Newsroom is reporting on the sexual assault of four teens at a Labour Party Summer School last month. Please read the article if you want to comment on that.
It’s likely that there are issues with how Labour have handled this, at the time and since. I hope they will review both how their summer camps are run, and how they deal with sexual assault within the organisation. They need to prioritise the wellbeing of the people that were assaulted. It looks like they also need to review their internal processes (the Prime Minister didn’t know about the assaults until a few days ago).
It’s also likely that we don’t as yet have a good understanding of what happened, both with the assaults and with Labour’s handling of the situation. So instead of reacting and rushing to judge, how about we take this time to look at sexual assault gets talked about.
What interests me right now is what Labour do next. There will be intense pressure from both the MSM and from the right (I expect the Dirty Politics crews to be in full swing). There will also be scrutiny from the progressive left including from feminists and others involved in addressing rape culture. I’m sure the anti-solidarity politics part of the left will have their reckons too, and Labour have their own internal culture that will range from clueless to progressive. There will be tensions between all those groups. I really hope that Labour gets this right, both acknowledging where they have messed up, and making clear, unequivocal, on to it statements about what will be happening next.
New Zealand is still very bad at addressing sexual assault or knowing how to talk about it, although some spaces are better than others. Yesterday a flame war started up on The Standard in discussing the sexual assaults. I came in late and saw a bunch of left and right wing men having a fight about it. Not surprised but still disappointed. So I want us to talk about how to talk about sexual assault, and I want to give a general heads up for moderation going forward.
What is not ok is to make discussions about sexual assault hostile. Women in particular want safer spaces to discuss rape culture and the politics around sexual assault, and when discussions are made hostile many women will simply not take part. Which then leaves the kōrero with men, including men who are either uneducated about sexual assault and the politics around that, or who have an agenda that doesn’t include preventing rape or making spaces safer.
My position last night was that men generally need to sit down and shut up and start listening to what women have to say. This is coming after a week of watching the backlash against Alison Mau and Paula Penfold since they started the #metoonz investigation at Stuff. That backlash has been driven mostly by older white men within journalism, but the discussion around it on twitter was also full of progressive, well meaning men, many of whom were saying good things.
The main problem with telling men to sit down and shut up is that it’s the progressive and compassionate men that will do so, and they are the ones who are usually more informed and more willing to push back against rape culture. So let me rephrase this. I wrote a post recently about #metoonz and why gender equity matters, and it applies here. If we want to solve the problems that lead to rape and rape culture, then we need to amplify the voices of the people that understand what is going on and how to address it. Women have been at the forefront of pushing back against rape culture for decades. There are many women who have important things to say, and if the space is yet again taken up by men, those voices get lost.
My request then is this. If you want to understand what is going on, then ask. If you have a good handle on what is going on, then please share from a place of informed opinion, but also please amplify the voices of women, and pay particular attention to making the space attractive for women to take part.
Apparently because it needs saying, it’s not ok to use the sexual assault of people to score political points. Yes, Labour have made some mistakes here, and they need to be held to account. But if you are a right wing man who has been hating on Labour for some time, and even more so since the election, consider it might not be your place to make accusations against Labour now.
And make no mistake, feminists know full well that the left is not free of rape culture or sexual assault. So the point here isn’t to bash Labour, it’s to point out that rape culture transcends the conventional left/right divide and all men need to take note of that. Left wing men need to get better at addressing this within their own cultures, and right wing men need to resist the temptation to have a go.
There are already more aspects to this story that are unfolding. I chose to not go into the story itself very much, partly because I just didn’t know enough yet, but also because it seems more important to talk about how we talk about sexual assault first. I’m asking here that as a community the commentariat makes an effort to up our game.
Moderator note: the usual boundaries – no rape apology, don’t politicise rape. The priority of this thread is to provide a good space for women and survivors of sexual assault to discuss politics. Others are welcome to post considered comments.