The Verdict.

15 July 2013

If you read my post a while back about an opera singer who admitted assaulting his former partner, you might be interested in the judges verdict, “…Judge Glen Marshall, sitting in the Hamilton District Court yesterday, declined Douglas’s application for a discharge without conviction.”

It wasn’t so much the horror of his assaults, as frightening as they must have been, that inspired me to write, but it was his plan to seek “…a discharge without conviction for the assaults … claiming a criminal record would impede his ability to perform overseas”.  The article continued at length describing how very talented he is, how he had won numerous awards and even described him as a “scholar”, when “student” might have been more accurate.

After reading the article, I contacted The Dame Malvina Major Foundation, the editor of, the author of the article, Campbell Live, The University of Waikato Faculty of Arts (after learning he had recently been awarded a Maori Excellence Award), I also contacted Auckland Women’s Centre and The Are You Ok Campaign.

What was most disheartening, was that despite being mentioned by name in the original article, The Dame Malvina Major Foundation replied to my email two weeks later with “Your message has been received.  The Dame Malvina Major Foundation”.  The article author and her editor?  Nothing.  Campbell Live?  Nothing?  Auckland Women’s Center and the Are You Ok Campaign were great, offering support and suggestions for writing media releases.

So, does it feel like justice has been served?  Will this verdict make things better for the woman involved, and will this conviction and subsequent punishment lead to a change in attitude and actions?

In a primitive way, and by our society’s standards, it feels like justice has been done.  Chase Douglas did bad, he was found out and now he has to pay for his actions by being incarcerated or paying a fine.  But does this address the huge problem of domestic violence?  And what message does it convey to young women and men?

Thinking about what fundamentally shapes and changes behaviour, I have little faith in punitive measures such as punishment and positive manipulation (praise and rewards).  It seems like the overriding purpose of our justice system is to make people pay for transgression and wrong doing, thereby reinforcing the idea that anti social behaviour is unacceptable in civilized society.  Which is why it seems to feel like the ‘right’ thing has be done, and that our justice system is working.

However, for anyone who has been a victim of crime or violence it may seem like a shallow victory.  Does a sentence take away the pain or hurt?  Does a paying a fine assure us that it will not happen again?  Are we safer as a result of a criminal sentence?  I’m not convinced that the Department of Corrections is able to address the core reasons for anti social behaviour.  Dr Gabor Mate has a thought provoking presentation about how the Canadian justice system fails, and I think it’s worth a watch if you ask the same questions I do, you can watch the link to the Youtube clip here.

It was in the first article that we read about Chase Douglas’ fears of the potential consequences of his violent acts.  It was not the impact of his assaults on his former partner, who now has a hearing problem, or the fact that she is frightened of bumping into him or that she has trouble sleeping at night.  It was his concerns about how a conviction may impact on his career.  How selfish is that??

It is this attitude that demonstrates the obvious flaw in the behavourist approach to changing people’s actions.  Alfie Khon has a great article here about why using punishments fail.  He’s talking parenting, but the long range impact of using punishments and rewards to control behaviour are not that different when applied to adults, and in general, the behavourist model is embraced by many educators and employers.  Here are some failings Alfie Khon notes:

Punishments distract us from the important issues, Khon notes:

“Above all, they’re likely to focus on the punishment itself:  how unfair it was and how to avoid it next time.  Punishing kids – with the threat that you’ll do so again if they displease you in the future — is an excellent way to hone their skills at escaping detection”.

It makes us more self-centered, Khon:

““Kids need to learn that there are consequences for their actions.”  But consequences to whom?  The answer given by all punishment is:  to yourself.  A child’s attention is firmly directed to how she personally will be affected by breaking a rule or defying an adult – that is, what consequence she will face if she’s caught.”

See what I mean?  I would be surprised if there is a good outcome for the victim and Chase Douglas.  But then, I’m just someone who read an article, I’m just another imperfect person who doesn’t have a full proof solution.  I hope Chase gets support to understand the impact of his actions on people other than himself, and I really hope the woman he assaulted is able to move forward and understands she deserves to feel safe.

I think there is an opportunity here for Chase Douglas, perhaps with a mentor, to work creatively through some of his troubles (whatever they are) perhaps taking on a performance that address domestic violence.  Developing his empathy, working with other men who may have abused their partners.  Couldn’t he grow as a person and a performer?

Who knows?

What I do know is that there are a lot of thoughtful people who understand that we need to keep talking about domestic violence, and that gives me hope.

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