ferred to 815 times in our news­pa­pers (in­clud­ing ed­i­to­ri­als and let­ters to the edi­tor).

The same was true for Nia Glassie, the vic­tim of child abuse we’ve men­tioned more than any other. Her name has ap­peared in our news­pa­pers 850 times.

The re­newed fo­cus on child abuse came with a racial va­lence.

In a front page news story after the Kahui twins were killed,

The Press pub­lished a ‘‘roll of shame’’, list­ing 13 chil­dren killed by par­ents or care­givers, nine of whom were Ma¯ori.

On June 27, 2006, page 2 of The Do­min­ion Post con­tained three sto­ries about the Kahui twins, all an­gled on their Ma¯ori eth­nic­ity.

In the Sun­day Star-Times, a news story de­scribed the Kahui killings as ‘‘the lat­est Maori child abuse case’’.

It quoted a col­umn in the same news­pa­per by Michael Laws: ‘‘These are sick per­ver­sions from a Maori sub­cul­ture which is pro­tected on a daily ba­sis by their eth­nic­ity.’’

The Do­min­ion Post, in an ed­i­to­rial on July 31, 2007, de­scribed the in­juries sus­tained by Nia Glassie, the Kahui twins, and Whanganui tod­dler Jhia Te Tua, who was mur­dered in a gang shoot­ing.

‘‘What the three in­ci­dents have in com­mon is that the chil­dren are Maori,’’ the news­pa­per said. ‘‘That is an un­pleas­ant truth, but one which should not be shied away from for fear of be­ing la­belled racist.’’

While it refers to Pa¯keha¯ also killing their chil­dren, it pro­vides no ex­am­ples, and says a cul­ture of dys­func­tion ‘‘will not change till Maori tol­er­ance of abuse ends’’.

Sim­i­larly, the Taranaki Daily News, in its own ed­i­to­rial, framed Nia Glassie’s mur­der in the con­text of eth­nic­ity.

‘‘But where is the fa­mous whanau we al­ways hear about? What is the value of this nur­tur­ing, car­ing ex­tended Maori fam­ily unit when so many of the maimed and killed chil­dren are Maori?’’ the pa­per asked.

‘‘It’s not Maori bash­ing. We’ve al­ways been taught that Maori have this in­cred­i­ble fam­ily bond that goes be­yond the pakeha con­ven­tion of mum, dad and two kids – a net that is both wide and strong.’’

Between 2005 and 2012, at least 76 chil­dren died from ne­glect, abuse or mal­treat­ment. Most of them – Ma¯ori and non-Ma¯ori alike – re­ceived lit­tle or no na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion.

Among them was Cash McKin­non, a 3-year-old Palmer­ston North girl who was killed by her mother’s part­ner, Sean Don­nelly. Cov­er­age of the case was mostly lim­ited to the Manawatu¯ Stan­dard.

Another was the killing of 16-month-old Ri­ley Os­borne from Kerik­eri. His mother’s Pa¯keha¯ part­ner, Kyle Sk­erten, was con­victed of man­slaugh­ter. The case re­ceived no cov­er­age in any of our ma­jor news­pa­pers.

In 2010, EIT re­searcher Raema Mer­chant looked into how news­pa­pers cov­ered vic­tims of child abuse.

She found that between 2000 and 2007, the me­dia as a whole cov­ered twice as many cases of Ma¯ori child abuse as it did non-Ma¯ori. The ac­tual num­ber of child abuse cases was sim­i­lar.

The fre­quency of me­dia cov­er­age, she con­cluded, had cre­ated around 21 ‘‘house­hold names’’. Most of those names were Ma¯ori, and were iden­ti­fied as such.

‘‘In the eight-year sam­ple of news­pa­pers I did not see any ref­er­ence to an abused child specif­i­cally iden­ti­fied as Pa¯keha¯ or Euro­pean,’’ Mer­chant said at the time.

All chil­dren mat­ter

In more re­cent years, there has been a sub­tle change in the way we’ve cov­ered child abuse.

Stuff’s Faces of In­no­cents project drew at­ten­tion to pre­vi­ous cases of fa­tal child abuse we had not re­ported in de­tail. In many cases, those chil­dren were not Ma¯ori.

It has also be­come more com­mon to see ref­er­ences to struc­tural fac­tors such as coloni­sa­tion and in­ter­gen­er­a­tional poverty as driv­ers of child abuse.

While these changes con­trib­ute a more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues, there is still some way to go in ad­dress­ing how we cover child abuse.

As re­cently as last year, we opened an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished on Stuff with the names of six chil­dren killed by abuse.

All were Ma¯ori. Among them was Del­celia Wi­tika, who had been killed nearly three decades ear­lier, and has been cited in our cov­er­age many times in the years since, only ever as a sig­ni­fier for Ma¯ori who kill their chil­dren.

This raises sev­eral un­com­fort­able ques­tions for us as jour­nal­ists: Why have we deemed some chil­dren more de­serv­ing of cov­er­age than oth­ers? And why are those chil­dren dis­pro­por­tion­ately Ma¯ori?

While we com­mit to re­solv­ing those is­sues and right­ing past wrongs, per­haps we should up­date our men­tal lists to also in­clude; Alice, Maria, and Cherie Perkin, Sarah Had­dock-Wood­cock, and Ri­ley Os­borne, and many oth­ers, both Ma¯ori and non-Ma¯ori. Their lives are all im­por­tant and their deaths should al­ways be re­mem­bered.

Our Truth, Ta¯ Ma¯tou Pono is a Stuff project in­ves­ti­gat­ing the his­tory of racism. In 2021, part two of the se­ries will fo­cus on Aotearoa and how our racist past has made us who we are to­day.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? A col­lage of Ma¯ori chil­dren killed by care­givers who are re­peat­edly men­tioned in our cov­er­age of the is­sue.
A col­lage of Ma¯ori chil­dren killed by care­givers who are re­peat­edly men­tioned in our cov­er­age of the is­sue.
 ??  ?? A col­lage of non-Ma¯ori chil­dren killed by care­givers who rarely re­ceive at­ten­tion in our cov­er­age of child abuse.
A col­lage of non-Ma¯ori chil­dren killed by care­givers who rarely re­ceive at­ten­tion in our cov­er­age of child abuse.
 ??  ?? Tributes out­side the Dunedin house where Ed­ward Liv­ing­stone killed his two chil­dren be­fore turn­ing the gun on him­self. IAIN McGREGOR/STUFF
Tributes out­side the Dunedin house where Ed­ward Liv­ing­stone killed his two chil­dren be­fore turn­ing the gun on him­self. IAIN McGREGOR/STUFF
 ??  ?? Ri­ley Os­borne, 16 months, died from trau­matic head in­juries. His mother’s boyfriend was con­victed of his man­slaugh­ter.
Ri­ley Os­borne, 16 months, died from trau­matic head in­juries. His mother’s boyfriend was con­victed of his man­slaugh­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand