The underbelly of Dunedin streets

A collaborative article written by the feminist group on campus that I contributed some things to.

Note: This article contains potentially upsetting graphic comments.

With street harassment posing a constant threat of intimidation to the women of Dunedin, the OUSA Feminist Group presents a call to action for both bystanders and victims.

“I was walking down George Street with my boyfriend one night when a group of guys walking behind me kept talking aloud between themselves saying things like, ‘She’d get it’ and ‘She looks like she could take a dick.’ It made me sad not only that they were saying things like that to me, but that my boyfriend didn’t really know how to respond at all. I guess if he had stopped and said something to the guys they would have gotten aggressive, so it was a situation that neither of us could have fixed, really. Later he said to me, ‘I guess girls just get used to it,’ and he didn’t really understand my response: ‘Why should we?’”

It is interesting and saddening how normalised street harassment is. It is something that we rarely talk about, and yet, when the subject is raised, most people have a story to tell about how they have personally experienced street harassment, or at the very least, the fear of it. It is also important to recognise that, while this article outlines the gendered nature of street harassment incidents, other groups experience public harassment directed towards them, too. The 2013 European Union LGBT survey highlights that street harassment is also a major concern for LGBT people. 50 per cent of the 93,079 respondents of this survey (aged 18 years or over who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) claimed that they avoided certain places or locations for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed because of being LGBT. Racially motivated street harassment is also an issue that has been raised in the international student community in Dunedin.

Gendered street harassment is unwanted and unwelcome attention in a public space, often of a sexual nature and usually directed at women. Wolf-whistles, excessive staring, graphic sexually violent comments, groping, stalking and public masturbation – most women experience at least some of these throughout their lives from strangers in public spaces. For many women, their regular occurrence prompts us to be conscious of the “safe” routes to our destination, spurs our crossing the street to avoid groups of chads or construction sites, and for some of us, causes constant anxiety in public spaces. International research indicates that over 70 per cent of women, and an unknown percentage of men, experience street harassment.

Even more troubling is that in most of these studies half of the women reported these experiences having a detrimental impact on their lives, resulting in many of them feeling unsafe in their neighbourhoods. The consequences of experiencing gendered street harassment on a regular basis, as is life for many women in Dunedin, are huge. The feelings of fear, anxiety, objectification and disgust do not fade easily, and they inform future decisions that women make when deciding where they can be in public, when and with whom. Self-esteem and self-worth may also be affected for women who are subjected to these experiences. While there is little research available for the New Zealand context, just talking to women will elicit numerous stories of experiences of a wide range of threatening behaviour in public.

While most women will understand the frequent occurrence and level of gendered abuse and intimidation directed at women in public, many men may not know – or believe – how bad it can be. This is not simply an international problem that occurs in far-flung places. Street harassment takes place daily on George Street, on Castle Street, in the Octagon, at any time of the day or night. It’s probably happened outside your flat. The culture of street harassment in Dunedin is not okay, and sharing our stories and shining light on the dirty underbelly of street harassment is a way to tackle it head-on. Make no mistake; we are not talking about genuine compliments from socially awkward, misunderstood guys. Street harassers make their remarks with full disregard and disrespect to the woman targeted, as these quotes illustrate:

“I was browsing in St. Vincent de Pauls when a lone, tattooed, white male, about 30 years old, strode past, sized me up and announced loudly: ‘Tall enough, but you got an ugly face, girl.’ Then he stood and looked at me with a smug grin on his face. I was shaking with anger but was too intimidated to say anything, for fear of being followed. No-one else in the shop said anything to him and it took me months to work up the courage to return to browse again.”

“I have lost count of the revolting comments I have received from men of all ages walking past me while I am minding my own business in the day-time. The most memorable include: ‘That girl looks like she needs a cock up her arse’ (said by a 16-year-old boy in school uniform with his 10 other mates); ‘That one looks like a good pussy’ (said casually in earshot by two young men walking down George Street, middle of the day); and ‘Give us a go!’ (Shouted by a middle-aged man out of his car).”

“I was walking home from Uni when guys in a car yelled, ‘I’m gonna fuck your pussy,’ then they sped off. Not only is this language yuck but it frustrates me that I wasn’t given the opportunity to respond.”

“I was waiting to cross the lights at Albany Street after walking home from the gym and a car full of guys stopped beside me. One of them politely said, ‘excuse me,’ so I turned around. I was then asked, ‘Do you squat?’ I responded by saying, ‘You don’t have the right to look at my body and make a comment about it.’ I was shaking and so intimidated. It had taken years of receiving gross comments from guys to actually say anything. While I’m glad I said something to them it took a huge amount of courage and I was actually really scared responding.”

“I was walking down the street with my mum when these guys drove past us. They lifted their shirts and pressed their chests against the car window, screaming at me. I was only 14 at the time and it made me feel so uncomfortable.”

“Walking down Moray Place on a weeknight I have experienced a group of five or so men standing across the road – all of them continuously wolf-whistled at me the entire time I was in their line of sight – for over a block. That level of scrutiny and invasion still makes me feel on edge whenever I hear someone wolf-whistle, wherever I am.”

Moreover, some at-first seemingly harmless harassers become aggressive when their comments go ignored or are confronted. Victims of gendered street harassment are often targeted when they are by themselves, and often by a group of harassers. This adds another level of fear for the victim as they are instantly at a disadvantage, and may feel powerless to either verbally or physically protect themselves. Dunedin women have shared scary experiences of men objectifying them, treating them as property and escalating the abuse when challenged; suggesting that they have a sense of entitlement to women’s attention and
bodies, as these experiences highlight:

“A friend and I were walking home past The Cook at night and a drunk guy was outside. He called out ‘Hello, ladies’ and we kept walking, engrossed in our conversation, so he aggressively spat on the ground and yelled out ‘SLUTS!’”

“I was walking home and some dude yells from a car, ‘you going to town?’ I ignored them and as they drove off he yelled, ‘I’ll shove my cock up your ass.’”

“I’ve had a dude physically stop me on the street before when I wouldn’t pay attention to his cat-calling and I actually thought I was gonna be attacked. It’s fucking scary.”

These are the experiences of women from our local community and they occurred in public places that you have probably frequented before. These stories represent the tip of the iceberg; and are only a few examples of the countless incidences women experience on a regular basis. People that you know probably have many more stories of their own that they could share. The striking prevalence and normalisation of harassment is why we felt compelled to write this article. So why does it happen? Is it just individual assholes? Then why is the aggressive language so similar? The above quotes from different women illustrate similar sexually violent language that these men used to frighten women – much of the language invokes the threat of rape to gain a sense of control over them in public. There may be a variety of motivations; some harassers band together in groups to show off to their mates, while others are alone and have no-one to impress. Regardless of their individual motivations or character flaws, these stories are indicative of a minority of men’s assumed right to appraise women’s bodies, degrade them and assert authority over them. The feminist project of gender equality is still a much-needed and attainable goal. For example, this from a Dunedin women,

“I was in town with my friend, and as we were walking past a bar, a man grabbed me and refused to let me go. When I managed to forcefully pull away, he began shouting at me saying things like ‘Fuck you! You’re MY property,’” exemplifies the gendered power dynamic that exists in these instances of street harassment. As long as there are some men who believe they have the right to act this way because they are men and towards women because they are women, then we need to see this as a gendered issue and not just a case of individuals being assholes. It is attributable to a broader social set of gender relations that this behaviour is a regular, normalised occurrence. All people should be able to freely move around public spaces without fear of harassment and the negative emotional consequences that can arise from this harassment. The fact that this is not possible for all women demands our calls for action.


There are a plethora of things that each of us can do to tackle this culture of street harassment in Dunedin.

First, we need to acknowledge that gendered street harassment is NOT a compliment, nor is it the victim’s fault. Street harassment is unwanted and makes the victim feel uncomfortable, scared, intimidated or embarrassed and shares no common ground with a compliment. By dismissing street harassment as a compliment, it dismisses the experience of the victim, and the way it made them feel.

Secondly, we need to start standing up for people who are harassed. This can be done in a variety of ways and is one way that men can really help lower occurrences of street harassment.

Bystander intervention is one such strategy. Created as a rape prevention strategy, it is most associated with the work of Vicki Banyard and her colleagues at the University of New Hampshire. The bystander approach works from two key premises: First, that sexual violence is a social and structural issue rather than the problem of individuals. Second, it works from an understanding of sexual violence as a continuum of behaviours ranging from healthy, age-appropriate, respectful, and safe behaviours to sexual abuse, rape, and violent behaviours. Between these two points are other behaviours – where street harassment is situated – that begin to feel inappropriate, coercive, and harassing.

In order for this strategy to be effective, individuals need to notice that something is happening, recognise the event as a behaviour along the sexual violence continuum, take responsibility for providing help, know how to intervene and choose to intervene safely. From this perspective, people may intervene in situations at one end of the continuum, such as stopping a friend from making sexually harassing comments to someone in the street. The value of this approach is that it means each person can be engaged in preventing sexual violence by taking small and straightforward actions in less extreme situations. When you hear someone harassing someone else, call them out on it. Tell them it’s not okay. Coming from a friend or a peer, being told that harassing behaviour is not okay is an effective way to tackle street harassment.

Third, we can share our stories of harassment in Dunedin with each other and support people who have been a victim of street harassment. This can be done by providing a sensitive and caring place to talk through what has happened, rather than dismissing the harassment as a compliment, joke or not important. Not only does this legitimise the feelings that victims of street harassment experience, but it also makes clear how normalised and invisible this culture of harassment is and may spur the community to acknowledge the problem, and harassers to examine
their behaviour.

The global mobilisation of feminists and their allies raising awareness about street harassment has spurred the development of online websites, smart-phone applications to record incidences and map harassment “hot spots,” regular news articles highlighting the problem and a variety of poster campaigns aimed at problematising this behaviour. is one such website which states that it is “powered by local activists in 71 cities and 24 countries.” It provides a platform for people to share their experiences and receive support from others. At the local level, the OUSA feminist club has created a tumblr page and is inviting people to share their street harassment diaries. This space gives people an opportunity to detail their experiences within a length of time – depending on how regular street harassment is for them. You can submit your experiences here: We will also be holding events throughout the year, so watch this space. The more we speak out about this issue and its prevalence, the more support we can mobilise to change this culture of abuse.

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2014.
Posted 4:32pm Sunday 18th May 2014 by OUSA Feminist Group.




Survivor experiences of the criminal justice system

****Content warning for sexual violence, rape, criminal justice system, victim blaming, racism****

There is a lot going on in colleges in the United States at present, with many feminists campaigning around sexual and dating violence on campus including the announcement of a new initiative to increase federal funding for the Department of Education to address the high rates of sexual assault on colleges campuses. In this blog from Wagatwe at Feministing she speaks about the way this initiative and the survivors who are supporting it are derailed by discussions of why survivors don’t report to the police and utilise the criminal justice system.

As a crisis worker and survivor advocate, I have spoken to many survivors who face huge amounts of pressure and scrutiny from partners, friends families and others about needing to report what happened to them to the police in order to ‘stop’ the same thing happening to other women. Many of these women don’t want to report their rapes, but are made to feel responsible for the actions of perpetrators and their crimes. Similarly, many of them do report the assaults to their schools, university’s, halls of residence, work places, doctors, or places of care and are faced with disbelief, told there is ‘nothing anyone can do’ or sometimes charged and investigated for making false allegations (a very rare occurrence).

I am not suggesting that women don’t use the criminal justice system, many women utilize the justice system and are entitled to have their day in court regardless of the outcome. What I am interested in, is this notion of the criminal justice system as the only way that survivors can seek justice and the way this ignores how survivors view their justice needs and also shuts down valid and alternative methods of seeking justice such as through Universities or through indigenous models that don’t align to western concepts of retribution and punishment. For my post grad thesis I wrote about survivors views of procedural, retributive and restorative justice and how these would better align with a host of reforms which were suggested to the New Zealand criminal justice system (which, unfortunately were never adopted).

As a diverse group of people, survivors have very mixed ideas about what justice means to them. Some wish for retribution or punitive
consequences for offenders and report having vengeful and/or violent feelings towards offenders . One New Zealand survivor notes:

His mother pleaded with me not to go through with the charge. She said if he went back to jail it would be the finish of him and that it would be the end of her. I felt sorry for her-but then he did it didn’t he? I didn’t see why he should just get away with it; after all it’s me that has to live with it.

However, a study by Doob and Sprott (1997)  found that victim/survivors of sexual violence are less supportive of extremely punitive justice systems than those who have not been affected by similar crimes.

Exposure, rather than retribution, was the most often cited reason for pursuing cases in the literature I looked at. Exposure was considered important as it served to ensure the safety of the individual survivor but also the safety of others. The intention was to prevent further crimes, rather than punish the offender for the crimes they had already committed. One victim/survivor in Herman’s (2005) study initiated civil action after the prosecutor decided not to pursue her case.

She explained, “I wanted him to go to court, money wasn’t the issue. I wanted him embarrassed. He was going to have to tell his family. He wanted to sign a confidentiality agreement; I said no of course I’m going to tell people about it’” (p.594).

This resonates with some victim/survivors in the study by Barrington et al. (1983) who felt that prison was the only available option, but this was not considered a satisfactory solution in the long term as it would not modify the offender’s behaviour.

One victim/survivor of gang rape said: “I am glad they’re in prison because another girl is safe while they’re away, but prison is not going to do them any good”

A small number of victim/survivors felt that while the criminal justice system should play a role in facilitating or producing justice for them and other victim/survivors, nothing would ever undo their experience or totally compensate them for the wrongdoing. A victim/survivor of Malcolm Rewa from Jordan’s (2008) study commented on the inadequacy of the retributive nature of the justice system:

Hearing the word guilty or not guilty is not going to take away what happened to you… we are paying for him to have three meals a day, watch TV, build up his body in the gym, blah blah blah, how ironic is that?”

Whether through formal or informal means the objective of most survivors was acknowledgement from their communities and an admission of guilt from the offender was neither “necessary nor sufficient” to validate the survivors claim. Survivors in Herman’s (2005) study were acutely aware of the way the crime was an act of disempowerment and humiliation and so sought to restore their status in the community, particularly in cases where the offender was a part of the same community.

The validation by bystanders and communities was considered of equal or greater importance, as it affirmed solidarity with the survivors and re-established their connections with their communities. Within this view of justice it was important for survivors to let their families and communities see through the offender’s deceptions (Herman, 2005):

I think I ought to believe he should be jailed, because I think it of other men who abuse children… I would think it of my father if he abused someone else… but if it was ‘just’ me, I want him to be seen for what he is by people who matter to me (p. 593).

So, alternative methods of justice such as college based processes not only fit better with the needs of survivors they are also preventative in the ways they address sexual violence in communities. If we have appropriate sanctions for sexual violence at all levels of society, if survivors are believed and their communities support them and validate their experiences, not only do we do the work of prioritisng survivors and their healing but we also send the message to offenders that we know what they have done and that their actions are unacceptable. To do this on a grand scale, in every institution, workplace, family and home is to do it properly. To do it on that scale is to create real change. When so few survivors report and so few offenders are convicted, we need to think bigger than the criminal justice system, we need to make it a part of every facet of our communities in order to send a consistent message and end rape culture.


Submission to the select committee for sexual violence

**********Content warning: rape culture, graphic content, sexual violence, woman hating, suicide, sexism****************

Late last year the government announced a select committee inquiry into the funding of specialist sexual violence services in Aotearoa/New Zealand. As a community worker, this is something that our sector has been asking for for a long time. Many of our rape crisis services are only funded for around 33% of the services they deliver and only 70% of the country has access to twenty-four-seven specialist sexual violence services and these services are less accessible for women in rural areasFurthermore, there are no twenty-four-seven kaupapa Maori-based specialist sexual violence services, meaning that Maori women are even less well serviced than non-Maori women (Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, 2009). We have been fighting for sustainable and adequate funding to provide specialist services to the thousands of survivors and their whanau who require support every year. I wrote a submission based on my experience as a worker and the impact the lack of funding has on those of us who work long hours for no money and experience serious burn out and vicarious trauma. I have five minutes next week to speak to my submission and have input into the select committee’s decision on how our sector will be funded.

I am going to include what I plan to say to the committee at hearing. As part of my submission I am planning to talk about a woman I supported a long time ago who I think about often. I want to explain that I usually don’t share the stories of survivors (clients or people I know) because I don’t believe they are my story to tell. However, this particular woman didn’t survive and for me, to tell this story is to remember her and to not forget the profound impact that sexual violence has on individuals and on all the people around them. All the woman and supporters I have ever worked with remind me of this, but this woman and her story is important to me because it was the first time I (as a privileged pakeha, middle class and straight woman) really understood the extent, gravity and injustice of rape and rape culture.

So, as you can imagine five minutes is barely enough time to scratch the surface of all the things I wish I could say to the government about rape and the inadequate funding of the sexual violence sector. I have worked in the SV sector for over five years, doing paid and (mostly) unpaid work supporting survivors, delivering education and doing strategic planning on both local and national levels. The lack of funding to our sector means that we can’t afford to pay any of our staff full time, nor what they are worth, and most people we can’t pay at all and so the majority of support work done in our community is voluntary. The type of work that we do is very difficult and requires huge amounts of emotional, psychological and spritual strength. This type of emotional labour is predomnatinly done by women who are over represented in the sexual violence sector (I say this not to invisibilise the work of many men who also do this work, but to point out it is still largely considered ‘women’s work’). This type of work is routinely devalued and this is reflected in the lack of funding that is provided to our centres to provide services which both change and save lives.

Many people have said to me, ‘but it is your choice to work in this area’ and that is true. But it is also the choice of this government to refuse to provide adequate funding to survivors. It is the choice of this government to say that the work hundreds of women do around the country to provide these services is not important, is not worthy and is not valuable. It is the choice of this government to say that survivors ( the majority of which are women) are not deserving of care.

And by telling us that the work women do is not valuable, this government feeds a rape culture which tells all women that they are not valuable. This government through their deliberate choices to ignore the needs of women reinforces a rape culture which allows a man to abduct a woman, rape her, strangle her, piss in her mouth, drug her, whip her, beat her, spit on her and tell her that she is nothing, that no one cares about her, that she is not important and it doesn’t matter what happens to her.

And this government tells her that this is true by choosing not to fund a service that could help her. This government makes me complicit in abusing her when she comes to the centre in which I work and I tell her that she can’t get counselling because there are 12 other women on the wait list, and we can’t afford to hire any more staff. That the support workers all have to work other jobs to pay their bills because we don’t have enough money to pay everyone, so they may not always be available. 

This government contributes to abusing her by failing to provide support for this woman and thus telling her she doesn’t matter. This government in choosing not to provide services, to which she is entitled to as a human being and also as a victim of crime, creates a culture in which she can say to me ‘I wish he had killed me because that’s what I deserve’. The choices of this government means that instead of going home that night she will throw herself off a cliff.

And this is the reality and the consequences of the choices that you have made. The consequences of your decisions are not abstract, they are tangible and they are painful to survivors, to their families, to the sector and to women and communities in general.

So, I ask you to remember this when it comes to your reccommendations about how to fund this sector . And if as Hekeia Parata once told me when I tried to explain this to her, there is no more money ‘it’s all about the way you cut the cloth’, then I ask you to cut the cloth in a way that reflects that the work I do and the work you do is of equal imporatnce. Cut the cloth to reflect that all survivors are deserving of care and support. Cut the cloth to show that every person is taonga, and we will all do whatever we can to value them. Ahakoa he iti he pounamu. 


Bystander approaches to sexual violence prevention

In 1964, the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese shocked Americans from coast to coast. While a man attacked, raped, and killed a young woman over an hour and half, it was reported that over 38 witnesses watched and did nothing to help. This story sparked research into what is known as the ‘bystander effect’ the phenomenon in which people do not offer help to another person in danger even though they are present. While the Kitty Genovese story has now shown to be a myth, as in actual fact several people tried to intervene or called for help and the police failed to respond, work around bystander intervention approaches have proven to be very effective in sexual violence prevention work.

Bystander intervention as a rape prevention strategy is most associated with the work of Vicki Banyard and her colleagues at the University of New Hampshire. The bystander approaches works from two key premises. First, that sexual violence is a social and structural and social issue rather than a problem of individuals. That is, sexual violence impacts and affects everyone, not just those who are direct perpetrators or survivors. Second, it works from an understanding of sexual violence as a continuum of behaviours ranging from healthy, age-appropriate, respectful, and safe behaviours to sexual abuse, rape, and violent behaviours. Between these two points are other behaviours, ranging from those that begin to feel inappropriate, coercive, and harassing.

In order for this strategy to be effective, individuals need to notice that something is happening, recognise the event as a behaviour along the sexual violence continuum, take responsibility for providing help, know how to intervene and choose to intervene safely.

From this perspective, people may intervene in situations at one end of the continuum, such as saying something at a party when a person makes inappropriate sexual comments or speaking out against a friend who is sexually harassing their partner. The idea is that this then stops these behaviours from progressing to acts at the other end of the continuum, thus stopping acts of rape and sexual abuse before they happen. The value of this approach is that it means each person can be engaged in preventing sexual violence by taking small and straightforward actions in less extreme situations.

You can find resources, publications and online e-learning courses for bystander intervention at the National Resource Center for Sexual Violence

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” (, 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.” (, 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 (, 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).

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.