For the last three days the news has been full of the outrage that is ‘Roastbusters’ – the website where young men boast about stupefying young girls then raping them, and posting details online. The fact that the police have known about this for nearly two years is disturbing, to say the least. There’s a big difference between sitting out a covert operation for a crime that isn’t directly hurting anyone, and standing by while vulnerable young women are undergoing a trauma that will last their lifetime.
If it is true that the police cannot act because the law doesn’t allow for it then the law has to change. But also in need of a major overhaul is the police attitude to rape and sexual violence. If they have, as they have stated, contacted the victims and their families, and the girls have not wanted to press charges or go through the prosecution process, the police and the judicial system have to ask themselves why. The brutalising process and the appallingly low conviction rates for rape are common knowledge. It is not surprising that victims (and their parents) are fearful of putting themselves through this additional trauma.
What would be the best way to try and prevent such things in the future? It’s actually quite an easy question to answer. There are excellent programmes developed for young people that address just such issues. Bodysafe, for instance, from Rape Prevention Education, is a world class programme and highly effective. If, as the Prime Minister says, he finds the Roastbusters behaviour "extremely disturbing and disgusting" then all he has to do is fund this programme in all secondary schools around the country – and intermediates as well.
The Dare Foundation, which I have been part of, also offer excellent programmes that would address some of this behaviour – including a ground-breaking new ‘ethical bystander’ programme to empower young people to support each other. Drug and alcohol programmes should also be compulsory programmes in schools – not the old finger waving type, but based on best practice, which advocates for life skills training to encourage better decision making, problem solving and empathy. The problem is, the government have withdrawn so much community and education funding that there is no money to deliver these programmes and no time in the curriculum to teach them. They should be a priority – they are about keeping our young people safe and teaching them health attitudes towards sexual behaviour.
But we also need to look at the general public’s attitudes as well and understand the full extent of the problem. In 2006 I wrote a resource on Violence Against Women, looking at it from a global perspective – the most depressing resource I’ve ever written. Here’s some of the awful truths about sexual violence that came out – and I have no reason to believe this has improved. I’m only going to touch on the issues related to the current case, though the range of ways sexual assault is used to control and hold power over women is myriad and horrifying.
- According to an Australian survey of teenage boys, 1 in 3 thought it was permissible to force a girl to have sex if they thought she had led them on;
- 27% of boys thought it was okay to force a girl to have sex if ‘she got him sexually excited’ – and another 18% were unsure.
- There was a common belief that they could tell when ‘no’ meant ‘yes’ – by tone of voice or body language.
- In an American college study, 30% of male students said they would rape if they were guaranteed to get away with it.
- When the survey language was changed, over 50% said they would ‘force a woman to have sex against her will’ if they were guaranteed of getting away with it.
Let’s be very clear: women don’t cause date rape; date rapists do. It doesn’t matter how much a young woman has drunk or how scant her clothing – it is never her fault if she is sexually assaulted without her informed (sober) consent.
As if that isn’t bad enough, here’s some additional info:
- In 2011  sexual assaults in NZ rose by 15% in one year and doubled in schools. Waikato, Northland and the Bay of Plenty saw the biggest increases, at 26, 33 and 61% respectively. Overall there has been a 45% rise in sex offences since 2004 (while at the same time social service to supports rape victims have been severely cut.)
- 1 in 3 NZ girls and 1 in 6 NZ boys are likely to be sexually abused before the age of 16.
- Young women aged 14-24 are the most rape endangered.
- Over 50% of female teenage rape victims have been raped by a date.
- The average time between sexual assault and visiting a Rape Crisis Centre is over 14 years (for incidents that occurred more than 12 months before.)
- Because of the myths about rape, many people don’t consider date rape as ‘real’ rape.
- Women are 4 times more likely to be raped by an acquaintance than a stranger.
- Police are often reluctant to lay charges of rape against a date acquaintance.
- Juries are unwilling to convict a date rapist.
- Over 91% of Rape Crisis clients from 1993 to 1995 knew their attacker.
It’s also vital to look at where such attitudes come from and how they are perpetrated. I grew up at a time when pornography was in its infancy and pretty damn tame compared to today. When anti-porn campaigners took to the streets I was unimpressed – I thought it breached people’s personal freedoms. . . now I’m not so sure.
The kind of material that is now available at the touch of a button is deeply disturbing – and much mainstream material (i.e. music videos, film and TV) all perpetrate distorted images and ideas around sexual issues. I think things have gone too far. I think it needs a concerted campaign to counter such distortions. So, while I’m not joining the censorship lobby, I’m calling for money to be put into countering it at a national level. This is a crisis among our young people. It’s time we all woke up and demanded that it be addressed.
 From the National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa.