How perpetrators become visible

*****Content warning, rape, child sexual abuse, racism, depictions of violence, colonisation***

Finally, as promised here is an overview of the piece I wrote about the Turangi rape case using the Due and Riggs article. It’s shorter than the original, which also includes an analysis of the way the perpetrator’s mother came to be blamed for her son’s actions, in a classic ‘blame the mother’ story. I am hoping to get this one published eventually, so any feedback about the ideas in this piece would be useful! I just want to preface this blog by saying that what I have written here is in no way something that is looking to justify the actions chosen by this offender or to suggest that this survivor was not deserving of the compassionate and generous response shown to her by New Zealander’s. She deserves all of the support that was given to her, as does every survivor of sexual violence. What I am interested in, is the ways that race/ethnicity change the way we respond to and perceive sexual violence and how that skews the reality of sexual violence and they way it is responded to in Aotearoa New Zealand. As well as the way it reinforces negative and damaging representations of Indigenous peoples.

In late 2011 to early 2012 New Zealand mainstream media covered in detail the rape of a five year old girl by a 16 year old youth[1] in a holiday campground in Turangi. The story of the attack was reported in the media the very next day, and coverage continued on the case for over four months. The 16 year old pleaded guilty to charges of sexual violation by rape, causing grievous bodily harm and burglary. On the 29th of February in 2012 with a starting point of 18 years imprisonment, but a discount of four and a half years due to the boy’s age, background, remorse and early guilty plea he was sentenced to 10 years for rape, 7 for grievous bodily harm and two years for burglary.  In her book “Sex, Violence and Crime: Foucault and the “Man” Question”, Adrian Howe (2008) argues men “disappear” from narratives and discussions around gendered violence. What is interesting in the Turangi case is the ways in which this perpetrator became hyper-visible in mainstream news media coverage. This piece aims to provide a comparative analysis of the Due and Riggs piece and New Zealand’s mainstream media coverage of what is known as the “Turangi case”. Similar to the findings of Due and Riggs, the media reporting of the Turangi case makes the perpetrator visible through portrayals of Māori people as degenerate and dysfunctional. In contrast to this, Pākehā New Zealand is portrayed as virtuous, with emphasis given to the $60,000 that was raised by New Zealander’s for the victim and her family (Bowen, & Kidd, 2012).  As suggested by Due and Riggs,  these media representations of Indigenous peoples serve to erase the impact of colonisation and institutionalised racism within Australia and New Zealand and have every real impacts on the health and wellbeing of Māori and Aboriginal people.

First, it is important to acknowledge that the contexts in which these articles are written are not identical[3] but these countries do share certain features as with other settler colonial contexts particularly in the major inequalities that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in both Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand Māori have a life expectancy that is almost eight years lower than non-Māori and experience broad ranging inequalities in education, income, housing and employment. Similarly, Indigenous Australians are the most disadvantaged group in Australian society. They suffer from high rates of unemployment and imprisonment, low income, substandard housing and ill health. The life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is seventeen years less than other Australians and they are more likely to be exposed to violence. This disadvantage experienced by Indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand is directly associated with both historical and contemporary racism, colonisation and oppression indicators (Anderson et al, 2008, 6). Australian and New Zealand are also notably similar in terms of popular discourses of Indigenous pathology and social disorder that erase colonial violence and position whiteness as superior. So, to provide an analysis of the case I will provide some background of the coverage of the case by looking at the way these discourses of indigenity as well as discourses of sexual violence are typically presented in the media.

Ardovini-Brooker and McDonald (2002) argue that in general, the sexual abuse cases that are publicized in the media are usually cases that are considered “news worthy” or “sensational”.[4] The “sensationalised” nature of the cases also function as a type of public entertainment. This specific news coverage of rape cases downplays the extensiveness of the crime, distorting the realities of sexual abuse by positing it as a rare occurrence, sexualizing it, and furthering discourses which apportion blame to victims. Their findings show that in media coverage of rape cases, offenders were most highly scrutinized and condemned when they were minority offenders who attacked white victims (2002, 14). Offenders were most likely to be apportioned blame in the media when they were a lower class than the victim, were part of a minority group and when the rapes fit a more stereotypical “real rape” scenario (Estrich, 1987). That is, perpetrated by a stranger, at night, in a public place and involving excess physical force.[5]

The extensive coverage of the Turangi case fits within the findings of Ardovini and MacDonald as a sensational rape case. The rape was committed against a white child by a minority offender who was of a lower class.[6] The attack fit a “real rape” scenario as the offender was a stranger,[7] it happened at night time in a public campground and the abuse involved excess physical force. These “sensationalised” aspects of the case are emphasised in the news reporting:

Loper said the attack on the girl, who was on holiday with her family from Europe, was one of the worst he had seen in his 28 years of policing. The girl’s injuries, Loper said… “Are significant and heart wrenching.” (Watson, 2011, emphasis added)

Mark Loper is the Detective Inspector who investigated the Turangi case. This extract positions him as a figure of white authority that can legitimate and judge the ‘seriousness’ of this particular rape, reinforcing that there is a hierarchy of violence where some violence is ‘more important’ or ‘more serious’ than other forms of violence.

The fact that this particular case attracted so much media attention is partly because the case fits within the reporting of a “sensational” rape case in the media, but it is also consistent with the findings of Due and Riggs who argue these negative media representations function as part of a systematic racism in the media which focuses primarily on negative stories about Indigenous people, helping to reinforce dominant negative stereotypes. Thus, it is significant here that only 9% of rapes in New Zealand are reported to police. From this only 55% suspects are apprehended and of those 31% go to court. 13% of those cases will end in conviction and not all those convicted will serve prison time (McDonald & Tinsley, 2012). Within these statistics, Māori are over represented at every stage of the criminal justice process. Māori people make up 13% of the population and 50% of the prison population.[8] This is six times higher than one would expect given the relative rate of non-Māori in prison (Marie, 2011; Department of Corrections, 2007). This over representation is mirrored by Māori being over represented as victims of crime.[9] Research shows that the over representation of Māori in the prison population is the result of justice system bias and amplification whereby systematic factors that operate at different steps of the criminal justice system make it more likely for Māori individuals to be “apprehended, arrested, charged, convicted or imprisoned” with the result that Māori “accumulate” within the system in greater numbers than non-Māori and are also dealt with more severely than non-Māori (Department of Corrections, 2007, 5).

There is now much research on the ways that mass culture contributes to and reproduce racism and negative stereotypes of Māori people (Gregory et al, 2003). Research shows that Māori are consistently underrepresented in the news and when they are represented the reports are often negative. Gregory et al (2003) argue that:

Māori are not given their share of “voice” given their status as Indigenous people who have been unjustly treated in the colonisation of Aotearoa and according to their rights guaranteed by the treaty which acknowledged their sovereignty and social equity. (54)

Stories and symbols of Māori and Māori violence have carried over into current news reportings of Māori, who are categorised in a binary of “good” or “bad”. “Good” are those that fit into Pākehā society and bad includes those that do not because they are “stirrers” (such as protestors), receive special “privileges” based on their Māori identity or are violent (Gregory et al, 2003, 53). In this coverage of the Turangi case, the offender is never explicitly identified as Māori.[10] However, the use of Te Reo in the articles helps to emphasize his ethnicity:

He stood silently with his head down. About a dozen reporters were present in court and his mother read to the court a karakia he had written. (Bowen, 2012)

Judge Cooper said…“You are responsible for your actions but your whanau and your extended whanau are responsible for your upbringing which has involved a young man who has committed a serious crime.” (Francis & Watson, 2012)

In this way the offender and his family are already marked as racially other and thus are set apart from Pākehā New Zealand. Media coverage of the Turangi case portrays this “imagined reality” of Māori people as criminal, gang related and violent. Many of the articles cover details of the youth’s upbringing in order to reinforce these stereotypes:

His mother and father – whose families held ties to Black Power and the Mongrel Mob respectively – split up when [offender] was 3. [Offender] had been involved in Child, Youth and Family care, and years of “bad parenting” had exposed him to violence between his parents and from his father, alcohol and cannabis at an early age, and also sexual abuse – the most recent episode when he was 15. Defence counsel Catherine Ewen said [offender] did not see his mother, who lives in Auckland, between the age of 13 and 16, while his father had been a Mongrel Mob member for as long as he could remember. (Watson, 2012)

Here the use of ‘families’ in the plural helps to create an understanding of many, or all, Māori families as gang related. In doing this, Māori are therefore equated with negative connotations of gangs, including a capacity for crime and violence. The reference to Child Youth and Family Services serves to legitimise the media claim of “bad parenting” and subsequently creates a causal relationship between bad parenting and violence, alcohol and drug use and sexual abuse. Furthermore this discourse helps to reiterate prominent discourse of “Māori child abuse”, as opposed to just ‘child abuse’[11]  (Marie, 2010, 283). There is no coverage of whether resources and support were provided to this young man and his family, whether support will be made available to him given his experiences of violence and sexual abuse, or about the insufficient funding for culturally specific programmes based on tikanga Māori principles within New Zealand (Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, 2009, 3). Instead these “voyeuristic” images (Stringer, 2007) are presented to us as what Marcia Langton describes as a type of “war porn”, where images of Indigenous people are played out in the media in an “obscene and pornographic spectacle” which disguises the real suffering that Indigenous people endure on a day to day basis (Langton, cited in Due and Riggs, 2012, 5). In turn, this works to simplify the complex situations faced by Indigenous peoples in New Zealand and diminishes our capacity to create effective and appropriate solutions to the issues of social inequality and violence.

As argued by Due and Riggs, these constructions of Indigenous peoples as pathologically violent help to re-center white voices as “neutral arbiters of right and wrong” (2012, 8).  This is evident in the use of the case as a vehicle to advocate for tougher sentencing, even though this offender’s sentence was the harshest sentence ever handed down in New Zealand to a youth for an offence other than murder. Monopolizing on the racist representations of Māori people in the coverage of the case, Tamsin Marshall, a representative of the Sensible Sentencing Trust told One News (2012) that the:

[Offender] should have got at least the whole 18 years for his crime and as a deterrent to other people who might be “in that world” where they commit such offences. Asked if it was significant that judge “had a go” at the teenager’s parents, Marshall said: “Absolutely. They should be held to account completely and utterly. They should probably go to jail themselves.”

We can infer from her comments that “in that world” implies a world of Māori gangs, alcohol and drug use, criminality and violence. Even though there is no evidence to prove that longer sentences are an effective prevention method, indeed McDonald (2012) argues that New Zealand high sentences for rape actually contribute to New Zealand’s low conviction rate, by deterring offenders from taking responsibility for their crimes, the media continue to report on calls for harsher sentencing instead of opening up a valuable discussion about institutionalised racism and the overrepresentation of Māori men and women in prison.

An important consequence of these discourses is in the way they erase the historical context of Pākehā settler colonialism in New Zealand while enacting colonialism through the mainstream media. This has been described as a form of “elite racism” (Anderson et al, 2008, 6). Hokowhitu (2011) argues that colonialism requires a limited system of representation or “regime of truth” concerning minority groups that constitutes them as degenerates based on their racial origin, because allowing them individuality would undermine the justification for colonial rule (71). Within these news media representations this absence of examination of colonial power is evident. Following Renan, the way the news media “forgets” the violence of colonisation acts to create an image of Pākehā New Zealand which overlooks the reality of inequality in New Zealand, which is fundamentally important to discussions of racism as well as sexual abuse.   In a study looking at the perceptions of non-Māori and Tauiwi focus groups in New Zealand media, Gregory et al (2003) found that participants felt that the mass media generally reflected Pākehā viewpoints worldview, values and interests. In accordance with this, and also with Due and Riggs’ notion that the negative construction of Indigenous peoples also works to construct whiteness as virtuous, within the media coverage of the Turangi case there is much space given to the representation of Pākehā communities in New Zealand:

“The community was bewildered by a crime of such severity.”

“There was a deep sense of shame within the Turangi community.”

“Unless communities take a stand…similar things will happen again.” (Watson, 2012, One News, 2012)

The responses and actions of Pākehā New Zealand to the attack are also covered in detail:

Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said: “Heads were shaking the breadth of the country and the community was bewildered by a crime of such severity committed on a victim so young. There was a deep sense of shame within the Turangi community and throughout New Zealand that one of our own had committed this offence on a visitor whose family had come to New Zealand to enjoy a holiday.”  “We heard today too that the Turangi community raised more than $13,000 for our daughter. We are again amazed at the generosity of New Zealanders and thank this community. We know what happened was a random act of evil and will never hold Turangi responsible for it.” (Watson, 2012)

Waikato District Health Board said the girl’s family had been inundated with letters and emails from people who were appalled and ashamed at the attack. They wanted the family to know that the attacker was not representative of all New Zealanders. (3 news, 2012)

This focus on the shame felt by Pākehā New Zealand, and the large amount of money that was donated to the girl and her family serves a dual purpose. First, it again marginalises Māori people within New Zealand, positioning them as the racialised Other who are “not representative of all New Zealander’s”. This is reinforced in the fact that, presumably, some of the members of the Turangi community that raised money for the victim and her family were in fact Māori, but this is not given any media focus.  For the mainstream media coverage t overlook this serves to overlook the agentic responses of Indigenous people have to responding to violence within their communities, a theme which is also identified by Due and Riggs. Second, it works to create an image of New Zealand where sexual abuse is a rare occurrence and is responded to with appropriate resources and services. This is counter the lived experience of many people in New Zealand, considering we have the highest sexual abuse statistics in the OECD[12] and some of the worst child abuse and poverty statistics in the United Nations (Beaumont, 2011; Duff, 2011). Further to this, the $62,000 raised for the young girl and her family is not reflective of the way New Zealand deals with sexual abuse. The Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence (2009), found that support services for survivors of sexual abuse and rape are geographically inconsistent[13] and insufficiently funded across the board (2009, 34). Within the last year, 1.5 million was cut from the community and volunteer sector (Levy, 2011) and $6 million per annum was cut for counseling support (McGregor, 2012). This year’s budget sees $200 million of the Social Development budget “reprioritised” into welfare reforms aimed at getting solo parents back to work earlier. The Community Response Fund, created to help the not-for-profit sector, who has experienced increased demand during the recession, has been discontinued (Trevett, 2012). Baird’s (2008) concept of child fundamentalism is also evident here. If we consider how many cases of “sensational” child abuse are publicized in the New Zealand media it is significant that this girl and her family were donated such a large amount of money whereas other victims are not. Part of this response can be attributed to the discourse of child fundamentalism which positions the girl as “young and defenseless” (nzherald.co.nz, 2012). I would argue that it is also partly because the family is foreign and this attack disrupted Pakeha New Zealand’s ‘violence free’ image. Thus it was important to show that “New Zealand is a beautiful place with friendly caring people not monsters.” (nzherald.co.nz, 2012) With the media gaze so focused on this incident as an example of pathologised Māori violence, Pākehā are constructed as virtuous and clean of social problems and so this reporting also works to the detriment of examining sexual violence within non-Indigenous communities.

The argument made here is that the mainstream news media coverage of the Turangi case is in keeping with the findings of Due and Riggs. Similar to their analysis, the news media coverage of the Turangi rape case revealed a prominent discourse of Māori people and their families as inherently dysfunctional and having a capacity for violence and for crime. In comparison to this construction of indigenity, Pākehā are presented as virtuous and violence within their communities is disavowed or at least, not tied to ideas of culture or ethnicity. Barbara Baird’s theory of child fundamentalism is also identified, but is extended in that it can be seen to apply both to the victim and to the perpetrator. . In speaking about the Turangi case in this way, the media silences the voices of minorities and makes hyper-visible the views and attitudes of Pākehā people, in order to make invisible the hierarchies of race, ethnicity, gender and class that exist in New Zealand and that are fundamental to the perpetuation of racism and sexual abuse.


[1] I have chosen not to use the offender’s name as the paper is interested in the representation of the teenager rather than the teenager himself.

[2] Indigenous Australians represent 2.3% of the population and make up 14% of Australia’s prison population and they are 12.9% more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians (creativespirits.info, 2008).

[3] While there is no comparable government policy to the intervention in New Zealand it is interesting to note that elements of the intervention program are being introduced by the National Government. The new welfare budget aimed to get solo parents back into the work force will introduce ‘payment cards’ to unemployed youth, similar to the cards used for welfare quarantining in Indigenous communities (Trevett, 2012). While this does not target Indigenous people directly a disproportionate amount of unemployed youth are Māori or Pacific Islander’s (Youth in the NZ labor Market, 2009).

[4] In this reading “sensational” cases are those that involve someone of notoriety or an “exceptional” circumstance such as gang rape (Ardovini-Brooker & McDonald, 2002).

[5] In terms of adult sexual abuse stranger rape makes up roughly 3% of all rapes and the majority of rape involves coercion (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2010).

[6] The offender’s job as part of a Turangi pruning gang is made known to us by the media (Watson, 2012).

[7] In child sexual abuse cases 85% of offenders are known to the victim (McGregor, 2009).

[8] Maori women make up 60% of the female prison population (Department of Corrections, 2007).

[9] Māori women are twice as likely to experience sexual violence (TASV, 2009)

[10] Before the offender’s name was released TV One did explicitly identify the offender as “16 and Maori” (One News, 2012).

[11] 60% of notifications made to CYFS are made by non-Maori families (Merchant, 2012)

[12] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

[13] 70% of New Zealand’s female population has access to crisis support, some areas of the country have no access (2009, 3).

[14] This discourse was not identified in the Due and Riggs analysis, but Barid argues that motherhood for Indigenous women in Australia is barely a viable subject position in colonialist discourses identified by the state and the Indigenous man is often marked as violent or neglectful (2008, 300).

[15] The offender’s father went to prison for assaulting his current partner the day after the teen was sentenced (3 News, 2012).

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Rape Crisis Philosophy and Te Ao Maori

I’m still working on my condensed version of the piece I wrote about the Turangi rape case, but hopefully I will get that up this weekend! In the meantime, in respect of the acknowledgement of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi last week, I thought I would write a brief piece about Rape Crisis philosophy and the influence of two pūrākau or stories on this philosophy. This is recounted from my Tauiwi understanding of these stories so am happy to hear if anyone has a better understanding.

Rape Crisis philosophy is based on a bi cultural and collectivist philosophy formed in the early 70s during the survivor movement. Here are two stories from Te Ao Maori that I have been told that discuss sexual violence, there are probably many others with different interpretations.

One pūrākau that discusses rape and incest is that of Tane and Hine Ahuone. Tane, who was an atua (a godlike entity) went in search of a female entity. No female form existed at this time except the female essence of mother earth. A female form was created from this essence by Tane and the other atua, when Tane took clay and fashioned it into the form of a woman. He breathed life into the form and invigorated it, creating Hine Ahuone. Tane and Hine Ahuone had children together, one of whom was called Hine Titama. Over time Tane and Hine Titama had a relationship together. One day, Hine Titama  asked about her father. When she discovered that Tane was her father this caused her great distress and she ran into the realms of the night. Tane followed her to bring her back and she replied to him through karanga, she told him to look after their children in life and she would look after them in death and she became Hine-nui-i-te-po, the guardian of death. This story highlights (in my understanding) that the relationship between Tane and Hine Titama was not right, and required action to be taken in order to return balance to that relationship. Hence why Tane was to be the kaimanaaki of their descendents in life and Hine the role of kaimanaaki in death.

One other aspect of Rape Crisis philosophy that pertains to one of these stories, is the fact that it does not distinguish between bodily rape and the rape that many women feel of their land and their culture. This acknowledges that in New Zealand colonisation forced the separation of Maori wahine from their land. Within Te Ao Maori women are considered as te whare tangata (the house of humanity) and therefore are treated with the same consideration as Papatūānuku, who is the creator of all life. This separation of Tangata whenua and the land, parallels the separation of Ranganui and Papatūānuku by their children in the Maori stories of the original sin, this separation was considered a rape, and act of violence as the parents were separated without their consent (Taonga, n.d.).

Hinetitama by Robyn Kahukiwa

Hinetitama, 1980, by Robyn Kahukiwa (1940– ).

The Northern Territory Intervention

In keeping with my theme of colonization and the invisibilisation of indigenous Australians (and as it was Invasion Day recently), I am posting an extract from a piece I wrote about an article written by Clemence Due and Damien Riggs  “The Terms on which Child Abuse is Made to Matter” in 2012. The piece provides an analysis of the mainstream media coverage of the rape of a 10 year old Aboriginal girl by nine Aboriginal men in the Indigenous community of Aurukun in the Australian Northern Territory. They argue that Indigenous Australians, particularly children, are represented in the news as passive and voiceless and requiring the help of white institutions. They contend that through these discourses colonial power relations are ignored and white voices are re-centered, by ignoring the agentic responses of Indigenous peoples to violence in their own communities and the utilization of Barbara Baird’s (2008) theory of “child fundamentalism”. I used their work to do a similar analysis of the media coverage of a high profile child rape case in New Zealand, perpetrated by a young Maori man against a white child whose family were visiting New Zealand for a holiday. I will write a more reader friendly version of what I wrote some time in the weekend when I have more time.

For now, it is important to provide some background of the political climate in which the Due and Riggs article was written. ‘The Terms on which Child Abuse is Made to Matter” was within the Howard government’s Northern Territory intervention. In June 2007, two months before the hearing of the ‘Aurukun case’, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough called a press conference to a declare a state of emergency in Aboriginal communities. Their announcement came after the release of the ‘Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle-Little Children are Sacred Report’. This report was an inquiry into the allegations of the sexual abuse of children in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory (Barid, 2008, 21; Due & Riggs, 2012, 3). The Howard government announced a program of 11 key intervention measures into these Indigenous communities; some of these measures include pornography bans, alcohol restrictions and welfare quarantining (Baird, 2008, 21; Due & Riggs, 2012, 4). Due and Riggs note that media coverage of the intervention often referred to the Aurukun case in order to justify the intervention, and particularly, that a paternalistic approach to the intervention was appropriate (2012, 4). Due and Riggs argue that the discourses and debates about child sexual abuse in relation to the intervention and the Aurukun case, mirrored the “everybody’s business” discourse that was evoked by Diane Bell in her 1989 piece “Speaking About Rape is Everybody’s Business”. Bell, a white anthropologist, co-authored this piece with an Aboriginal woman-Topsy Napurulla Nelson. The article is about intra-racial rape in Aboriginal communities and contends that rape within Aboriginal communities has been overlooked and needs to be brought to light. A letter of protest was written in response to the article by 12 Aboriginal, women headed by Jackie Huggins. The letter argued against the main premise of Bell’s argument that speaking about rape was everybody’s business asserting “you may well see rape as everybody’s business from a privileged white perspective but when you are black and powerless it is a different story” (Huggins et al, 1991, 506).

Further to this, Due and Riggs argue that within the mainstream media accounts of the Aurukun case, child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities was made to be “our business”, that is non-Indigenous peoples business, through the utilisation of Barbara Baird’s (2008) concept of “child fundamentalism”. Baird argues that child fundamentalism is a way of characterising how ‘the child’ is positioned as a category “with which one cannot disagree” (291). This discursive figure of the child is not always specified in detail but brings meaning over and above reference to real historical children and instead mobilizes the child as a fixed and absolute category. Within this discourse the child often becomes iconised and fetishised. She argues that child fundamentalism is often utilised in the service of a particular (in this case, conservative) worldview (2008, 293).

What the analysis of Due and Riggs’ reveals is that the media coverage of the Aurukun case is not neutral or objective, but tied up in particular constructions of whiteness and indigenity. They found that Indigenous communities were frequently represented as “violent, out of control and dangerous” and Indigenous children as passive, helpless and in need of white authority to rescue and protect them. They note that none of the articles included a discussion of the case within a context of colonisation, dispossession or child theft but instead located violence as the failure of the white justice system. In this way, Indigenous violence is cast as personal and cultural rather than as a result of existing structural inequalities that have come about through the process of colonisation and white voices are cast as “neutral arbiters of right and wrong and Indigenous voices as partial or damaging” (2012, 8).

Following Storr (2009) they contend that what was most at stake were issues of the political and legal responses to the case rather than the case itself (Storr (2009), cited in Due & Riggs, 2012). The mainstream media discourses argued for custodial sentences for the accused but did not acknowledge the context of current and historical power relations that allow a white justice system to deliberate over incidents involving Indigenous Australians, “indeed white law may well have let the girl down by not punishing the perpetrators of this crime, but it may have equally let down the nine males if they are sentenced to jail”. It is helpful to consider Rebecca Stringer’s (2012) position here, that “the violence that jails a disproportionate number of minority men is part of the injustice of rape” (29). Overall Due and Riggs contend that the messages provided by the mainstream media in relation to the Aurukun case were “too simple and too easy to understand” (2012, 6). By erasing the violence of colonisation and inequality the media simplifies a very complex situation into one which requires white people to be more active in providing justice and protection, mainly to Indigenous children.

Revisiting ‘Tomorrow when the war began’

 

***Content warning for: sexual violence, post traumatic stress disorder, colonisation***

I spent my new years break re-reading one of my favourite series from my childhood, the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden. There are seven books in the original series, and an epilogue that consists of three books called ‘The Ellie Chronicles’. The books follow Ellie (the ‘writer’ of the story) and a group of her teenage friends during the invasion and colonisation of Australia by an unnamed foreign power. Ellie and her friends avoid the occupation and operate as a guerrilla group throughout the war. My 12 year old self was obsessed with these books and waited anxiously for each one to come out. My present self enjoyed re-reading them too, there are lots of positives in the way violence is explored in the series that I am glad my young self was exposed too. Ellie often discusses the complexities surrounding the gangs use of violence, and you hear her experiences first hand of the way her use of violence changes her, traumatizes her and results in the loss of many lives. Including the lives of some of her loved ones.

However, my young self never got around to reading ‘The Ellie Chronicles’, because at the time I was so disappointed in the ending. Ellie, who has dreamed of finding her mother since the war began and returning to their farm, find her mother who is so traumatised by the process of colonisation that she can barely speak. Instead of things returning to as they were before, the colonisers remain and the land is split up. Ellie and her family only end up with a small portion of their land returned, and have to lease out the rest of it at exorbitant rates to the occupiers. So, as is the reality of many countries, colonisation continues and is ongoing, something my young self couldn’t seem to fathom. As an adult, I am disappointed that at no point during the series was the parallels to this situation and the lived experiences of the indigenous people of Australia ever mentioned. The fact that Ellie often refers to Australia as ‘my country’, when in fact, that country was stolen from indigenous aboriginals using many of the same tactics of violence and dispossession outlined in the story (and many others) is conveniently invisibilised, taking away from a powerful way of teaching young people about the ongoing trauma and violence caused by colonisation, both in Australia and in Aotearoa New Zealand. But that’s another blog.

What I wanted to write about today, is the treatment of sex and sexual violence in the series. Again, there are really encouraging moments in the books where Ellie is represented as a desiring and initiating sexual subject. There are explorations of her sexuality as something that is purely physical and sexual, and also as something that is intimate and emotional. Conversely, there are also very tired representations of women’s sexuality as passive, where she often acts at as gate-keeper to her sort-of-boyfriend’s (Lee’s) sexual advances. Lee too, represents the dominant discourses of male sexuality. He is aggressive, always wants to go ‘all the way’ and often acts coercively towards Ellie, being angry and sulky when she refuses him. At one point telling her ‘thanks for nothing’, when she chooses not to have intercourse with him.

That aside, what agitated me the most was the book in which Ellie gets raped by an acquaintance at a party. At one stage during the books, Ellie and her friends are taken to New Zealand where they stay at an army base before returning to Australia. Ellie meets a young man when she is giving talks about the war at secondary schools and he invites her too the party. She gets extremely drunk and the man (Adam) rapes her. She describes trying to pull her jeans up but eventually thinking she just wants it to be over so she can go home. Needless to say Adam never asks if she is interested in what is going on. Ellie describes the situation:

“I was gone, I’d had it. And he changed really suddenly…it wasn’t working for me, I was just doing it, I don’t know, because I was expected to, I suppose, he expected me to…I felt too sick and drunk to stop him, to even try to stop him. I’m not saying I was too drunk to do anything about it, it wasn’t like that, I mean that’d be rape”

Which it was. But it’s never addressed further, her friend tells her she should have known better, because Adam was obviously a creep. Her counsellor tells her the whole situation is just her reaction to witnessing and living with the death of one of her closest friends. Throughout the following three books the rape is constantly on her mind, she frequently describes feeling dirty and ashamed, she says it felt like he attacked her, that when she slept with Lee she could feel his love for her but Adam made her feel like he hated her. At one point, while fighting with an enemy soldier she has a flash back to Adam raping her and has a panic attack. Basically, the series tells the realistic story of a survivor. However, as a child I didn’t know anything about sexual violence. When I re-read the books I didn’t remember the rape scene, although I remembered her having a sexual encounter with a gross guy. I imagine that 12 year old me absorbed that situation as just one of the many ‘risks’ associated with sexual relationships.

And it occurred to me that hundreds (maybe thousands) of other young people have read these books and thought the same thing, or maybe someone has read this and it has reinforced their own self blame and denial of an abusive situation. Or maybe it has justified a reader’s perpetration of harmful sexual behaviour, as something that they are not responsible for.  There are many implications of writing a narrative like this for a young audience with no analysis of it as an act of violence, of power and control.

But it also highlights the power of the media and of storytelling to change the way young people think about sex, sexuality and sexual violence. Teen fiction has a major influence on young minds and there is massive potential there to reach wide audiences with messages that promote positive, ethical and respectful sexual encounters and/or relationships. Those early years, before young people start engaging in relationships, are a crucial time to promote prevention messages and much research shows that young people want to know about how to have respectful relationships, how to communicate, negotiate and engage in sexual activity. Changing the way we write and talk about sexual violence or even the discussions we have with young people when they encounter messages like this, is a powerful way to help shape a violence free future.

Creating a violence free future

**Content warning for discussions of rape, coercion and sexual violence**

Sometimes it feels very difficult to look forward and imagine a world free from sexual violence. As a crisis worker, and a person who has to live within rape culture, it is often very challenging to be surrounded by the stories of violence, trauma and sadness that are so commonplace in everyday life. When I first started to do this work, I faced a huge change in my perception of the world and the people in it. Hearing about the terrible things that some people do to others and being faced with the reality of the impact this has on so many survivors, was in many ways too difficult to comprehend. And while all the stories I have ever had the honour to hear from survivors have been courageous and inspiring it is, as i’m sure many supporters will tell you, extremely affecting.

In my lowest moments it is hard to think it is possible to change rape culture, to eliminate rape and, indeed, I have had many conversations with people who would argue that rape is inevitable and there is no way to create change. I can understand why people feel that way, when we are surrounded by rape and rape culture. And also because it is difficult for those of us who do rape prevention to show and quantify for people what is not happening-which is after all what we are trying to achieve. It is easy to feel that way when I read Australian National Crime Prevention Survey stats which show that 14% of men and 3% of women think ‘It’s okay for a boy to make a girl have sex with him if she has flirted with him or led him on, that 15% of men and 4% of women think ‘It is okay to put pressure on a girl to have sex but not to physically force her.’

But despite all of this, as Andrea Dworkin has said: “I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is.” Feminism is a hopeful politics and it has taught me that even when we are bombarded with the negative this does not mean that change is not possible. Sexual violence prevention work is for me, something that reflects the concepts of feminism more generally. It is about believing the world to be capable of being something other than it already is. And change is so achievable, I know it when I read things like ‘Where Men Stand: Men’s roles in ending violence against women’ by Michael Flood which states:

Compared to 14 years ago, men and women are now
more likely to:
• Agree that physical and sexual assault, and threats, are
domestic violence;
• Recognise the spectrum of domestic violence
behaviours as ‘very serious’;
• Agree that domestic violence is a crime;
• Agree that forced sex in an intimate relationship is a
crime;
• Reject the myth that women ‘ask’ to be raped;
• Support public rather than private ways of dealing
with violence and harassment;
• Report that they would intervene in some way in a
situation of domestic violence.

While the work of primary prevention takes time, there is a growing body of evidence that shows it is effective and we can change people’s behaviour in a way that operates in accordance with feminist norms of equality and respectful relating.

 

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The ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’- Nottinghamshire Police Anti Rape Campaign

Nottinghamshire Police have launched a new anti rape campaign in time for Christmas, a reworded version of the well known story which now features a rhyming rape narrative. 

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The BBC news reads: 

Helen Chamberlain, from Nottinghamshire Police, said she did not believe the poem was misguided at all.

“We have been heavily criticised in the past for focusing on victims and giving out persistent warnings to victims about keeping safe.

“This year we decided to try a different tactic and target the perpetrator.

 

And indeed, other Christmas time anti-rape posters (of which there are many examples) by the police have featured the ‘let your hair down not your guard’ and featured news articles telling women to ‘not become a rape victim this Christmas’ 

These ads have been (rightly) criticized for the emphasis they place on women to avoid rape, so while the Nottingham police posters present rape in a way that is deeply problematic, trivializing and probably extremely triggering there is merit to some parts of the message which reinforce that survivors are not responsible and perpetrators are to blame. Nevertheless, there are significant problems with the image overall, apart from the fact that 70% of people only look at the visual in the ad so for most people it will make no sense whatsoever, the image and the text reinforce worn out tropes of all women as potential victims and all men as potential perpetrators, something that rape prevention theory has shown to be ineffective (as well as being generally offensive to men and women). Furthermore, the tag line ‘don’t think you can take what you want because you want it’ is a terrible way to represent the violation of survivors’ freedom, self determination and bodies through rape, reinforcing a discourse which says women and sex are something that are merely objects, an ‘it’ according to the poster.

Finally, while it is reassuring in a sense that the poster aims to highlight that the police take rape seriously and prosecute sexual offences this is not really the case. Statistics show that one survivor in 30 will see their rapist convicted, and this is out of a pool of only 15% of survivors who report in the UK. If this image is aimed at perpetrators and wants to deter people from raping it won’t because consistent with other behaviour change campaigns (drink driving, etc) deterrence appeals only work if perpetrators think there is a real possibility of being caught, convicted and facing a substantial penalty. Which there isn’t.  

The most disappointing aspect for me is that Cathy Saunders, of Midlands Women’s Aid, said: “I personally think it should be withdrawn and replaced with something that has a little bit more insight and advice for women on how to keep themselves safe.” This is depressing advice from a specialist service, particularly because that message is always given to women, it does not work and strategies that focus on women work to depolitcise sexual violence, obscuring women’s understanding of rape as a social issue with structural causes and collective solutions (Vetten, 2011). 

 

 

Love and violence prevention

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bell hooks’ work has been a major influence in my own feminist politics but also in my research more generally. Today I am writing about the ways her work on loving ethic can be utilised for sexual violence prevention interventions.

I will provide an overview of hooks’ work on love primarily from the following three books “All about love new visions, Men Masculinity and Love and Feminism is for everybody”. However, this being a big part of her scholarship I have drawn from other texts as well.

For me hook’s work lends itself very readily to feminist discussions of rape prevention and I am interested in three aspects of her work on love which highlight this link:

Her contention that we need to work from a shared understanding of love and work to practice this in all of our relationships, not only romantic.

Her work addresses the complications of love for individuals who have witnessed and/or experienced abuse and provides a space to consider how we draw a boundary between love and abuse which she considers mutually exclusive. She argues that “the myth that love and domination can coexist is one of the biggest lies told to us by patriarchy”.

Her work speaks directly to the reimagining of patriarchal and hegemonic constructions of masculinity, a piece of work that is fundamental to sexual violence prevention. Effective rape prevention engages men not as potential perpetrators but as allies in eliminating gendered violence, approaching men within a framework of love gives us the opportunity to draw on what many men already do in their relationships and working towards harnessing love, empathy and compassion in order to behave safely in public and private.  

Love has long been a foundational principle in anti-violence work, and is a key principle in many faith based schools of thought and in many indigenous communities. I am thinking quickly here of Martin Luther King’s speech on loving one’s enemies “hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”, of practicing loving kindness during meditation and of the principles of tika, pono and aroha in Te Ao Maori. These understandings of love are not equivalent, but rather I am using them to show that love may be a way for different groups to find shared meaning, in a way that speaking of gender, sex and sexuality (sometimes) cannot do. Indeed hooks reminds us that “all the great movements for social justice in our society have strongly emphasized a love ethic”.

The study of love in feminism and also queer studies has been influential in many ways. Romantic love as a social institution and a form of social control as described by Kate Millet in Sexual Politics, ‘love of the self regardless’ as described by Alice Walker and the complexities surrounding love, sex and sexuality outlined in Lynne Segal’s Straight Sex, are a small selection of a large field of theoretical work on love.

bell hooks’ conception of love argues that love acts to transform relationships of domination. Her theory of presupposes that everyone has the right to live freely and to live well. According to hooks love is a practice, love is not instinctual we choose to love but in patriarchal culture, romantic love is tied to notions of possession and submission. The idea of love catches you unawares, you fall into it and it renders you powerless. Luce Irigary speaks also of the way love is framed in language in I love to you, “I love to you means I maintain a relationship of indirection to you. I do not subjugate or consume you. I respect you (as irreducible).”

Because there is no school to teach us how to love, we do not work from a shared definition or understanding of what it means to love. And thus hooks provides us with a definition of love, care, commitment, knowledge, integrity and the will to cooperate.

Part of her work involves speaking of her own childhood abuse at the hands of her father and mother and also witnessing abuse between them, and the way she grappled with understanding what love was when she never felt as though she experienced it. I think her work on love is significant to discussions of preventing the revictimisation of people who experience abuse, as well as preventing before it happens, as witnessing abuse is a risk factor both in perpetration and victimisation. To have a clear understanding of what love is and is not, is to me a fruitful space for thinking and talking about violence prevention. An example of this is work done in Australia in a project called ‘Spreading the Love’ where one woman said:

“For us it’s almost like lump (love + hump) is the same as what anyone else would call love but because I guess my experiences have lent themselves to people saying that they love me and then doing stuff to me that I don’t want them to do then it’s kinda like twisted inside my head. So it’s almost like the creation of the word ‘lump’ gives me a way of expressing that without associating it with something that I don’t want to experience”. So love is a concept that can be used as a basis to understand one another and the way we wish to be treated, working together we can create shared meanings of love but also the behaviour we expect from others.

Finally, hooks argues that feminism has offered amazing critiques of patriarchy but few insightful ideas about alternative masculinity which, I would argue is something that is actually a primary focus of violence prevention. She argues that men are brainwashed to consider violence against women as part of male privilege and this stops them from seeing the damage that is done both to others and to themselves. She states:

“men who win on patriarchal terms lose in their substantive quality of life. They choose patriarchal manhood over loving connection, first forgoing self-love and then the love they could give and receive that would connect them to others”

Utilising her work on love, helps us to provide an alternative to violence. We can encourage people to practice new positive behaviour as Baker (2013) argues “True prevention moves beyond stopping violence to promoting healthy behaviour. This requires positive and specific words to describe what we want to do”. To make love a verb, an act of doing, is to re-frame our behaviour and actions and orient them towards more equitable and respectful relationships.