Archive for July, 2012

On Tony Veitch

Preparing for a Charity Fundraiser for Mothers Helpers, I switched on 1ZB to find that John Kirwan (who is honestly my hero at the moment when it comes to his own mental health and being a spokesperson for mental health) was being interviewed.  But what was most astonishing to me was that he was being interviewed by Tony Veitch.

Most of us know that Tony Veitch pleaded guilty in 2009 and was convicted of “Injuring with Reckless Regard” when in 2006 (or thereabouts) he kicked his then-partner Kristin Dunne-Powell causing her spine to fracture in several places.  Kristin Dunne-Powell’s injuries were severe enough that she had to use a wheelchair temporarily while she recovered.  At the time, Tony Veitch stepped down from all media work that he was doing, but in 2010, 1ZB offered him a position hosting two sports programmes which has continued to this day.

Of course, in the past two years I have been so consumed with my little boy (now 2yrs and 8mths old) and it has to be said that his “I don’t want that one!” cries at the 6pm news make me cave in to his “Little Einsteins” demands.  Not to mention the fact that I am yet to read through an entire magazine since his birth, and any newspapers I buy have ended up lining the recycle bin unopened unless I’m fortunate enough to grab a few minutes alone in a cafe…  I’m sure you mums understand!  So whence the delayed (2 year!) reaction to Tony Veitch’s re-appointment to broadcasting.  However, after hearing John Kirwan’s interview by Veitch yesterday, I felt it was important that I write an opinion from the perspective of Mothers Helpers and I have been reviewing the information that has come out since Veitch’s trial including his own interview on Close Up and statements by Anti-Violence campaigners, the ‘It’s Not OK’ campaign and the Mental Health Foundation.

Disclaimer:  Many people make the argument that women can be equally as abusive/violent as men and there are cases where women are abusive (more about what is abuse later) towards a man who does not use his physical strength to retaliate.  However, in the case of physical abuse, it’s important to mention the physical strength that a man has over a woman – so even if she fights back (and often women do in these situations, which means that she feels “partly responsible” and “just as much to blame”), he has a clear advantage in terms of power, and is able to dominate and intimidate as a result of his strength when matched with a woman.  It is that use of domination, intimidation and her subsequent fear and loss of power that causes her to feel vulnerable.  But feelings aside, the facts remain that it is his physical strength (when used) that puts her life at risk.  For this reason, this article uses the male pronoun “he/him” when describing the abusor.

Tony’s Interview

I watched the Close-Up interview of Tony Veitch and what struck me was how angry and indignant he was.  He spoke like a man defending himself.  I would suggest that 80-90% of the interview Veitch chose to speak about how difficult the situation had been for him – how the relationship had caused him to become overwhelmingly stressed that led to losing control, that the media had printed lies about him, that he had lost his livelihood, that he had become suicidal.  Comparatively, he minimized his own behaviour and the consequences that had for Kristin Dunne-Powell.  I would like to pick up some of the points Veitch made in his interview:

  1. I Am Not a Violent Man – I Made a Mistake – Tony Veitch started his interview by denying he was a violent man and frequently referred to the incident where he kicked Kristin’s back until it fractured in several places as being a “mistake”.  For me, this was the biggest indicator that Tony Veitch had not taken responsibility or faced himself.  All of us have faced extremely stressful circumstances, have been backed into a corner and have been tested as to how we are going to deal with it.  For those of us who have experienced postnatal depression, we know what it is to have emotions that have overwhelmed us to the point of being out-of-control.  However, for the majority of New Zealanders who have had situations and feelings of overwhelming stress and rage, we have not acted with violence to another person.  It’s unusual for violence to occur once, out-of-the-blue.  Research argues against Tony’s statement suggesting that it was a one-off incident.  Usually there is an ongoing abusive relationship leading up to it – refer to the Power-Control wheel which describes abuse.  We don’t know what went on in that relationship or how Tony Veitch behaved towards Kristin or his current wife  however there were allegations (reports from Kristin herself in a police file that our “justice system” has now repressed) that there was a long history of abuse by Tony Veitch towards his partner.  It’s important to note that according to the Power-Control wheel, an abusive man will “minimise, deny and blame.”  He will make light of the abuse and will shift the responsibility for the abusive behaviour away from himself – often by saying she caused it.   In this instance, Tony Veitch’s statement “I am not a violent man – I made a mistake” both denies and minimizes his behaviour.  Furthermore, he chooses words that clearly show that he believes himself to be the victim, eg. “I suffered a conviction”.   In fact, there is something inside him that gives way to violence where others would not.  And it is likely that it is part of a pattern of behaviour found on the Power-Control wheel that has been there for a long time.  Therapists often refer to “violence” in more ways than just the act of physical assault.  It is my guess that Tony is likely to have adopted a range of behaviours that have led him to this kind of violence.  It’s possible that the court action and trial-by-public (via media) has been enough of a consequence that it will stop Tony from lashing out again.  However, the stuff inside him that caused him to, still remains.  Accepting full responsibility is an outward sign of some inner work taking place.  Tony Veitch did not show this in his Close-Up interview.
  2. Lack of Insight or Compassion – When a woman is physically abused, there is so much more going on than the physical bruises or in this case, the healing of a fractured spine.  Sometimes I cringe when I hear people ask “what did he do to you?” or “how bad was it?”  We measure the degree of abuse by how severe the physical consequence of the violence was.  But we underestimate the mental and emotional scars that occur as a result of physical abuse.  Everyone is affected differently from trauma such as this – but for many fear and anxiety can become a constant companion.  Mental health illnesses might develop.  Certainly confidence, self-esteem and the ability to trust others are likely to be affected.  Because of these struggles, it’s likely to affect her ability to work and function in a range of settings including current or future relationships.  Tony Veitch was given an opportunity by the “It’s Not Ok” anti-violence campaign to become a spokesperson for those who have shown violent behaviour in the past, but he has not taken that opportunity.  As mentioned previously, in his Close-Up interview, Tony Veitch did not focus on his own behaviour or the consequences that might have had for Kristin.  Instead, his focus was on the trial, conviction and public scrutiny and the effect that had on him.
  3. Blame – Someone recently implied that Kristin Dunne-Powell likely contributed to the volatile relationship and this was all about a bit of money and revenge.  It certainly gave me clear insight as to “what is OK” in their world when it comes to domestic violence, and I want to address this issue because I fear that a lot of New Zealanders have this opinion in general.  We have already discussed the power and strength differences between men and women and that they are not on the same playing field in that regard.  But there’s more to it than that.  The fact is that no matter what a person is like, no matter how much she provokes him, it does not excuse his violent reaction.  He is responsible for the way he reacts to a situation.  She is not responsible for it.  But men who abuse tend to shift the focus onto her behaviour and make it seem like it was difficult if not impossible for him to react any differently.  In his interview, Tony focused on how she wouldn’t leave the house and it was his house, and how he’d been reduced to lying on the bed and putting his fingers in his ears (while she was obviously berating him) which drove him to do what he did. He spoke about himself as if he was the victim. He’d mentioned how he’d first driven away from the house and gone to the beach, and then returned where it all unfolded.  When a person is stressed and angry, in order to keep himself and other people safe – he needs to remove himself from the situation until he has calmed down – yet Tony chose to return and to remain there despite how he was feeling, until he snapped.  I particularly disliked the way that Veitch “dug up dirt” (what he called “evidence”) about Kristin and how he’d “enjoyed it”.  I found that statement particularly sickening.  And when the interviewer (Mark) asked him whether he thought it was best for Kristin that a court hearing didn’t take place, he indicated that it most certainly was, but it was the implied threats that followed after that statement that I found surprising.  I expected him to show some compassion towards Kristin’s stress levels, but instead he made it clear that it would “hurt a lot of people” (presumably in her world) if he were to bring the “facts and evidence” he had planned to bring.  And I was saddened to hear that his wife had also taken part in the “digging”.  Sometimes we collude with someone because we need to believe their story – because the alternative is unbearable and we don’t want to face it.  But it’s that kind of colluding that doesn’t help Tony, but hinders him from taking responsibility.  Again, no matter what “dirt” they found – nothing takes away from the actions he took, the decisions he made and the violence that occured that he is responsible for.
  4. Keeping Things Quiet – In his interview, Tony Veitch also talked about how “disappointed” he was that Kristin didn’t keep this all quiet and “disappointed” with the way in which she’d handled it.  That it was worse for all concerned that it went to court and into the public arena.  In fact, it seems to me that Kristin was entitled to some kind of financial compensation, but it’s really important that Kristin laid charges, and I commend her for it.  The most difficult thing to do when experiencing any kind of abuse is to speak up about it.  She did the right thing.  It was important that Tony Veitch was held responsible for his actions, and accepted the consequences.  It’s often through these kinds of consequences that a man finally takes responsibility and begins to change.  And while that remains to be seen in Tony’s case, who knows whether in fact this has been a stepping stone in the right direction for him doing just that?  Or preventing another incident such as this one?  It seems to me that if Tony had a healthy perspective, he would have acknowledged that he (Tony) needed to take whatever consequences were given to him for the actions he took.  I mean to say, Tony – at the very least can you not accept that your actions were illegal and she had every right to take you to court!  He should have, in fact, supported her in it completely if he were truly remorseful.  And he would understand that the greatest challenge with Domestic Violence is encouraging women to report it.  To speak about it.  To ask for help.

The Court Sentence

Veitch was sentenced to nine months supervision, 300 hours community service and a $10,000 fine with the possibility of having to attend a Stop Violence programme should this be deemed necessary by parole officials.  Fortunately, parole officials did deem it necessary, but overall I am shocked at this sentence.  Veitch had kicked in a woman’s back until it broke, and he literally had 5 hours in jail. What does this say about us as a society in New Zealand that you can assault a woman to the point where you cause such damage as you might threaten paralysis or even death, but at the very least 6 weeks in a wheelchair suffering from spinal fractures, and yet the consequences are a minor fine, and a bit of part-time community services work?  I believe that sends a very clear message as to the values in our country when it comes to Domestic Violence, and that we have a long way to go in this campaign.  Sadly, the consequences do nothing to help Tony Veitch gain insight or accept responsibility.  Comparatively, here is the testimony of Kristin Dunne-Powell of what she has had to endure as a result of the incident:  Kristin’s Statement

Apparently, as part of his defense, Veitch had sought a number of character references including those from Susan Devoy and Dave Currie.   It has since come out that those people were led to believe that they were providing these references for a passport application, however Veitch used them in court as testimonials to get a lighter sentence.

Return to Public Profile

Believe me, I am all for second chances when that person has hand-on-heart taken responsibility by acknowledging fault and taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again – however, this is not the case for Tony Veitch.  Within a year of sentencing 1ZB had given Veitch a sports hosting position and he returned to the public eye.  When a person is in the public eye, they are being held up as a representative not just of the company but in this case, NZ Radio and New Zealand itself.  This was the argument given for suspending and forcing Paul Henry’s resignation when he made some offensive racial remarks.  Personally, I didn’t think his remarks warranted that kind of action, but suffice to say that we seem to take racial ‘jokes’ more seriously than we do domestic violence.  No matter which way you see it, for those that listen to his sports shows – and let’s face it, New Zealand loves their sport – Tony Veitch is a kind of role model in such a public position.  We have to ask ourselves, if experts in Anti-Violence are less than convinced that Tony Veitch has taken sufficient responsibility for his actions of assault and violence, why then would we herald him as a sports commentator for our country?  And again, what does that say about the values in our society when faced with 120 reported cases of Domestic Violence in Auckland alone – bearing in mind that these are only the ones that are reported.

Suicide Attempts

There have been reports of 3 or 4 suicide attempts by Tony Veitch.  His attempts were not following the assault on Kristin Dunne-Powell, but following public scrutiny and legal action.  Each of them were dramatic and involved Police searching for his whereabouts, helicopter searches and so on.  Therefore, each have been reported by the media.  In light of the fact that I represent “Mothers Helpers” and we help mothers that are at-risk of depression or suffering from it, and believe whole-heartedly that suicide is not the solution, I will not seek to make light of these attempts.  My only comment is to suggest that Tony finds a different way to seek help.

What I Would Like to See

I would like to see Tony Veitch take up the offer from the Mental Health Foundation to work with them in offering him support to accept responsibility for the violence in his past (and ongoing issues), to work on changing patterns of behaviour, and to become a role model to others caught in a cycle of abuse (often victim and perpetrator) to get help so they can change it.  Only then would I support Tony Veitch returning to a prominent role in media as sports commentator.  If you choose to work in the public eye, it’s important that you represent New Zealand well and without that obvious change in heart and in attitude, it should not be given to you.

I would encourage anyone to boycott his sports programme on 1ZB for this reason, and I’m surprised at John Kirwan for appearing on his show.

Are You OK?

If you are in a violent relationship or you know someone who is, there is help, information and support available to you.  Click here for more information on getting help.

If you are worried about your own depression, your stress levels and uncontrollable anger/emotions, and how that is affecting you, your baby or your family – or you’re worried about your own safety or the safety of the children in your care, please Contact Us.  For urgent 24hr phonecall assistance contact Lifeline.