On the 16 November, 2013, a number of rallies were held across New Zealand calling for an end to the rape culture that is so prevalent in New Zealand's society. I attended the Dunedin rally and I was reminded and informed of all the issues that come into play in this broader problem - including workplace harassment, abuse by family members (including fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, partners), stalking, a patriarchal culture and the current justice system, to name a few.
All of us are quick to demonize other cultures for their treatment of women, yet perhaps the reason rape culture has been allowed to prevail in New Zealand – land of the Long White Cloud, beacon of human rights and model citizen of the international community – is because rather than actively accepting that we have a problem, we have been duped into thinking that this fantasy of an egalitarian and just society is indeed exactly what we are as a nation.
Here are some statistics to demonstrate that (a) we have a problem; and (b) this is a human problem and not one that pertains only to a particular religion or culture. In 2010 alone, there were 3016 rapes and related offences reported to police, and in 2011 that number rose to 3466. This does not take into account the number of these crimes that go unreported which are undoubtedly much more frequent. The media reports on these surveys actually suggested that the reason for the increase in these crimes is due to the crimes being reported more often and not necessarily because the crimes have become more frequent. Women's Refuge advances that one in three women experience physical or psychological abuse from their partners in their lifetime; 14 women a year are killed by a member of their family; and police are called to assist in 200 domestic violence situations a day. If you do not think New Zealand has a problem with the way women are being treated (openly or behind closed doors), then that would make you a further part of this problem.
This issue has soared into the media spotlight because of the story surrounding the "roastbusters" – a group of young boys who were inviting (often underage) women to drink and then be sexually preyed upon, only to be subsequently "named and shamed" on social media.
The statistics mentioned above do not take into account unreported rapes which would make the figure much, much higher. We next have to considerwhy these victims are not reporting these crimes. This could include a number of factors such as complications within a family network; the threat often given that "no one will believe you"; and the humiliation and trauma involved with reliving the experience. Whatever the reason involved for any particular victim, the most detrimental (and abhorrent) barrier between the victim and justice is the fact that the justice system does not and will not adequately deal with their complaint.
When the story of the "roastbusters" first came to the forefront of the media, we were told that the police had known about the group for two years and had wanted to pursue the perpetrators, but unfortunately that no victim had been "brave enough" to come forward and make a formal complaint. We later found out that four girls had come forward to police, one whomhad madea formal complainttwo years ago, as she was a victim of this group at the age of 13 (making any sexual intercourse statutory rape). She was forced to undergo a grueling, ridiculing and humiliating interviewing process in which the police basically concluded that there was not enough evidence to proceed and that she had brought the assault on herself through her voluntary drinking and the clothes she was wearing. Lo and behold, it transpired that one of the members of the "roastbusters" is the son of a police officer and another is the son of Matrix actor Anthony Ray Parker.
We also have the plight of Louise Nicholas, who as far back as 1993 first reported that she had been raped by several police officers. The initial officer she laid charges against was never publicly identified. The other three identified police officers charged as co-assailants were acquitted at a retrial of Nicholas' allegations. Two of these co-assailants, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum, whilst being retrialled for the rape of Nicholas, were also already serving jail time for rape convictions in 2005. This information was suppressed in the court (and from the public) and was not accessible to the jury. Clint Rickards, also identified as an assailant, was the Assistant Police Commissioner at the time, and although he resigned in 2007, he was paid out approximately $300,000 as part of a deal surrounding his resignation. Now, it is reported that having completed a law degree, he intends to sue Nicholas over allegations of perjury.
In 2009, it was reported that only 13 per cent of rape allegations result in conviction. Victims are fully aware of this as well as the fact that, as one speaker put it today at the Dunedin rally, they would get berated in court and are expected to remember not only every detail, but every detail in its exact chronological order.
What does all of this tell us about the current justice system? It tells us that justice for victims of rape has little to do with morality and everything to do with power and corruption. Even if the police are not directly involved in the crime, if a complainant comes forward and is humiliated, misunderstood and blamed, these circumstances create an extremely clear picture why so few people would (or even should) report these crimes. In the words of a speaker at the Dunedin rally today: "why should a victim be brave?" When the police misinform the public that no victim has been "brave enough," why should we accept the lie or the fact that a victim has to be brave in the first place as good enough? Perhaps it is the police who should pursue the matter and not the other way around. The idea that we would see this as an opportunity to strengthen the power of the police – the same institution that actively did nothing to help roastbusters' victims or victims of police brutality, but yet somehow still finds the time to threaten bloggers for tarnishing their image of servers and protectors of the people and branding them as protectors of our underlying rape culture – is outrageous.
The second issue that must be addressed is pointing out that this is not merely an issue that pertains to authoritarian police roles, but a problem rooted deeply into our society. The question goes beyond asking why is it that the "roastbusters" could not only do this for at least two years without police intervention, to asking why on earth did they think that this was okay in the first place?
The simple answer is that in their eyes society had made it seem okay. If you can bring yourself to watch segments of their admissions that the media have published, then at first glance what we observe are young boys bragging about what we have to assume is their understanding that they have been "scoring" with girls. I doubt the perpetrators knew they were rapists in the same sense that a stalker would be after chasing down and coercing someone who physically resisted. Putting aside for now the issue that some of these girls were as young as 13, what comes to mind is that society has not made it clear enough that if a girl is intoxicated, it is not okay to take advantage of her body. The Crimes Act has a section specifically for this situation, however, putting the law aside, we need to ask ourselves how can someone possibly consent to something if they are intoxicated and lacking normal consciousness? The simple answer is they cannot. Considering that the aim of the roastbusters is to get young girls intoxicated and then proceed to engage sexually with them and furthermore, publicly admitting their guilt after doing so, the case becomes that much more clear cut as the intention element is so predominant. So how is it possible that the police have known about these actions for two years and decided to ignore formal complaints and do nothing to support these victims?
The fact remains that this group of perpetrators felt that they lived in a society which accepted their actions to the point that it is okay to publicly acknowledge their actions via social media. Obviously, mainstream movies, TV, music and music videos do not help with the kind of mentality that propagates a culture obsessed with sex and one that constantly objectifies women. It is clear that educating people, both young and old, regarding the issues and circumstances of rape needs to be more widespread and more effective as it clearly has not been given sufficient support or attention so far; young people are still growing up believing that rape in certain circumstances is okay. We need to stop perpetuating the taboo that surrounds this issue and bring it more forcefully into the open. I for one am happy to be a part of this nationwide dialogue.
On a positive note, the public reaction to this story has been encouraging. Society has made it abundantly clear that, as it turns out: no, we do not think it is okay to commit these actions; that these boys were in the wrong for thinking that it was; and this will set an example for anyone else who assumes they can get away with this kind of activity.
However, we still have a long road ahead of us and there is much work needed to be done. The justice system is corrupt, biased and inadequately prepared for dealing with victims of rape. Society needs to continue to make it clear that sex without a woman's consent in all situations is rape – plain and simple. It does not matter what a victim is wearing, where they are going, what they are saying and doing and how much they are drinking.
Groups like Rape Crisis and Women's Refuge must be fully funded and supported by the government. The people do not want their taxpayer money spent on secret Transpacific agreements which erode our civil liberties. We want to make our society a safe one in which our daughters, sisters, and mothers can walk, drink, dance and work freely and that victims of a crime can come forward and have their report dealt with appropriately and adequately regardless of whom the perpetrator is.