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Schapelle Corby and the Family Court

© Peter Zohrab 2005

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The British website “The Phrase Finder” says this about the phrase “the face that launched a thousand ships”:

Christopher Marlowe, in Doctor Faustus, referring to Helen of Troy:

'Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.'

Well, I don’t know if Schapelle Corby, despite her conviction in Indonesia on drugs charges, can make anyone immortal with a kiss, but there are obviously a lot of Australian (and other) men who would be prepared to carry out the experiment! I can only hope she doesn’t launch an armada of small craft that set out from Darwin, say, and storm her Bali prison to set her free – because that would be disastrous to Australia’s relations with its huge neighbour to the north.

Let’s try to step back and separate Schapelle’s plight from the reaction it has aroused, for a moment. There are obviously a lot of people who can’t tell the difference between beauty and innocence. It’s easy to tell if someone is beautiful, but it’s extremely hard to tell if they are innocent. Schapelle is extremely beautiful, she’s a maiden in distress – she must therefore obviously be innocent !?

In the 1980s, when I was a research student in London, I decided to go to Saudi Arabia for a year and earn a couple of years’ tuition fees by teaching English in a university there. In Saudi Arabia, as you know, not only drugs but also alcohol is illegal.

I went to London's Heathrow airport beforehand to arrange for some luggage to be sent separately. While I was there, a man offered me easy money – take receipt of an air-freighted juice kiosk at Riyadh airport, and he’d pay me a large sum of money.

Seemed like a good idea to me, so we exchanged telephone numbers and I went home to my then wife and our flat in London. But her father had been a judge, and she told me that it was a very bad idea: if any drugs or alcohol was found in the kiosk and I took delivery, I would be presumed guilty and would have to prove my innocence. I could see her point. I phoned the guy up and cancelled the deal.

In Schapelle’s case we have a woman who is “obviously innocent” because she is beautiful, and an Indonesian justice system which makes the same presumption that I guess most other justice systems make: if it’s in your luggage, it’s yours. I haven’t read a lot about the case, but there apparently was evidence that Schapelle had tried to prevent an airport official from opening the bag pocket where the drugs were.

OK, there is apparently a problem with crooked baggage-handlers at Australian airports – but her defence team would have had to provide actual evidence that this was an issue in her particular case, and I very much doubt they would have been able to do that – even if it was true. OK, some person or persons apparently testified that they saw her bag was free of drugs in Australia – but a Court has to evaluate the credibility of the evidence at its disposal, and I assume it decided that this testimony was either not credible or not decisive.

If Schapelle had been a beautiful Indonesian who had arrived in Australia or New Zealand with drugs in her bag, she would have to have been proved guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” before she could have been convicted. On the minimal facts that I am aware of in this case, I think there would not have been a reasonable doubt in New Zealand or Australia either. Think of the public policy implications – if you can’t convict someone on the basis that she actually has the drugs in her bag, what possible evidence is going to be enough to convict anyone ? How are we or the Indonesians going to reduce the drugs trade if we can’t even convict on that sort of evidence ?

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
(John Keats: “Ode on a Grecian Urn”)

Staying with the Greek theme, we see that Romantic poetry is on the side of Schapelle Corby !


Family Court

But now – what does all this mean for the Family Court ? And what does it mean for Feminism ?

I can remember running a free raffle when I was a student at Primary (Elementary) School in New Zealand, in the late 1950s. As I recall, I awarded three prizes, and they consisted of lollies. I drew the first two numbers, and the possessors of those numbers got prizes. But I decided arbitrarily to give the third prize to the prettiest girl in the class, so she got one without her number having to be drawn. I wonder how many male police officers and judges behave in like fashion?

In Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera “Trial by Jury”, the character Edwin is tried for breach of promise before a judge and jury who obviously favour the beautiful Angelina. In the end the Judge resolves the issue by agreeing himself to marry Angelina. I don’t want to argue from fiction to reality – except to say that the idea that male judges can be swayed by female beauty has been around for some time.

I know of one father, for example, who complained that the (female & Feminist) Family Court judge had consoled the opposing party (his ex-partner) when she cried in court. That certainly created the impression of bias in his eyes, and I would have thought that judges would be trained not to show apparent bias.


Domestic Violence

This bias is particularly evident in cases of alleged Domestic Violence. A documentary on the New Zealand Family Court was produced by the Court itself and shown on television. It was called The Family Court: Behind Closed Doors, and screened on TV1 on 19 March 2001. The way the judge dealt with a Domestic Violence allegation against a man was particularly telling.

After listening to the man's opening statement, the judge (Judge Adams) summarised his affidavit as saying that the man had had to put up with a lot himself as well (from his ex-girlfriend). Then the Judge said, "I guess that implies that you got out of control." However, the point of the man's testimony was that his ex-girlfriend had been guilty of psychological and/or physical abuse, and therefore either they should both be punished or neither of them should be. The Domestic Violence Act 1995 outlaws both physical and psychological violence, after all. For the Judge to simply refuse to consider the possibility that the woman also should be equally liable to be punished for her actions was gross sexist bias.

In 1999 I interviewed Mr. J. J. Taylor, Family Violence Prevention Coordinator at Police National Headquarters. I had just come across Professor Martin Fiebert’s Annotated Bibliography of Domestic Violence Research (at www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm). It is constantly being updated, but on 5 June 2005 its summary stated:

This bibliography examines 169 scholarly investigations: 133 empirical studies and 36 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 152,500.

On the telephone, Mr. Taylor had agreed there was a disparity between what academic research said about the roles of males and females in Domestic Violence, and what the media usually said. But he changed his tune when we met.

At the meeting itself, it turned out he believed the standard Feminist explanation for that discrepancy, and handed me some police statistics and other information on Domestic Violence arrests. I handed him a copy of the Fiebert bibliography, then spoke about the six (minor) workplace assaults I had been the victim of over the past 12 years at the hands of three females. He covered his mouth with his hand as if he was covering an itch to smile. Certainly, the expression in his eyes suggested he was smiling! And I must admit my own instinctive reaction was once also to smile when hearing about female assaults on males. It was significant to see this reaction from someone in his position in the field of domestic violence.

Then he asked me if all the research I had read showed that women and men hit each other equally frequently, and I said not every single one. I recalled, in particular, the 1996 New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims, commissioned by the Victimisation Survey Committee, comprising representatives from the Police, Ministry of Women's Affairs, and other government agencies. However, I pointed out that the relevant questionnaire had been slanted – possibly on the initiative of the Ministry of Women's Affairs – to make it appear men hit women more frequently than the other way around. Moreover, Mr. Taylor could not explain the questions' slant. The questionnaire (from Table 2.13) did not ask men and women simply whether:

1. Any partner ever actually used force or violence on you, such as deliberately kicked, pushed, grabbed, shoved you or hit you with something; or
2. Any partner ever threatened to use force or violence on you such as threatened to kick, push, grab, or shove you; or
3. Any partner ever deliberately destroyed or threatened to destroy your belongings.

Instead of those straightforward question, the questionnaire asked whether:

1. Any partner ever actually used force or violence on you, such as deliberately kicked, pushed, grabbed, shoved you or hit you with something in a way that could hurt you; and
2. Any partner ever threatened to use force or violence on you such as threatened to kick, push, grab, or shove you in a way that actually frightened you; and
3. Any partner ever deliberately destroyed or threatened to destroy your belongings in a way that frightened you.

The bias against men responding positively is immediately obvious, since men are socialised to downplay fear and to be relatively insensitive to pain. This was confirmed by data from another table (page 81) in the very same survey, which showed that 50.5 percent of women, as compared to only 31.4 percent of men, reported experiencing fear when on the receiving end of a violent offence. So the results of this survey are useless as evidence of the comparative incidence of domestic violence committed by women, as compared to men. The focus is women's subjective experience of events, rather than the events themselves.

Then Mr. Taylor mentioned another relevant New Zealand survey on this topic – "Findings About Partner Violence" by Moffitt, Caspi and Silva (1996), which showed the same thing as the overseas studies – that women hit men at least as often as men hit women.

This is where Mr. Taylor came out with his most telling statement. He said that you can't just count "hits" in that way, and that, in one case referred to by Moffitt (et al), the woman had kicked the man because he was holding her by the throat. The implication of what he said was, of course, that she was acting in self-defence.

So I asked Mr. Taylor why the man had held the woman by the throat. He was taken aback by that question -- he just replied, "Because he was assaulting her !"

Feminists and police officers like Mr. Taylor follow the chain of causation only just far enough back to establish (to their satisfaction) that the woman is the innocent party in such circumstances.


Women and Children First

When you watch a Western TV channel like BBC World TV, you hear constant references to whether victims in a tragedy are men, women, and/or children – as if male victims were somewhat less of a problem. On the other hand, I once saw an interview with a leader of the Islamic Fundamentalist Palestian organisation Hamas, in which the distinction he drew was between casualties who were combattants, and those who were non-combattants. In the West, the tradition is “Women and children into the lifeboats first !” In the Muslim World, you get female suicide-bombers alongside male ones. Which culture practises equality in this respect ?




Peter Douglas Zohrab

Latest Update

19 March 2016