Note: the following story mentions sexual assault.
Did the dog ever eat your homework? Who hasn’t claimed a flat tyre as an excuse for being late? Or maybe a sudden illness for that day off work? How about a broken ATM that couldn’t dispense the money to buy the planned wedding anniversary present?
Excuses have been around forever, and we’ve probably all been guilty of employing one at some point. But when do excuses become offensive? And should we be pushing back against them, particularly when they are delivered in court or in politics?
This week is a sterling example. Here are three cases, all from courts, all plucked from one day’s news.
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Case one An alcoholic father with a dreadful and violent history rapes his daughter while his partner sleeps next to him. She was not yet 10, and the offence was discovered only when a teacher overheard a conversation. He pleaded guilty.
That’s where this story should end. But it doesn’t. The court was told of extenuating circumstances, which sounds like a synonym for “excuse”. He was only schooled to Year 10. Shouldn’t he know, by age 15, that rape is wrong? And why is that relevant? His primary difficulty, the court was told, was alcohol. That is not true. His primary difficulty was the fact that he saw fit — drunk or sober, it doesn’t matter — to rape his little girl.
And so it goes. He had a good employment history, and when he worked he was a “productive member of the community’’. In his spare time, however, he rapes his daughter? Apparently it was the excessive drinking that led to the offence. No. No, no, no. And yes, he got three years’ jail — but with parole set for 12 months.
Case two A woman is forced to jump from a moving car after her ex-boyfriend grabs her head and threatens to kill them both. The poor man apparently just couldn’t accept that the relationship was over. That’s why he was stalking her, driving past her house, making hundreds of phone calls and saying he would bury her if she dated anyone else.
Just imagine her fear when, while driving a speeding car, he decided that if they couldn’t be together “we are going out together’’. She jumped. She jumped from the moving car. He didn’t deny any of that — and pleaded guilty to a swag of domestic violence-type offences.
But then the excuses flowed. He was a contributing member of society. He pleaded guilty early. He came from a good background. He had even previously worked — until he lost his job as a result of drug use.
Case three In the same court, another man avoided jail after pleading guilty to raping his little sister. The court heard how he was unsophisticated and naive, how he was homeschooled, and how he was introduced to child exploitation by an older man he had met online.
Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. They are allowed as part of a defence, but the problem is that they are — too often — lessening how we see bad behaviour. And it’s particularly the case in domestic violence prosecutions. He only wanted to contact her. He couldn’t accept the relationship was over. They been together for a decade. Blah. Blah. Blah.
In politics, too, our leaders routinely have a reason why they are not doing something, why they are breaking an election promise, and why they are ignoring a community push for change.
The establishment of a federal commission of inquiry is a perfect case in point, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison can weave words and obfuscate as much as he likes. But it was promised, and it hasn’t happened.
The same goes for election promise after election promise. And at some point, explanations become excuses, and our expectations fall with them. Perhaps the onus needs to be more on us to refuse to accept them. A rapist is a rapist, irrespective of his negligent background. A tax dodger is a tax dodger, even if his wife left him. And in politics a broken promise is still a broken promise.
If we ask for more, and set the bar higher, who knows? It might even lead to better behaviour.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Survivors of abuse can find support by calling Bravehearts at 1800 272 831 or the Blue Knot Foundation at 1300 657 380. The Kids Helpline is 1800 55 1800.
For counselling, advice and support for men in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania who have anger, relationship or parenting issues, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491. Men in WA can contact the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 000 599.