Yesterday’s herald featured this cartoon, which may have set me off on a rant elsewhere:
— Rod Emmerson (@rodemmerson) March 13, 2018
One News also broadcast perfectly innocent footage from the party for some unfathomable reason, violating privacy of people completely unrelated to this incident. (fortunately, you can no longer find the footage online for TV One, but if you feel like violating the privacy of a bunch of people who presumably did not in any way enable this situation, you can for some reason still find the footage at Newsroom, its original home, or The Herald) There have also been gleeful headline attempts to paint Megan Woods as somehow irresponsible for forwarding on the concerns of a young woman who attended the Young Labour camp, which is absolutely unfair. (RNZ’s article previously had a similar headline, but has been updated, if people want to see how it’s done) However even RNZ has had many hours of making the same mistake as commercial media and treating this like some story about Political Crisis Management, rather than about sexual assault, what causes it, and how public and private organizations can properly meet their duty of care and prevent it, or support people who have survived it. (An illuminating example is listening to Guyon grill Labour on Morning Report about not reporting the incident to the police, and then later on in the same show they had an expert on who informed them very casually that actually letting survivors lead the process and decide when or if to contact the police, their parents, etc… is the least harmful thing to do for their particular case) It is also worth noting that apparently this story broke without any warning to some the survivors of the sexual assault, which really to me seems like the very least a reporter who thinks they’re doing this story for good reasons should do. This reporting has, taken as a whole, monumentally failed to respect the wishes and centre the interests of the people it is supposedly trying to help.
Now, I don’t know if any of this is nefarious, (and to some degree the blame surely belongs on the first-first-first management incentives imposed on online news environments, which we can discuss later) and I’m not trying to imply any particular biased motive here so much as a failure of reporting to be socially responsible and helpful, but while the camp organizers admittedly made a mistake by not sufficiently supervising the camp to prevent underage drinking, and an exploration of the dark sides of NZ’s boozy social culture is long overdue, (really, we could have another every year and not be doing too many) it is by all accounts not the heart of this story, and in fact the strong narrative around Alcohol from the National Party and its integration into all these stories strikes me as a mischievous distraction from caring about these four young people who have been sexually assaulted, and stopping future assaults. This isn’t to say the survivors might not want it addressed too, but it is to say that the focus on it is already unhelpfully out of touch and unintegrated with the other social problems involved.
The core problem as I see it is that a fifth young person, although not as young, thought it was okay to do this. A drunk person might be more likely to sexually assault someone than a sober person, sure, but, and here’s the key bit: It will never happen unless they think, on some level, it’s okay, or funny, or not-such-a-big-deal, to touch someone sexually without their enthusiastic1 and ongoing2 consent.
This was also a much older man than the four survivors involved, which suggests he also didn’t consider that he has an extra responsibility when he is attracted to people significantly younger than him to treat them with care and respect due to the implicit power imbalance.
None of this happens without young men growing up in a society that believes, on some level, it is normal to touch people without consent. It is normal to disrespect their agency, and their ownership of their bodies. It is, sadly, normal to harass, assault, or rape people in New Zealand. There is a word for that, and that word is rape culture. (yes, those are all different links, from the actual top of my head, and boy would I love to hear some people in news linking these things together and suggesting the same things might be behind all of them)
The idea that just getting drinking out of environments for young people will fix sexual assault to the degree we need to seems laughable. It will move the places young people are drinking around, not eliminate them3. People at these places will always be impaired, and will always therefore be at increased risk of sexual assault, and while I agree we should have supervised drinking if at all at any event containing young people over 18, you will note nobody is suggesting careful supervision and parental consent for situations in which young people might be similarly impaired, such as when they’re grieving a loved one’s passing, or have just broken up.
People who need impaired victims to commit sexual assault will still find them among sad people, high people, and lonely people. People who will only commit sexual assault while impaired will still do it, even if we magically eliminate all drinking in the culture of young New Zealanders, (and that is definitely a hypothetical) because they too can find or happen to be in situations that will impede their judgement. There are arguably a few people out there whose unconscious attitudes are unhealthy, but whose conscious mind checks them, who will maybe be stopped by ensuring responsible parties for teenagers- but those people will still grow up to an age at which they can’t be supervised, and may still manage to sexually assault someone if the primary cause of their being willing to do so is not addressed.
So let’s all agree the contributory factors are relevant, (and do deserve to be discussed on their own merits) but are not the heart of the story. What can we do to address the real causes of sexual assault?
With thanks to the-day-before-yesterday’s thread and numerous other sources, I have a laundry list of things you can do, and they largely involves changing our culture as boys and men: (I make no claims that it is exhaustive or even contains the best solution in it)
In short: Let’s not let the mainstream media distract us by trying to make this story about how much people were drinking. It is about four young people who were hurt by the actions of a fifth young person, whether those four were appropriately cared for, (which I think we all agree is a “no” now in at least some respects?) what actions we’ve taken to specifically address the behaviour of the fifth, (yeah, he’s being charged, but has anyone considered offering him some education to give him tools to better control his behaviour in the future?) and to address the systemic risks that led us here, both in the running of any future camps associated with the Labour Party, and in the culture in general as per this post.
And, seeing you got through the whole thing, here is your reward courtesy of the multi-talented Stephanie Rodgers:
A counter view. pic.twitter.com/7SnReIBOeb
— Stephanie Rodgers 🌹 (@bootstheory) March 13, 2018
1 Compare: “Okay, yeah.” vs “Oh, yes!” Contrast one affirmative signal to several, in succession. You get the picture. This is why “mixed signals” isn’t a problem you should be talking about regarding consent- mixed signals mean no until otherwise clarified, and aren’t an excuse for harassment.
2 One “yes” or affirmative body language or incident of enthusiastic participation is not an indemnity against someone changing their mind, people. When you are at traffic lights, you check that the light has stayed green as you approach the intersection, you don’t check it was green once then never look again.
3 Although there is good research saying trying to minimize youth drinking does minimize harm, my point is it won’t completely eliminate places where under-age drinking occurs, and that’s all you need for people to commit sexual assault. Anything less than complete prohibition is just moving this problem around to the degree it’s intentional or systemic, and many women seem to think it’s at least one of these two in basically every case. There may be some incidental gains, but the biggest gains will be in preventing to harm caused by drinking.
4 This is where the often-misquoted feminist argument “every man is a rapist” comes from- it’s actually “every man is potentially a rapist,” as in, there is literally no way to find out for sure if a man won’t rape someone when you’re experiencing rape culture, other than by giving them a chance to. Even some men who were vocally anti-rape have committed rape in the past, and tried to excuse it, and the appalling prevalence of this problem will continue until all men are very clear that it’s not okay, not even a little, to dehumanize anyone, but especially women.
(for an example of “moving the problem around”: Young Labour or any other organization bans drinking altogether at any camps they organize or associate their organization with, but takes no steps to reform the person who did this, and the government makes no aggressive moves to help curb the causes of sexual violence- whoops, the next incident just happens somewhere else, possibly even with the same young man causing it, and all we’ve done is maybe have one organization wash their hands of the problem, and even then, maybe only temporarily)
Pic credit: Amin Allen Tabrizi