A History of the Rise of Rape Culture in New Zealand
Updated: Feb 13
This article examines how the various power plays from various agencies and organisations and the toxic effect of the politics of money has impacted on and dehumanised sexual assault survivors over the last 50 years in New Zealand.
New Zealand has often been a testing ground for various technologies and concepts. This is because of our stable population, first world law structures and geographical isolation. This allows a situation where outcomes as they apply to an entire population can be identified and measured.
To apply reasoning to the question of sexual abuse as it applies to the United States for example, is fraught with difficulties due to the myriad range of laws and jurisdictions that can apply.
New Zealand also funnels all state provided services and entitlements available through the Accident Compensation Act 2001. The state agency in charge of what amounts to a compulsory insurance scheme is called the Accident Compensation Corporation.
I have had many years of experience dealing with ACC in what ACC refers to as "sensitive claims" and as such I am in an position to detail past and present processes and dynamics between the Corporation and the sexual abuse survivors of New Zealand.
To gain a full understanding of survivors are in the position we are today it is necessary to go back to where it all started.
I grew up in the time when the social upheavals that drove the creation of the Corporation's Sensitive Claims Unit (SCU) took place and I recall vividly the mood of that period.
The 1960's ushered in the age of the contraception pill and free love and society went through massive turmoil. The 1980's was a time when the outcomes of societies shift from conservative practices to free love and self expression were starting to become clear.
Part of that was a rapidly increasing awareness that the concept of free love was being enthusiastically embraced by those with pedophilia on their minds.
Child pornography was being published alongside adult pornography and there were no laws in place that actually made this illegal.
This combined with the fact that Gen X children were growing up absent of the close supervision experienced by most of our parents created perfect conditions for child sexual abuse.
The 1980's also ushered in the age of DNA testing which was to prove a potent tool in prosecuting sexual assault cases but there are limits. In child sex cases and in cases where the adult victim was killed, DNA shut a lot of doors for an elusive offender.
In adult non lethal sexual assault cases however, the offenders switched from the "I never touched her" defense to the "Sure I touched her, she wanted me to do it and is now lying" defense. As a result the offenders reliance on rape culture myths increased accordingly.
Activists of the day campaigned strongly to raise awareness and in raising that awareness the situation for victims was initially improved. In 1992 the government listed sexual assault as a class of mental injury that allowed access to entitlements provided in the Accident Compensation Act 1992.
It was not long after that the things started getting ugly. The activists had indeed raised sufficient awareness in society to turn the spotlight on the situation but they were hopelessly naive.
There seemed to be this expectation that once everyone "knew" about sexual abuse the offenders would have no choice but to pull up their pants and the sexual abuse epidemic would end.
Reality had different ideas. It is important to note that the issues I am about to detail here are still as relevant and detrimental today as they were back then.
One of the entitlements available under ACC was a payout of NZ $10000. That was a lot of money by NZ standards back then and still an impossible sum for many people now. No points for guessing what happened next.
The public became far more concerned with the urban myth that anyone could go to ACC and get a payout of $10000 by signing a form saying the bad man touched my vagina (or penis if required). The whole idea of such a thing offended the core of NZ sensibilities.
Worse was to come. In 1993 a man called Peter Ellis was charged and convicted of child sex offenses in what was to become known as the Christchurch Civic Creche Case. The public had been hearing horror stories about child sexual abuse for some time.
Peter Ellis had been identified as one of these types who would prey on children and the public were hot for his conviction. However as the case unfolded the mood swiftly turned and what was to follow was a savage backlash against survivors in NZ.
What I write here is simply what happened. This article has no focus on the rights and wrongs of the various forces in play it is merely an account of what was.
Peter Ellis was a flamboyant gay individual who was the only male worker at the Christchurch Civic Creche.
Males were assessing their commitment to working with children as slogans such as all men are rapists were chanted by demagogues and the male monster was revealed to a society that had only just started recognizing sexual abuse as a societal issue.
Peter Ellis was not concerned however. The response to concerns that a male may be labeled a predator just by virtue of being a male was that the innocent had nothing to fear and Peter Ellis happily accepted this as his reality.
Unfortunately his naivety was to result in what was to become New Zealand's most controversial sexual assault trial. This article is not focused on Ellis' guilt or otherwise but what the facts do present is that the judicial system made a complete farce of the matter.
As a result of a great deal of highly dubious conduct the victims in the case will never receive justice despite Ellis' convictions.
The weight of public opinion supports the view that Ellis was the victim of a witch hunt triggered by a sexual abuse survivor with serious issues and perpetuated by the judicial system and self proclaimed "experts" who had come out of nowhere to drive the sexual abuse treatment and activist systems.
The case is complicated and the best argument for Ellis' innocence would be Lynley Hood's book A City Possessed. As unpalatable as it is Lynley Hood raises a multitude of eyebrow raising issues in her book.
For example the fact that the women who worked at the creche were also arrested and accused of offenses that sounded like the ravings of a fantasist. Those accusations never reached court but the fact of them had a cynical effect on public opinion.
Combine all this with the fact that the parents of the children at the center of the claims were almost forced to take $10000 from ACC and the backlash was as certain as it was aggressive.
Survivors were suddenly viewed wholesale with suspicion. No man was safe. Children could be manipulated into making claims. Charlatan councillors were using the issue to inflate their own importance. People were making claims to get easy money off ACC.
As divorce rates climbed so did accusations from both men and women alike claiming abuse of their children by their partners. Men who were caught claimed they were motivated to offend because they themselves were abused.
The result was that female survivors were treated as if they could make a false claim at any moment and male victims would go on to be offenders. Family court disputes gave the impression that false claims in criminal court must certainly abound.
The government responded by revoking the lump sump entitlement under the 1992 Act and replacing it with a weekly payout system of generally around $50 a week but the tar had well and truly stuck.
Defense lawyers in criminal cases routinely seek to make ACC entitlements, real and mostly imagined, a motive for a woman to falsely label and accuse an innocent man.
In a short space of time the suspicion and anger aimed at sex offenders was now focused more on the victims with predictable consequences.
One on hand survivors in court were dismissed as framing a man for the purposes claiming free and easy money from ACC which was in fact an urban myth.
The fact that a survivor did not need to have to have their offender charged by the Police is the fact that makes a mockery of such allegations but the urban legend is what holds sway in a juries mind.
On the other hand the fact that the claimant does not have to go to the police (for the reasons above) is used against claimants who seek entitlements without reporting the matter to the Police by our detractors.
Let's keep in mind that we are not supposed to actually win here.
Rape culture in New Zealand was now in full swing and around the world the same malaise was surfacing. Child Creche cases in the US and the UK had also occurred in the same period as NZ and it is in these cases that we find the many of the seeds of the rhetoric we still hear as a matter of routine.
The Police in NZ struggled to deal with these new social dynamics and from the Police point of view the law was in the cross hairs of both sides. Abuse activists decried the lack of convictions in sexual assault cases.
Those caught up in the hate and suspicion the Ellis case had foisted on us muttered and in some cases shouted tales of men being dragged screaming from their work and homes on the word of mad women.
It did not help that various other high profile cases had shaken confidence in the Police. Up until the Ellis case the public politic was that if a police officer said it was so it was so. Not any more.
Dark tales of the "sexual abuse industry" circulated and councilors were regarded with suspicion and contempt. The fear was that the councilors would convince impressionable children that they had been abused when they had not.
Needless to say the actual offenders were very happy to inflame these tensions and sexual assault statistics continued to rise. The youth of Generation X were in an invidious position.
On one hand the message was that our innocence and safety was sacrosanct while on the other any of us that actually presented issues were treated with contempt and open hostility. The government added fuel to the flames by increasing sentences for sexual assault.
Even sexual abuse activists argued back in the day the move would only give incentive to rapists to kill their victims and act as a deterrent to obtaining convictions for no appreciable gain. Time proved these arguments to be essentially correct.
While it is hard to quantify how many victims died as a result of rapists trying to cover their crimes the reality that average citizens have proven to be loathe to hand out convictions for crimes that could result in twenty years imprisonment.
The 90's arrived and in 1995 the Internet started to extend its tentacles into homes around the world. One of the results of that technological advance was the sudden rise in child pornography and another was the offenders now had a way to try and covertly gain access to children in their homes.
Internet service providers shamelessly promoted the premise that children who did not have internet access would be seriously disadvantaged. Up until that point the censorship regime in NZ was reasonably effective.
In our teenage years it was nigh impossible to get into an R rated movie deemed unsuitable for younger people. Now all of a sudden people were rushing to give their children access to what essentially amounted to technological anarchy.
The only rules that applied were the structures and processes put in place to ensure the integrity of the machines ability to deliver data on the internet. There was much discussion and effort related to viruses for example but very little in the way of the social implications.
At first the authorities were taking out offenders effortlessly. After all the offenders were sitting in highly open chat rooms under the false belief that hiding behind a computer was sufficient protection to avoid accountability.
Activists in the period soon heard about this new scourge soon enough and immediately started raising the matter in the media. It was always going to happen but once again the "once everyone knows" mantra failed to gain orbit.
The offenders became aware that they were vulnerable and started to take more action to conceal their crimes. Law enforcement responded but the days of easy pickings were over.
This was also a period where public sentiment swung back more towards survivors now that the public had a class of offender where resulting legal outcomes were essentially black and white. This was not to last long.
In the 2000's a high profile case involving police officers came to light after the media pursued the historic allegations of a woman called Louise Nicholas.
The result was that two of the officers involved were convicted for the historical rape of another woman but were found not guilty of raping Louise Nicholas along with a third accused, Cliff Rickard.
During all this a protest was organised with the intention of marching on a police station. These protesters were met with a wall of policewomen who were brought in from all over the city to prevent an escalation of tensions.
This was a smart move by the police brass who realised that a group of women protesting against police sexual violence facing off against a wall of stony faced male officers was not going to create a positive impression.
The media were present of course looking for their sound bite and it was the protestors who gave them what they were looking for. The media focused on a woman who was clearly incandescent with rage and gave that as an impression to the public to take away as the main driver behind the protests.
Louise Nicholas went on to become a public campaigner who was to liaise with the police to ensure the needs of victims were met by the police force. Results have been mixed.
The 2000's also saw the Labour Government of that period revamp sexual assault laws including the laws that involved sex with a minor. Labour was proposing adding a Romeo Juliet clause to the legislation.
The National party opposition seized upon this to claim that Labour wanted to legalise underage sex and of course the public were swift to buy into that. I recall hearing a woman on talkback radio.
"There are 11 years olds having sex everywhere!" she shrieked. The presenter was so keen to expand on that claim he specifically asked the caller to wait for the ads to play so they could keep talking about it.
The fact that no one was able to point to any examples of such activity between 11 year olds was clearly not going to be allowed to get in the way of a good old public beat up. The law was never implemented.
The next major event was known as the "Roast Buster" scandal. Teenage males were posting on Facebook their exploits which involved group sex encounters with girls under the age of 16.
Enter the trusty public once again. The uproar was all consuming. Members of Parliament thundered at each other across the house while the media played it all up as much as possible.
"Where are the police?!" was the cry because as we all know the police are always the answer to everything. The Police had not done anything because none of the girls in question were willing to come forward and were essentially totally against the idea.
I wrote to politicians telling them to pull their heads in and pointed out they were driving these girls into self harm situations.
Did they think that this is what these girls wanted? Did they think that turning their private matters into a national wide media circus was in any way helpful?
I received responses from politicians almost dripping with panic and the chest beating and the inflammatory rhetoric died down.
The public, who had no interest in the well being of the girls in question but rather were there to make it all about themselves, lost interest and the matter faded into the background.
However the issues that resulted from that farce were not dead, just sleeping. The next viper to raise its head came in the form of the scandal known as the case of the Opotiki Five.
A deputy principal at a school in Opotiki had been informed by other students that certain girls had been having sex with their older teenage boyfriends. With the predictably of sunrise the school immediately acted to ensure the schools butt was sufficiently covered.
The police were brought in and after the Roast Buster scandal were just as focused on the required butt covering and in the face of vehement opposition from the girls in question dragged them all kicking and screaming into court.
Remember the proposed Romeo and Juliet law that the National party flamed and whipped up the cheap seats to oppose? Well that was supposed to prevent cases where agencies trampled all over the "victims" to protect their own perceived interests.
The result of all this self serving maneuvering from various self interests was that the girls of the Opotiki Five found themselves facing a judge in court in total opposition to their own thoughts and will in the matter.
The judge discharged the accused without conviction
Judge Bidois said the traditional approach was young people needed protecting from themselves. In this case, the girls, who largely rejected the label "victim", had instead become victimised by the system, he said.
Earlier in the hearing, one of the girls tearfully read a victim impact statement to the packed courtroom, where dozens of people were forced to sit on the ground.
"I know I'm under 16 and and legally cannot give consent but I did," she said.
"Police have not listened to me or how I felt."
She did not want to be classed as a victim and the most harmful part of the situation had been the police investigation.
"The police are determined to make [the accused] pay and make me feel like what I had with him was dirty and disgraceful. There was never anything disgusting about us being together." Source NZ Herald
The evidence is clear that the survivor politic is bedevilled by self serving interests determined to make these complicated issues all about themselves. Agencies respond to their perceptions of public opinion.
The fact that most of that opinion is sourced in ignorance and self serving interest is of no concern to these agencies. In the meantime as the agencies stumble from one self induced disaster to another a large section of the public seeth in their resentment and hostility towards us.
The Opotiki Five case demonstrates a range of complex issues but what is certain is that a response where the rights of a victim to self determination and to be able to make her own choices are overridden is not a valid one.
All of this contributes to public cynicism which goes on to express itself in the form of resentment to towards survivors. The lack of public faith in the agencies mandated to address sexual assault matters only adds fuel to fire.
This ends the historic overview of the rise of rape culture in New Zealand. The next article will focus on how this culture has permeated the Accident Compensation Corporation to this day.