Sunday, 26 October 2014

Musings on New Zealand's Rape Culture, Domestic Violence and Apologies.

One in five women over the age of 15 have experienced some form of sexual violence according the New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims.  Australia has a similar level of sexual violence towards women.  Apparently the rates in New Zealand and Australia are double the global average - and that is based on the reported incidents only.  Yet we continue to debate the existence of a rape culture in New Zealand.

Before the election a several stories blew up regarding domestic violence, rape and sexual assault in our media.  The way two of the stories were handled was appalling.  The other was blown all out of proportion and sensationalised and ridiculed by our so called journalists.

So the first appallingly handled incident was the Malaysian diplomat's attempted rape/sexual assault on Tania Billingsley on 9th May.  She did the right thing and contacted the police asap.  Apparently the diplomat even waited for the police to turn up.  Muhammad Rizalman was arrested and charged by the police with the view to prosecute.  Tania says that the police have been very supportive and helpful throughout the ordeal.

Who wasn't, however, was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)s, when during discussions with the Malaysian embassy about the Rizalman's charges and going to court, cocked the whole thing up by suggesting that diplomatic immunity be invoked and a quick trip home could sort it out.

What made it worse was that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, knew fairly early on that this attack happened and who was involved.  He informed the Prime Minister.  And then Murray McCully never followed up on what happened with the case, and seven weeks later it came back to bite him and the Prime Minister on the rear end.  Then it emerged that an email detailing events sat unopened in Mr McCully's inbox due to "communication difficulties" as he visited New York.  Gee, I didn't know New York had such poor internet connections.

In the meantime, diplomatic immunity was invoked (Malaysian authorities say it was at the suggestion of our officials from MFA) and the Rizalman was sent home on 22nd May with the promise of him facing a military court/discipline as he was an envoy of the armed forces.  When the story broke here a big uproar happened.  Malaysia agree to send the man back, and the next thing you know he is in a mental health facility.  He has since been released, yet we waited several months for his return to New Zealand.  He has arrived in New Zealand in late October, five months after the incident occurred!

Meanwhile Tania Billingsley went to court to get the name suppression covering her lifted so she could speak out.  She was interviewed by TV3's 3rd Degree, who were very careful to make sure nothing was aired that would endanger the court case.  I think getting the name suppression lifted and speaking on national television was a bold move by Tania.  I see it as a strong move to reclaim power that was taken from her during the attack.

However media and commentators slammed her move and claimed it was politically motivated because she is active politically and due to her comments regarding Murray McCully and John Key's actions, or lack there of, as this case has unfolded.  Claims were made that Jan Logie, an MP from the Green Party, had politicised Tania's case to attack the government.  I consider Tania's condemnation of McCully and Key to be well founded.  Murray McCully completely dropped the ball and John Key was his usual dismissive self.

And then there are the outrageous claims made on Whale Oil's blog about her intentions and attacking the integrity of Tania Billingsley and the details of the incident itself  -  I believe he even claimed that she had set up the attack as a trap!!

Over five months since the original incident, Rizalman has returned and had his first court date and been remanded in Rimutaka Prison.  (NZ Herald Red faces over Malaysian diplomat October 26th).

Which brings us to the overblown story....

In the midst of this, David Cunliffe attended the Women's Refuge conference.  Most of the parties were represented, and I know that Paula Bennett attended for National and Metiria Turei for the Greens.  After Paula Bennett had finished her speech she then proceeded to use her phone during the remainder of the other speeches, ignoring the other speakers completely, according to a source through Twitter who was also attending.

David Cunliffe led his speech with an apology.  He apologised for being a man because most domestic violence on children and partners is perpetrated by men.  The head of Women's Refuge said his speech was inspirational.  The media and commentators and John Key slammed him for apologising.

Most people have only seen that short clip when David Cunliffe apologises for being a man.  The media did not show the rest of the speech, or even the following couple of sentences, to give that apology context.  But personally I support him for apologising.  I respect the fact that Cunliffe was man enough to say that physical and emotional family violence is not ok and that men are the abuser in a majority (not all) of cases.  The Dim Post's blog post On Cunliffe's apology for being a man says it so well.

I wish that more men were man enough to say that abusing women and children is not the manly thing to do.  It would go a long way towards addressing the abuse suffered in this country in far too many homes across the socio-economic and ethnic spectrums.

John Key made much of ridiculing David Cunliffe's apology for being a man, but at the same time his government denied extra funding to the Christchurch Rape Crisis Centre which was forced to close as a result.  It does not make for a woman friendly government or one that cares about the wellbeing of its citizens when they are most in need of support.

But waiting to emerge was another story of a victim of sexual assault whose case had been handle appallingly as  well.

The victim lived in Queenstown.  She was indecently assaulted in her own home, with her daughter nearby, by an extremely well known individual.  This happened quite a while ago now, and the case has been through the courts.  The judge did not put a conviction on record for this well known man due to the hardship he had supposedly suffered due to the court case.  He was also granted permanent name suppression.  What the......?  Consequently the victim is very upset about the lack of a conviction and the victim wants the name suppression to end

In the aftermath of the Rolf Harris case, when due to his conviction and sentencing, a raft of accusations have flooded out, including from National MP Maggie Barry, Rodney Hide, the former ACT leader, made a call in his Herald on Sunday column for Maggie Barry to name this well known man under parliamentary privilege.  Hide claims that more victims may then come forward if they knew he was the perpetrator in the Queenstown assault.

You can read more in Forget Rolf, Maggie.  We have our own sexual predator to name and shame and Rape culture protects predators.

This was a hot topic on Twitter.  And it was through a direct message (not seen publicly because DMs are private) on Twitter that I found out who this very well known man is.  I won't be publishing his name.  It is a man with a very wide known profile, possibly not to the younger set, but definitely to my generation and up.  He has been a public figure in at least three different arenas that I know of, and I can understand why the woman at the centre of the case initially felt comfortable to invite him into her home.  Like Rolf Harris, this man earned trust because of his public persona.  And like Rolf Harris he has used the cover of his public persona  to abuse - and we would probably find out about more abuses of trust if his name was released publicly.

Alas, no one told David Cunliffe who this man was, and when he was on his busman's holiday in Queenstown with his family during the July school holidays, Cunliffe met with this man.  Oh the public outcry!  Oh the media beat up!!  Personally I was amazed that considering New Zealand pretty much has two degrees of separation between any two people that he didn't know who the man was.

David Cunliffe was very apologetic afterwards, saying he would not have met with that individual if he had known the charges the man had faced and the outcome.  (NZ Herald Anonymous attack over holiday upsets 'recharged' Cunliffe 21 July 2014).  But here again, we have something blown up to an extent that it clouded over the real issue: a woman was sexually assaulted in her own home and the courts denied her justice.

This woman has also fought in the courts for the right to have her name suppression lifted in order to expose this high profile New Zealander.  Louise Hemsley has now been able to tell her story, but her offender still has name suppression.  She is horrified that he has essentially gotten away with the assault with no repercussions, that justice is not served.  On the Sunday programme, in a piece called Justice denied? Mrs Hemsley has been able to tell her story and how the offender was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge that sanitised what actually took place and left her victim impact statement effectively useless during sentencing.

He has also spoken to the Herald on Sunday this week, telling them that it was 20 seconds of madness that have almost cost him his marriage, prevented him from securing employment, resulted in a depletion of his saving from legal fees and that his children no longer speak to him.  He regrets that he took the legal advice to plead guilty as he considered the incident to be consensual.

But Louise Hemsley needs to be celebrated because her main goal in telling her story is to prevent her attacker going on to further victims.  She want him to know what he did was not ok, that it does have consequences, not only for her and her family, but him and his family.

All of this comes after the revelation late last year of the Roast Busters, an on-going scandal involving a group of young men based in Auckland who allegedly sought to intoxicate underage girls to gang rape them, and the police response (or perceived lack of response) to the complaints of alleged victims.  Police spokesmen claimed they had been aware of the group and had been monitoring their Facebook page for two years, but had not begun prosecution because no alleged victims had made formal statements or complaints. However, it was later reported that a number of young girls had made complaints in 2011 and 2012, but they were told there was not enough evidence to proceed.  And this still remains unresolved.

Many women are now trying to expose their abusers to the public.  Karen Beaumont and Anne-Marie Forsyth are trying to expose their abuser 20 years after he was convicted.  Despite getting their own name suppression lifted, the judge would not lift the suppression of their abuser's name.  Their abuser argued that it would be unfair to lift the suppression order on his name. 

In the September 2014 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, journalist Jessica Leahy detailed her own experience of sexual assault and how the culture of women and girls being polite and not making a fuss results in sexual assaults being tolerated and under reported.  Leahy writes: 
"And our culture seems hell-bent on conditioning us to be easy prey.  We are raised not to be rude or bossy or difficult and, above all else, not to be a bitch. 'Be nice' is a well-versed mantra often recited to the fairer sex, but it's becoming clear that it is this courteous behaviour that can get good girls into bad trouble...
"So many women, myself included, don't report the kind of incidental sexual harassment they encounter because it happens almost daily.  Numbed by repeated exposure to it, it's become normalised.  And that is terrifying."

And Ms Leahy is so right.

New Zealand has an appalling rate of sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.  Some children, some wives and partners live it on a daily basis.  Some have suffered it on a lesser scale less often.  Some have a sudden and traumatic attack.  None of these scenarios are acceptable.

And while I have generalised here that men are the usual perpetrators, I am aware that domestic violence, and even sexual violence, can be perpetrated by women as well.  Sadly, this is often overlooked and not given enough attention either.

Earlier this year I was at a beach town pub playing pool with a couple of girlfriends, one a married woman.  My best friend's husband, brother in law and an old school friend of ours turned up with some other blokes.  They were on a boy's weekend away.  My old school friend has his brother in law in tow.  I hadn't met him before, and I'm sure my friends and I don't want to meet him again.  (In fact my friend's husband has decided never to take him on a boy's weekend again due to his poor behaviour while intoxicated).

Why?  Because this guys was "handsy".  He groped, he touched, he rubbed, he was over amorous.  Now it seems pretty low level, but because we didn't want to make a scene, because we were being polite, we've allowed this man to think that his behaviour is acceptable and that he can do the same thing in the future.

So many hide the fact that they have been sexually assaulted or domestically abused.  They don't want to bring shame on themselves or to break up the family.  Many are scared of being labelled as liars or of the legal process that is vicious towards the victim. 

I know a family where a member has molested one of the girls from early adolescence through most of her teenage school years.  Then he also had the gall to try it on with four other of his younger relatives in either their own homes or the home of his grandmother.  Some of the girls told an adult in the family and things were swept tidily away and the decision was made to send this person off to another part of the country.  Some of the girls kept silent, only talking to one or two others on the off chance they had been affected.  That person has gone on to offend against other girls in other families.  He now has convictions and a jail sentence for those acts - but who else has he offended against and that has been kept secret?  If his own family had not kept things so hush hush, but had dealt with his offending properly and got help for him and his victims, would these other offences have happened?

But it is not only families that keep it hush hush.  Did you read Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics yet?  Well page 115 is a revelation:

As an example, without using people's names, when David Farrar organised a 'Princess party' for National Party friends, a conversation between some of the planned guests was approvingly reported.  One man said to another, 'I have cleared the field for you, given you the most likely targets and will get them drunk for you.'  Another said, 'I'd try [a young woman] she is filthy.'  The Young Nationals women were described as 'retards' and 'just dirty girls who flip it up'.

This is what happens in National Party circles?  Shit, I'm glad I'm not a female Young Nat!!

It also makes a mockery of John Key with his condemnation of the Roastbusters situation in November 2013.  The Hand Mirror blog's post National party alleged rape culture sums it up succinctly: 

A grown man wants kids to “grow up” and presumably grow out of the toxic rape culture they seem to be embracing.
And what are some of the fully grown adult male supporters of the national party doing?
Deliberately getting young women drunk and pointing out “easy targets” for other National party supporters.
National party; these are your men, your party, your culture. This is your problem.
The fact that someone allegedly sent this email means that they feel so comfortable with the idea of what they are planning to do they were happy to write it down. Comfortable with seeing women as a faceless commodity. Comfortable with the idea that they have the right to compromise the sobriety of women, and deliberately pass “references” on to a group of men.
This comfort means that the rape culture is pervasive, it is normalised, and it is persistent.

The Hand Mirror blog has a number of posts that address the rape culture we have in our society:
The Hand Mirror blog has many more gems like this.  If you click on the tag Rape Is Not OK in the label section you can see a full list of blogs pertaining to this subject.

The last blog post listed above brings to mind a recent incident from Otago University with a Facebook page that caused outrage called Rack Appreciation Society.  On this page members shared explicit photos of women without their consent.  Several women stood up and alerted authorities and the media.  The student behind the page, Sean McDonald, claimed the page had gotten out of control and was not meant for sharing photos of local women.  Rather, members were supposed to share pictures of professional models.  (Read more on the NZ Herald article Man behind 'rack' Facebook page says sorry).

Marianne Elliott grew up in Tokoroa.  She has been part of a team documenting rapes and sexual assaults in Afganistan.  In November 2013 she wrote a post about her experiences of rape culture in New Zealand and around the world in response to the Roast Busters revelations, There is a reason I was afraid to get drunk at rugby parties.

I remember being at parties as a teenager and looking around at my friends – my male friends – and asking myself ‘Can I trust him? Would he do anything to prevent someone else taking advantage of me? Would he do it himself?’

I remember looking at the boys I liked and wondering, ‘Would he take advantage of me if I was drunk? Would he even know that was what he was doing was wrong? Would he tell other people that it had happened?’

That is rape culture.

Because that’s how I thought of it – not as ‘rape’ but as someone ‘taking advantage’. Someone seizing the opportunity I had given them, by being drunk. So I didn’t get drunk. I never drank from the keg. I took my own drinks to parties, wine or wine cooler, shared it only with my best friend and kept it out of sight so no-one could tamper with it.

There’s more to say about men and sex and my teen years. But this is what matters for now – I was always afraid. I was afraid that if I took any risks, something bad could happen to me and it would be my fault.

That’s rape culture. It’s what I grew up with....

But as my book tour continued, stories kept appearing across the US and Canada. Stories of girls who had been raped, blamed, shamed and shunned. Stories of boys who believed they had done nothing wrong. Stories of entire towns that stood in support of their ‘decent boys’ who had just made a stupid mistake. Stories that were as painful, to me, as anything I’d seen in Afghanistan.

That is rape culture. And it is everywhere. But it’s not inevitable.

So why do we protect these 'decent boys'?  Do 'decent boys' actually behave like this?  Is it acceptable?

I do want to acknowledge that men can also be subjected to sexual violence.  The revelation in September of a backpacker's own, Michael Harris, stupefying, raping and photographing his male victims who were staying at his establishment demonstrates that men can easily be victims too.  (Radio NZ Fresh charges for backpackers' owner 24 September 2014).

While most of this post has been about rape culture, one can not ignore the fact that New Zealand has a very damning culture of domestic violence.  These statistics from the Women's Refuge website are sobering to read:

One in three women experience psychological or physical abuse from their partners in their lifetime1.

On average 14 women, six men and 10 children are killed by a member of their family every year.

Police are called to around 200 domestic violence situations a day – that’s one every seven minutes on average.

Police estimate only 18% of domestic violence incidents are reported.

At least 74,785 children and young people aged under 17 were present at domestic violence situations attended by police.

84% of those arrested for domestic violence are men; 16% are women.

The economic cost of domestic violence was estimated at $1.2 to $5.8 billion per year by economist Suzanne Snively in 19962. In today’s figures, that would be up to $8 billion.

In the 2009/10 year there were 3,867 domestic violence cases in the Family Court which each involved at least one child.

New Zealand is failing the standard on keeping women, children and vulnerable men safe from abusers.  As a society we have allowed a rape culture to permeate beneath the surface of our every day lives and minimise the incidents that some men do, allowing them to think their behaviour is ok, so then they escalate.  We need to teach our young boys as they grow that the rape culture is not ok, it is not normal.  Our grown men need to take a good hard look at how they behave, because for some of them they have lived the rape culture, and it is not ok.

Footnote:  A few days after publishing this blog post the New Zealand Police announced that no charges would be placed despite formal complaints from seven young girls.  The Police said 25 other girls refused to be formally interviewed and that even one of the accused refused to participate in an interview.  A few days later, on Q&A on TV1, Paula Bennett, a government minister, said she supported the Police decision.  Naturally, there are some upset people about the lack of charges and the attitude of the government.  And New Zealand does not have a rape culture?

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