Monday, February 18, 2008

Should rape be ok in a cultural context?

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This story “Cloud hangs over head of Qld rape judge” l is the logical consequence of a state and federal government policy of cultural appeasement towards aborigines.

Just to give you some background. The Australian government for the last 100 years or so has badly handled the management of aboriginal affairs. I dare say there are few examples of systematic neglect than Australian treatment of aborigines. There was I guess some justification decades ago, when they had no idea what they were doing. Sadly it still looks like they have no idea. Why? Because this is not an “aboriginal problem”, it’s a PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEM. Governments evade issues because they don’t know how to handle issues. The problem has culminated in 2 policies:
1. Monetary: Throw billions of dollars at the problem, whether its into welfare funding used to finance drug & alcohol consumption, or health services which only diagnoses and treats the short term problem. There is no preventative strategy. With the birth rate for aborigines far higher than for other Australians, we can be assured that the problem is just going to grow. That’s not to suggest all aborigines have a problem.
2. Intellectual: Evade the problem. Its easy when the problem is 2000-4000km away. With most Australians living within 100km of the coast, they don’t see what I saw as I drove through central Australia. Australians just are not empowered by the political system, and those that have the authority to do something are just not accountable for their results, which harps back to the general inadequacies of government, and the sense of powerlessness that voters have to do something about it. So what can be done? I guess you could email my article to the pertinent minister for aboriginal affairs.

The problem for state & Federal governments is that they have harboured a contradiction. On the one side, they want to empower aborigines and to give them a sense of ‘aboriginal identity’. The problem is the ‘aboriginal identity’ is not a paradigm that has much utility or standing in the modern world. The healthy aborigines are the ones that know it, the unhealthy ones are the ones that don’t, or who want to believe the government’s rhetoric that it should matter.

So we have this silly policy of not invalidating aborigines by allowing them to settle their civil disputes by ‘traditional means’. This is seen as avoiding the high cost of placing a lot of aborigines in prison. But the problem is not resolved, it is skirted around. There is no pride in being ‘aboriginal’ is so much as that word is equated with throwing spears, dancing and sleeping in bark huts. Its not a paradigm you can sell to anyone who enjoys a better standard of living. But the government does it so that don’t feel so empty.

The incoming PM Kevin Rudd has apologised to the ‘Stolen Generation’, those thousands of Aboriginal children placed in the care of foster homes so they can have a semi-normal life. I think this policy was not all wrong, it was just ill-conceived. The policy was executed through coercion rather than persuasion. The policy did not address the ‘aboriginality’ of the participants in the program. The other aspect was that these kids were treated as ‘sub-human’ by perverts and pedophiles in the religious order who molested these kids. Another recipe for disempowerment. But consider that these kids today stand a better chance of adapting to the western world than a great many that come from a traditional background.

Of course it does make sense to keep families apart, and I dare say if kids were taken away again, they might just have more of them.

So when the media says that Queensland Judge Sarah Bradley sparked outrage last year “by not imposing jail sentences on nine youths and men who gang raped a 10-year-old girl” and gave another defendant “time to gather evidence that he was educating his victim in "men's business" in another case, after he “admitted to forcing an 11-year-old indigenous boy to perform oral sex on him”, I would suggest the judge is dealing with a highly dubious policy.

The District Court Judge Bradley allowed the teacher, James Last to plead guilty, but also adjourned proceedings to allow his lawyers to find anthropological evidence to support his claim that he had been trying to introduce the boy to "traditional" Torres Strait islander sexual practices”.

I think the judge does not have the luxury of acting with the same contempt displayed by the media, and if the judge is unaware of the culture of Torres Strait islanders, then the judge took the appropriate action in the context of the government’s policy towards aborigines. This is a criminal matter, not a common law issue.

The problem is philosophical in the sense that there is an attempt to offer aborigines empowerment by allowing them to “keep their aboriginal identity and snub it as well”. There is utterly no respect for reality in the policy. Either the facts support aboriginal ‘traditional’ values or they don’t. There is no justification for aborigines having one set of laws, and other Australians having another set of laws. The other implication is that aborigines are ‘marked as prospective victims’ by their genetic code. This attitude is also apparent in the Western World’s appeasement of rogue states, and even states of lesser evils.

You might argue that it is not ‘traditional’ aboriginal values that incited this act. I too believe it is a gross rationalisation, but consider that there are a great many traditional laws that are abhorrent to supporters of the ‘traditional’ western justice system, so the principle in question still remains critical. Also since aboriginal laws were not written down, it strikes me that what certain people regard as ‘law’ might be confused with common practice. There is no objectivity in taking this path. You can’t have a law for whites and a different law for blacks. You can’t apply a white law for whites victims, and a black law for blacks. That would of course be a racist policy of the worst kind. Heading off topic a little – it is no more appropriate to have a policy towards drug takers in Australia and accept far harsher policies (like the death penalty) in Asia. I am not suggesting that Asian polict is lacking reality, but clearly we will know better by debating the issue.

The fact that these issues do not get debated is because of the poor thinking skills of the combatants, so bad in fact that they skirt issues rather than raising them.
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Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com
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