This article was sent to Fightback by Bevan Morgan.
This week has not been a particularly pleasant time to live in Aotearoa. The revelation by TV3 that there has been a youth gang working at intoxicating and raping young girls and then bragging about it on the internet obviously sent some major shock waves through the country. Understandably many queries have been raised about the nature of the way the report was dealt with, and of course with the reaction, or rather lack thereof, within the New Zealand Police. Inevitably though, one of the major questions that have arisen has been regarding the idea of a rape culture in this country, and whether or not we have one in New Zealand.
The responses from both the public and the media have been illuminating to say the least, and if there was any doubt that we had a problem with both the level of sexual assault in this country, and how it is perceived within the community, there certainly is absolutely zero doubt now. There have been some heated discussions, plenty of victim blaming, and the rise of more amateur Batman wannabes than in Kick-Ass 2. But one of the most contentious points has been on whether or not in New Zealand we have a ‘rape culture’, to which multiple people have screamed that this is not the case, and that these young guys are an anomaly to how we as a society view the larger question of rape and sexual assault. Most of this defence stems from misunderstanding s of what a culture of rape and sexual assault might look like (outside of the Catholic Church or within Gang Culture for example), and is unhelpfully argued down with the simple and obvious assertion that most men aren’t rapists.
This is not an okay place to be having such an important discussion stem from. Too often people get distracted by discussions of rape culture to understand the nuances and the human picture of the suffering. There have been an astonishing number of men getting on the defensive and the offensive this week, as if a group of sex crazed date rapists sexually assaulting girls as young as 13 is a personal slight on them individually. It is not. However, we still need to look deep inside ourselves as a society, and have a serious examination of how economic factors, cultural factors, social factors, and religious factors (amongst others) taint our perceptions of sexual assault in this country. Here are just four questions that might help people reconsider their perception of sexual abuse in New Zealand, and are important to keep in mind as we move forward to a future where instead of burying our heads in the sand, we tackle these problems head on.
Why is it normal that when girls go to bars that they can’t leave their drink unattended?
If we didn’t have a culture of rape, this wouldn’t be the case. If the statistics were right on this matter then we would have just a few instances of girls having their drinks spiked and it wouldn’t be like the current status quo where drink spiking is a problem in nearly every bar or nightclub, every single weekend.
Men, please just picture that for a second. Imagine if every time you went out, and you took your eyes off your drink, you had to worry about whether or not somebody had drugged it with something to make you pass out so you can be sexually violated. If this was the case, you can guarantee that men would be armed, and police presence would be heavy handed. But with our females we just accept this and warn our girls as if this is okay – as if the rapist should be just simply something to avoid in the evening like the rain, or overpriced drinks.
And here is the kicker on that point anyway – as much as drink spiking is a serious problem, we have an even bigger elephant standing in the room. The fact of the matter is that in 2008, alcohol was the date rape drug of choice in 80% of sexual assaults in New Zealand anyway. This is in a country where alcohol is so ingrained into our psyche that we actually let alcohol companies sponsor children’s sports clubs amongst other things. So girls in many ways are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. They can go out with the peers in what is the generally accepted ‘normal’ social setting in New Zealand, and risk either having someone slip something in their drink, or have someone take advantage of them if they get too drunk. And for those who like to take the holier than thou road and say ‘don’t get that drunk’, let us remind you that getting drunk is NOT an offence that deserves a punishment of sexual assault. This is not how a society treats its women in 2013.
Why is rape so underreported in this country?
On the surface there is false authority in the idea that rape and sexual assault isn’t that bad in New Zealand, because the figures show that it’s not an epidemic yet. This is one of the most sinister and depressing aspects of a culture of rape. It implies that because we don’t know for a fact the full figures that we can take a blissfully ignorant approach, and in the interests of ‘objectivity’ and ‘rationality’ we can’t do anything else, because the data isn’t there. And this, again just patently is not true.
The Invercargill Rape and Abuse Support Centre claimed this year that while there were only 98 reported rapes in the region between January 2011 and April 2013, their centre took on about fifteen new clients a month during this time. In 2007 it was found by Rape Prevention Education that sexual assault was being reported about 13% of the time, and that of these reports, roughly 9% resulted in convictions.
That means that we can probably extrapolate and estimate that in the fiscal year of 2012-2013 when there were approximately 8.2 reported sexual assaults per 10,000 people in New Zealand, there was probably more like 56 per 10,000 at least. Doesn’t sound like much? Well we’ll keep extrapolating. If our population is four million, that equates to well over 20,000 sexual assaults in the space of a fiscal year that we can guess at. 8.2 instances of sexual assault per 10,000 is a problem, however if this does only represent 13% of actual cases then we have a full blown catastrophe on our hands.
Why is our history of sexual oppression and rape forgotten?
The whole concept of sexual assault being seen as hideous is relatively new in the history of patriarchal class societies. The Ten Commandments are orders from God on how to act on this planet and many people still believe in these. Jealousy of your neighbour warrants a mention, but there is nothing to do with sexual assault whatsoever – in other words according to God it is worse to be annoyed that your neighbour drives a BMW than it is to sexual assault one of their children.
Or how about the countless, countless stories of war atrocities where rape was served up as the first thing on the agenda for maniacal soldiers? We need to understand that by and large in the history of patriarchal class societies, this whole conception of ‘consent’ is actually pretty new and we still haven’t cracked it yet completely. It was only in 1985 – not even thirty years ago – that it was made illegal to rape someone within a marriage. That means we have for less than thirty years had mainstream acceptance that within marriage, the parties involved still need to consent. What was once considered a good night of sex and fighting might be now considered a night of rape and assault, because our values and perceptions change as we become more enlightened, and we evolve socially. While we have made ground in combatting these things it cannot be forgotten that by and large, throughout class societies, rape and sexual assault have not been seen as particularly bad under the law.
Why the hell are we pretending that this is only a wild youth problem?
The talkback stations have been waiting for a story like this in New Zealand, and with typical vigour and aggressiveness, they have jumped on this story, and there have been calls from both listeners and DJs that this is an on-going issue and that teenagers are out of control. But this just isn’t true. Teenagers today smoke less, drink less, and drive safer than the generations that preceded them. But because the concept of sexual assault is relatively new, and because we have hid the problem out of sight and out of mind for so long, we just assume that because we hear more about it now, then it must be simply that the youth are wild.
We also know definitively that poverty, abuse, and trauma lead to drug use and alcohol dependence hugely and we know that presently in New Zealand we have abhorrent child poverty statistics whereby over 200,000 young New Zealanders live below the poverty line. So if our economic system is increasing inequality in New Zealand (which it is), and thus some children out of desperation are acting ‘bad’ as the statistics have predicted time and time again they will, how can we possibly even begin to frame this discussion as a problem with delinquent youths only? Why are the people who make these living situations possible (i.e. the financial thieves, the politicians, the police, the ruling oligarchy) not receiving the same visceral anger and disrespect that our youth are facing? We are on track to have the smartest, most orderly generation yet, however they are still targeted because their voices don’t count.
Additionally, sexual violence is a problem throughout all age groups, throughout all classes. The Roastbusters were sons of a police officer and a Hollywood actor. To blame youth, or working class hedonism, rather than considering the inherent problems with how we structure our very society is pig ignorant, and downright cruel. The ideas of rape culture are handed down from above, and they don’t just apparate out of nowhere – they are crafted unintentionally a lot of the time and then passed down implicitly through social cues and interactions. Our youth aren’t the problem. Our adults are.
There are multiple factions of the left each with their own philosophies and explanations for why things have gotten to this stage. Radical feminists may disagree with Socialists, who may in turn disagree with Anarchists and so on and so forth. But this is window dressing. The idea of looking at rape culture does not have to be an accusation that all men are rapists, and that all men are designed to rape. It is bigger than a philosophy, or who is right and who is wrong on this issue. We live in a society where there is a massive inequity between men and women (this isn’t even touching on assault for our non gender-binary comrades) in which we can make serious long term transitions to combat this problem. There is no Band-Aid, so the National party will be shit out of luck in trying to wait for this problem to blow over.
This is a delicate issue that we must treat with the utmost care and respect. But something must be done. Rape and sexual assault cannot be a secret in Aotearoa anymore and we must question the very foundations of how we perceive sexual assault in order to move forward to a future where reporting isn’t a case of being brave and admirable as much as it is just what you do.