Who protects us from the State?

by Amiria Goodenough

When the media reports the tragedies of children treated mercilessly at the hands of their abusers, society is outraged. Sickened to the point where protesters with picket signs march throughout the main cities of New Zealand chanting “not one more child”. Society is happy to rid the existence of any inhumane person who could possibly wrap their hands around the throat of their own blood. We want cold hard justice for our tamariki. But what happens when the perpetrator is much bigger than an individual? Bigger than a gang? What happens when the culprit of the abuse is the Ministry? The Ministry that is designated to protect our most ‘vulnerable’ children from abuse. Is it that society cannot fathom this reality? Or is it that society has no idea about the issue of abuse in State care?

Unfortunately, the chances of New Zealanders ever hearing about these stories are unlikely, as are the chances of our children ever finding justice. This is because neither Prime Minister Bill English or Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley see the advantages of launching an independent inquiry into the history of institutional abuse. Tolley’s opinion on the matter was that there is no actual evidence that suggests the abuse was systemic (Radio New Zealand, 2017). What could possibly constitute as evidence in this instance? Would it be the lack of police reports where children disclose the trauma they endured in these homes?  Riwhi Toi Whenua explains why he didn’t tell anyone about the abuse he encountered while institutionalized on “The Hui”.

“You got no one to turn to… you don’t trust anyone and you don’t say anything to anyone”.

Hohepa Taiaroa says from his experience that “it’s a narking thing, classed as a no, no”. Intimidation and fear forced these men to stay quiet then, and for the next 40 years. Therefore, just because there are no official records available, no “evidence”, it does not mean the abuse never happened.

Tolley also states that an inquiry will only re-traumatise the victims (Radio New Zealand, 2017). In this sense I do understand the point she is trying to advocate here. However, this is most definitely not the State’s decision to make. By making this presumption, Tolley is tearing away any opportunity to finally be heard from a population that has already been silenced for so long. What puts the State in a position to make this call for these people? Why can’t the State give them the power to share their story if they want to? I believe rejecting this opportunity is a true injustice upon a population who has had to live with the repercussions of injustice their entire lives. “Who cares if we’re traumatized a bit… we need this [inquiry] to stop the violence” , Taiaroa shares on the Hui.

I wish to leave you reflecting on the message Kim Workman shares in the Spinoff (2017). Our Government supports and advocates for restorative justice, whereby victims are provided a platform to express their experience or emotion to their perpetrator, who in turn takes accountability for their actions – however that may be. So why is it that the Government is so against this process when it is them who will have to show liability to the children they have hurt in the past?

If you are in support of an independent inquiry, go to www.neveragain.co.nz and sign the open letter today.


Newman, A. (2016). “Not One More Child”. The Daily Blog. Retrieved from: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/05/31/not-one-more-child/

“Nga Morehu” documentary on The Hui:


Radio New Zealand, (2016). The Toby & Toby inquiry into historic abuse in state care. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/326182/toby-and-toby-launch-an-inquiry-into-abuse-in-state-care

Radio New Zealand, (2016). Tolley rules apology for child abuse in state care. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved from: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/319257/tolley-rules-out-apology-for-child-abuse-in-state-care

Workman, K. (2017). I was part of NZ’s History of abuse in State Care, and I am in no doubt, an inquiry is crucial. The Spinoff. Retrieved from: http://thespinoff.co.nz/society/21-03-2017/i-was-part-of-nzs-history-of-abuse-in-state-care-and-im-in-no-doubt-an-inquiry-is-crucial/


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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