The most surprising thing about family violence was that it had only
comparatively recently been labelled a crime, a judge said yesterday.
Violence between strangers routinely brought heavy penalties, Ms Heather
Simpson, a New Zealand judge, said in Melbourne.
But ``until recently most domestic violence cases reaching the justice system
were either screened out entirely or automatically dealt with by family
``This practice reflected the view of society at large that domestic violence
was a private matter rather than a crime.
``Fortunately these stereotyped attitudes have begun to disappear.
They amount to nothing more than prejudice against women."
Ms Simpson, who sits in the District Court in Auckland, said: ``Violent
behavior must and should be treated as criminal activity requiring the usual
sanctions of the criminal law.
``The first step in marking society's condemnation of violence against women
must be to ensure that the offender is met with the same level of sanction as
other crimes with similar consequences."
Ms Simpson, who has been closely involved with family law, was speaking at a
lunch marking the end of the Australian national conference of the Baha'i faith.
She is a former chairwoman of New Zealand's Baha'i assembly.
The conference of 1400 people at the World Congress Centre drew together such
diverse followers as a champion Australian athlete, an actor, a Papua New
Guinea engineer and a Hollywood composer.
Cathy Freeman, preparing for the 200 metres and 400 metres Commonwealth Games
events in British Columbia in August, flew back from a family Christmas in
Brisbane to co-host the opening evening.
Ms Freeman's co-host was the Sydney actor Philip Hinton, who, among other
things, has appeared in television programs such as `Police Rescue', `GP' and
`Home And Away'. Mr Hinton has been a Baha'i for 31 years.
Historically, Baha'i opponents have not been able to come to terms with a
faith preaching an essential oneness of the world's great religions and
advocating such concepts as international harmony, working hand-in-hand with
science, equal opportunity for the sexes and the abolition of poverty.
Its adherents (about 10,000 claimed in Australia) say Baha'i is one of the
fastest-growing independent world religions, and the second most geographically
widespread faith after Christianity. It makes use of the teachings of all the
Ms Simpson said her career blended well with her faith of 11 years, with its
emphasis on justice, trustworthiness and personal relationships. ``The
background considerations of Baha'i underlie a lot of the law."
Mr Russell Garcia, whose latest project was to compose the music for the film
`Christopher Columbus', said that as a US soldier in World War II in Europe, he
vowed to ``look for an answer" to life.
Thirty-eight years ago he found it in the faith he still follows with his