I called it the anti-anti-anti-smacking protest, because I'm easily amused. While I wanted to register my support for Sue Bradford's bill, I was also there because I was curious about the protest.
It was reasonably large, I counted 480 (including children and babies). The counter protest hovered at around 50, although they weren't always the same 50 people.
I was extremely creeped out by the way children were used by the pro-smacking crowd.As they were approaching parliament the march was chanting: '2-4-6-8, we don't want your nanny state'. Someone I knew asked a boy, who looked about seven, 'what's the nanny state', and he blushed and said 'I don't know'"
I have to say that I've been able to explain why I was on a protest, and what it meant, for an age much younger than that boy was. I knew what nuclear weapons were, I knew what apartheid was, and I knew why I was against them. I think if your child is old enough to chant at a protest, you should sit them down and explain them why they're there.*
The speeches were quite dire, I tried not to listen to them. I did hear one man claim that this legislation would turn the police into the Gestapo. Which manages to be both ridiculous, ignorant and offensive all at the same time. I'm still not sure why Christine Rankin was asked to speak - surely being the all time most hated public servant isn't actually a qualification for anything else?
Weirdest accessories were definitely the Israeli and Jerusalem flags. Apparently they represented that we were a nation founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs (they may have a point, our rape laws have some uncanny similarities to the old testament). The person with the flag also explained to me that Jesus was a Jew, and he was raised by Jewish parents. This is hard to argue against, but I'm not sure what it has to do with Section 59.
Although the most counter-productive accessories were probably the wooden spoons, that some people were using as sticks for their banners. If you're trying to convince people that what we're talking about is 'loving taps' (to use the words of one woman who appeared on the news) it seems really foolish to bring along an instrument you could currently be using to beat your kid with.
The randomest sign was definitely the one that said "If abortion is illegal, why make smacking illegal?" I can think of two connections between abortion and smacking, they're both things the Christian right get excited about, and neither of them start with 'z'.** I'm not sure why that means there should be any similarity with the way the two issues are treated legally.
What was clear about these marches is that they hadn't mobilised anyone new. The pro-smacking march was clearly made up almost entirely of Christian fundamentalists and libertarians (with a smattering of father's rights activists), the counter-protest was mostly made up of those working on family violence, green and labour party members, and a smattering of rabble activists like me.
This isn't a criticism of either side. I've spent a good part of my life mobilising the people who already care passionately about the issue. But, this is not a case of the masses taking to the streets against the legislation.
* When they're too young to chant then do what you will. The Frog will reply to the question "Which is better capitalism or anarchy" with a cry of "Anarchy" - he then puts both fists in the air. My communist friend Larry has asked him "which is worse Communism or anarchy" - which produces much the same results. (yes by letting his Godless father indulge in this behaviour his parents will see him rebelling and becoming an accountant and Young Nat by 21. Me I'm just teaching him to say "Joss is Boss", so far he can do "Jossboss")
** Although let me just say, if we're talking about democracy the christian right doesn't have a single leg to stand on if they're going to bring up abortion. Then they had no problem ramming through legislation that went against what 'the people' wanted.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I called it the anti-anti-anti-smacking protest, because I'm easily amused. While I wanted to register my support for Sue Bradford's bill, I was also there because I was curious about the protest.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Last Wednesday I think I doubled my life-time total of geek points. It went something like this:
1. I bought a single issue comic book
2. that I'd pre-ordered,
3. from a comic book store,
4. on the first day it was released.
5. I had a conversation with the guy in the store about the quality of the book
6. that ended with me saying "of course it's good it's written by Joss Whedon."
I am now the proud owner of the first issue of Buffy: Season 8. I even have it in my hands, which is rare - it's been lent out to various people pretty constantly since I bought it.
I've never tried to review a comic book before, and it seems to be quite a difficult exercise. I've only got a very small part of the story. It's like reviewing a TV show at the end of the first Act
I'll start with the art-work - it's not as bad as I'd thought it would be. The preview art showed the most obvious distortions of women who already have a body-type. It helps that I like the cover, while the proportions are annoying, the basic image is of Buffy strong and confident. Or maybe I'm getting desensitised already
As for the words (far more important to me, since they were the bits done by Joss), I'm excited. There's not much there, and I'm nitpicking all over the place. But it's definitely worth reading, and I'm excited about what's going to happen next.
Now the problems:
- Xander the general of the slayer army - it's not OK to have only one man in an organisation and have him in a leadership position. I'm fairly sure that goes against the message of at least two season finales (3 and 7).
- Amy? Really? That really disappoints me, and makes it clear that Joss's thinking of her more as an object than a character - hey she's someone we can bring back - people have heard of her so they'll be excited. In the high school episodes Amy was a great character, and The Witch is one of the most successful metaphors they ever put together. I don't see why they had to do this to the girl who was so excited about eating brownies. I'm aware that this is actually an objection to Season Six - so I'll add, I didn't actually need to be reminded of the Magic!Crack plot-line - I'm doing a good job of blocking that out - just like I block out Spike's existence post Seeing Red.
- I trust Joss enough to believe that Dawn didn't actually become a giant by having sex with a thricewise, because we really don't need to go there again.
So those are my gripes. I love the dialogue (of course I love the dialogue, Joss wrote it). I'm very excited that the US military are treating Buffy like a terrorist cell - definitely a plot with a lot of potential.* I like where Buffy is emotionally, it seems quite realistic to me - the thing about changing the world is that when you do it the world's all different. Sounds like a good starting point.
* Although hopefully less annoying than the actual potentials.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
The Workers Party have organised a talk about the police at Victoria. They've called their talk Fuck the Police! and it's on the role of the police as capitalist law enforcers.
I don't know if the title was intended as a pun, or if they didn't think of the literal meaning of the word 'fuck' when they named the talk. But either way I find the title distressing. Every time I see it, I read it as an order. In most circumstances these sorts of double meanings don't matter. In my last post I didn't mean that Shakespeare was fucked by someone in the head, but if someone had got that image from my post that would have been fine. I don't think it's fine to advertise a talk that includes police rape cases with a title that can be read as an order to have sex with a police officer. Given how many women have been fucked by the police, the title is deeply insensitive.
I know the people organising the talk, and don't doubt their intentions. But I do sometimes wonder if some left-wing men see this as another opportunity to uncover the true nature of the police, in much the same way as they see the latest taser video. I agree that exposing the true nature of the police is a worthwhile goal. But I'm uncomfortable with ways of doing that leave the experiences of the abused women to one side. I don't think that the men in the workers party are any more prone to this than any other left-wing men. But I do think the lack of consideration that went into the title of this talk is probably a symptom of that wider problem.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Regular readers may have noticed I'm a Billy Bragg fan. I am - although I resent the fact that he hasn't toured New Zealand since I became a fan (which is a long time - I'm almost 29 and I once sang 'A New England' and meant it). Anyway in a recent YouTube excursion (a rare treat for me, since I don't have YouTube at home). I found a copy of Billy Bragg and Bill Bailey singing Unisex Chip shop (Bill Bailey's Billy Bragg parody). I can't recommend it highly enough - the gherkins and tigers are perfect:
There's lots of Billy Bragg fun on YouTube. My favourites included Between the Wars from his first appearance on Top of the Pops - he's so serious. I also loved this video for There's Power in a Union, but I couldn't decide if I thought the images of women were tokenistic (I'm leaning towards 'no they're representations of a gendered workforce')
Then there's videos for Sexuality, Great Leap Forward, Boy Done Good. Just a warning that they're a tad smurfy - what is it about folk singers and extremely literal music videos?
*From a recent live versions of Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
My friend Rowan and I have a bit of an Emma Thompson thing going. We're planning a grand rewatch of all her movies (except Maybe Baby and Henry V) that will end with Sense and Sensibility. Tonight we were watching Much Ado About Nothing. I don't think I'd seen it since it came out when I was 15. It was the first movie I ever went to see twice at the cinema - I loved it.
Seeing it tonight was a little different; I no longer consider Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh the perfect celebrity couple (which is good because neither do they). But we found one plot-line distressing.
Like most Shakespeare plots it's quite ridiculous. Claudio and Hero are betrothed and the villian* sets it up so Claudio will think that Hero is having sex with another man. Claudio confronts Hero at the wedding, throws her across the room. Her father is also abusive. Hero then pretends to be dead, but than makes no sense at all.
We couldn't listen to it; we changed the language to Polish so we wouldn't have to deal with how awful Hero's situation was. There were some nice moments - Emma Thompson was taking it all seriously, and Kenneth Branagh was backing her up, and choosing the abused women over his abusive friend.
But then Claudio and Hero marry - and we're supposed to be joyful about it.
There is a version of this play that I could watch - where the horror of Hero's situation was given weight, where their marriage is not a joyful event, but one the audience dreads. I feel the same way about Taming of the Shrew, from what I've read a feminist version of the play is usually one where Katherine implies she has some sort of power. I disagree, a feminist version would be one that played those events absolutely straight. Taming of the Shrew is a tragedy; a tragedy that occurs far more often than young lovers commit suicide because their parents don't like each other.
* Played by Keanu Reeves! He's only the second worst actor in the movie too - Robert Sean Leonard plays Claudio and we cracked up when he tried to act sad when it was revealed how wrong he was.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
I'm a bit put out that people are organising a march in Wellington that I disagree with. Occasionally other people organise demos (or people I know organise demos for causes I don't support - like Animal Rights. But I've been a Wellington activist for almost ten years, and I can only think of two marches that I didn't attend for political reasons (the police association march for higher pay, and destiny's creepy 'enough is enough' rally - I attended coutner-demos in both cases)
Although one of the Frog's parents wants to come. She'd take the frog and use him as a prop. She marched round the kitchen holding him by the ankles, hitting him rhythmically on his (nappy-clad) butt, while chanting:
2, 4, 6, 8
Beat the baby before it's too late
1, 2, 3, 4
I want to beat him more
The Frog is very into this plan; it's one of the funnest things he's done for a while (although he got ridiculously into the game and went up to the nearest grown-up and said 'beat, beat, beat').
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I was disappointed and upset to see that this case resulted in an acquittal. It's hard to be surprised, the woman was drunk, and it's hardly news that there are people who believe a drunk woman automatically consents to sex. But what really upset me, was the effects this is going to have on her life:
The complainant, who is also a student at the polytechnic, told the Nelson Mail that she planned to pull out of her studies at NMIT and transfer to another polytechnic, because she felt she could not return to the campus if Mr Singh was there.Without a guilty verdict this woman has nothing. Her polytech can't even guarantee that she won't have to see the man who raped her. To do this is to choose the abuser over the abused, because it is those who have least power who will feel compelled to move on.
NMIT chief executive Tony Gray said the polytechnic would continue to manage the situation if both students decided to stay there, as it had done previously by making arrangements to limit their contact on campus.
The justice system don't care what survivors of sexual violence want, or what they need to get on with their life. There is no way for a woman to say: "I want to live a life free of the man who raped me" without first proving that he raped you beyond reasonable doubt.
We all know that most rape cases will not result in convictions. We must be able to offer those who have been raped something more than the responsibility to avoid their rapist.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Chris Trotter's column on Friday made connections between 1980s police rape cases and the tour. I'm not willing to concede that police rape belongs to a by-gone era, but I do think there's probably a point there. These men's obsession with using their batons to abuse women, clearly comes out of the same culture that created the red squad.
The first part of Chris Trotter's article, which covers the incident in some detail, is very interesting. But I disagree with most of the conclusions that he draws from it:
The thing about the 1981 Springbok Tour that made such vicious confrontations inevitable was that people who would normally never come within half a mile of each other were suddenly arriving at the same place. The New Zealand of The Listener and film festivals and feminist consciousness-raising was on a collision course with the New Zealand of the TV Guide and "adult" videos and steaming male bodies in the rugby club changing- room.This simplistic analysis is a reasonably common explanation for what happened in 1981. There's enough truth in it to sound plausible, but it ignores more than it explains. It was the connections that he drew between this and the police rape cases that I strongly disagreed with:
On the surface it might have been a case of "liberals" and "progressives" meeting "reactionaries" and "racists". But, beneath the political veneer, a deeper, more visceral, dynamic of cultural attraction and disgust was at work. In some part of their respective psyches, "Pro-" and "Anti-" responded to the Springbok Tour like a carnival freak show at the edge of town with each group defining the other as the geek.
In its essence, the public outrage surrounding the acquittal of Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum represents the moral collision of two mutually incomprehensible sub-cultures. Like Banquo at the feast, the ghost of 1981 pro-Tour provincial New Zealand has returned to trouble the consciences of the morally, politically and socially victorious veterans of the anti-Tour protests.The first problem with this argument is that he's wrong. I've talked to lots of people about the police rape cases over the last year, middle-class, working-class, urban, provincial, progressive, conservative, and the vast majority have believed those women. I think this issue has united people across usual boundaries, not polarised them. It's been a source of great embarrassment to me that John Banks and Trevor Loundon are sort of on my side.
It's as if we've all been trapped in an episode of Life on Mars with a New Zealand twist. Here, we don't have to travel back in time to discover a world governed by sexism, racism and homophobia – we have only to take a trip across town.
When I read that Brad Shipton's brother had described Louise Nicholas as "that maggot-lying bitch", all I could think of was the scene with the placard 26 years ago, and wonder how many Kiwi blokes still think of courageous, outspoken and assertive women as dogs to be kicked, punched, raped, intimidated and cross-examined into a proper appreciation of male power.
There are people whose first reaction to these cases aren't to believe and support the women involved, but they also come from across the spectrum. I'm fairly sure that the man who wanted Louise Nicholas to pay back the millions spent investigating these cases would have fitted Chris Trotter's profile of a TV Guide reader. But Findlay McDonald, who called the women who gave out supressed information vigilantes, pretty much defines the listener end of the spectrum.*
There is a more fundamental way that Chris Trotter is wrong. He is arguing that objectifying, abusing and degrading women is intrinsic to working-class provincial masculinity, and alien to middle-class urban masculinity. I've addressed this argument before, in a slightly different form.
This idea is one that I've only ever put forward by middle-class men, and you can see why - because it is in their interests. Either they can use it to argue that women shouldn't fight sexism, because to do so would alientate the working class (who are inevitably entirely male). Or they can use it to distance themselves from men who abuse women and so not examine their own behaviour, or that of their mates (Span mentions in her report on the Auckland march that there was at least one man who shouldn't have been there, from all I've heard that's a conservative estimate).
In reality Chris Trotter wouldn't even need to cross town to find men who "think of courageous, outspoken and assertive women as dogs to be kicked, punched, raped, intimidated and cross-examined into a proper appreciation of male power." I'm sure he knows some (as Span says "Of course I spotted one particular man who really shouldn't have been on the march, given its focus, but then activist circles aren't necessarily less sexist than general society, and sadly I suspect he wasn't the only hypocrite pounding the tarmac for International Women's Day."). Most abusive liberal men are probably smooth enough not to call a rape survivor a 'lying maggot bitch', but they'll discredit her just the same.
I've never heard a woman express this idea, whatever her class background. You don't have to have much experience with middle-class men to know that some of them are abusive misogynist assholes. You also don't have to have much experience with working-class men to know how much some of them respect and support women.
*Or at least he did, until the Listener became a soothing gel
Saturday, March 10, 2007
I'm having a nice night. I'm a borderline teetoaller so it doesn't take much alcohol to make me happy (in fact being drunk is such an exciting rare event that I have to talk about my drunken state constantly to whoever is around). About 11.30 my friend is heading home, so I walk with him. We stop and admire the shop that has left alone the "Clint Rickards: Rapist Scum" graffiti and the fake recruitment poster.
We go to the dairy that is open until midnight and buy some snacks. I buysome chocolate and water; he buys some strawberry and cream lollies and a red licorice twisty thing. I make him sit down and talk with me for a bit, because I don't want to walk up the hill just yet. We sion the corner and yell at the police cars that go by ("Clint Rickards is a Rapist", "Stop Police Rapists" and a rather ridiculous "Police Rapists Suck").
Then I say goodbye and head up the hill. I'm thinking to myself about the blog posts I am going to write when I get home (mostly about why the existance of the police are the problem, not a few bad apples). From about a third of the way up the hill there is park on both sides of the road and that's when I became particularly aware of my surroundings . I notice the man walking behind me; I notice the cars going past.
I am about half way up when a car stops about 40 metres in front of me. No-one gets out. There's nothing there. The car just stops.
What I usually do in these situations (because fear is regular enough that you have a plan) is unlock my cell phone. But I don't have a cellphone so I just hold my keys (interlaced between my fingers) and a half empty water bottle (weighing all of half a kilo).
I just keep on walking; I don't look at them. I try to keep breathing and wait to see what happens. I just get past them when they start moving again. They follow me slowly for a few steps, and then drive off.
I'm relieved; all these two men and their car wanted to do was scare me. I'm OK now.
I walk home and start composing a new blog post, about what just happened. Because all I can do is write about it. All I can do is register the power that fear has over me.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Vigil 5.30pm tomorrow (Friday 2 March) outside the High Court (Molesworth St, Opposite parliament).
March to demand justice for rape survivors 5.30pm Thursday 8 March (International Women's Day) meet at Civic Square.
Public Meeting to give people who want to take further actions of any sort around this issue an opportunity to meet and plan. 6pm Monday 12 March St John's Hall, Willis St (venue to be confirmed).
Men will be welcomed at both these events, but there will be women only spaces within them.
Vigil Cath Square at 7.30pm on Thursday 8th March (note this is women only)
Come together to express our solidarity with rape survivors and our disgust with the courts of injustice and the rapist cops they protect.
Protest Aotea Square, 7:00pm on Thursday 8th March (international Women's Day).
5pm RALLY TO SUPPORT WOMEN WHO'VE STOOD UP AGAINST MEN ABUSING THEIR POWER
Outside the Courthouse, Lower Stuart St.
Rape Crisis was the first support/advocacy service of its kind in New Zealand and founded in Dunedin 25 years ago, so we believe that it is important that the current issue needs to be recognised publicly. Therefore we give Dunedin people an opportunity to publicly express their indignation at the outcome and travesty of justice at the recent historic rape trials.
Wear black, bring placards/banners.
8pm VIGIL OF SOLIDARITY FOR WOMEN WHO SPEAK OUT ABOUT RAPE
Otago Museum Reserve (between Albany St and the One Way South and the One Way North).
Amnesty International and the Dunedin Rape Crisis Collective warmly welcome Dunedin women and their whanau, and all interested people, to join us this Thursday evening at 8pm outside the Otago Museum, for a candle-lit vigil to show support for women that have been victims of abuse and for all women who speak out about rape.
We can express our whole hearted support and gratitude to Louise Nicholas and the other brave women who have spoken out about the injustice of rape.
This day also marks the historic International Women’s Day, which makes it even more special to join in solidarity along with other community organisations.
Amnesty International is currently campaigning to stop violence against women throughout the world.
Please come along and show your support and solidarity. Hope to see you there and please bring candles.
I'll add any more events as I hear of them. E-mail me if something is happening where you live.
I'll leave this post at the top of the page for a few days.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
I don't expect much of the Green party. I appreciate Sue Bradford's private members' bills, and Keith Locke's questions in parliament. I make it a habit not to read or listen to anything Sue Kedgeley says and not enegage with anything the Greens say about food, fiscal policy and saving the world through consumption taxes, because it's not worth it. I ignore them, they don't say anything too horrible, and it works for both of us.
Not today. Today Russel Norman wrote about the police rape trials on frogblog.
I don’t see that being involved in consenting group sex is any reason for him not to go back to work. And people use sex aids so using a police baton in a consenting situation doesn’t seem grounds for refusing him his job back.What the fuck is anyone who has ever heard of the existance of feminist analysis doing suggesting that these incidents involved consenting sex?
I understand that most people have more to lose than I do, and would face consequences if they said "Clint Rickards is a rapist piece of scum" at every opportunity. But just because the jury believed that the case hadn't been proved beyond reasonable doubt, that doesn't make the sex consenting. Two women have come forward and said that they were raped by these threemen. Anyone who states categorically that Clint Rickards' had consenting group sex is saying that they don't believe those women.
Usually that's what you'd expect, but all the women in Russel's caucus are feminist and one has talked bravely and publicly of her experience of being raped. I would have expected him to pay attention to these women, and their experiences, and not choose the words of rapists over the words of rape survivors.
Russel Norman did acknowledge that there might have been a power imbalance in an addendum, but says:
My original comment above about group sex was in response to my perception that a lot of the reaction to the case was of a conservative moralistic nature about group sex rather than about an abuse of powerI've paid obsessive attention to all the media, and any reading which saw a lot of the reaction to the case to be conservative and moralistic is ridiculously inaccurate. I can't imagine what sort of priorities you have if your response to everything that's happened is to worry that people are condemning group sex.
Those paragraphs are offensive, the rest of the article just focuses on side-issues. Russel Norman believes that the two issues that come out of this case are:
1. Should the jury have been told that Schollum and Shipton were previously convicted of rape?
2. Should Rickards be allowed to be Auckland police chief?
Here are some of the questions that I think come out of this trial:
How many women's testimony equals one man's in the NZ legal system?
Is Brad Shipton the most vile man in New Zealand? (I'm really hoping the answer to this one is yes)
Why was Clint Rickards promoted within the police rapidly, even after a report stated he abused his power?
Why did no-one do something to stop these men?
I've talked to half a dozen women who have been raped by police over the last year, how many more are out there?
What alternatives ways are there that we can get justice for rape survivors where they don't have to go through abusive cross-examination?
Are there actually any 'reasonable doubts' here aren't they all just 'misogynist doubts' or is that considered the same thing?
Why is the past of the woman involved fair game in rape trials?
How many times do I have to yell "it's not a 'sex trial' at Sean Plunkett before he hears me?
Why are the police allowed to investigate their own?
Why did these women have to go through this?
How can we make this stop?
Generally his post made it clear that he didn't think this issue was particularly important. He'd read some of the media it wasn't something he was focusing on (given he didn't know a lot of rather basic facts about the cases), but he thought he'd chime in.
To me, and to so many other women and men throughout New Zealand, this case is important. It's important because we put ourselves in those women's shoes, because we think about the pain and horror that those women went through, because we can imagine how it's affected the rest of their lives, and the lives of the people around them. The way Russel Norman wrote trivialises all that.
I'm not saying that everyone must obsess about this case the way I have. I'm not bedgrudging people sleeping fine, and having time and energy for other things. Even I want to think and write about other things (the Air NZ redundancies are first on the list). But I do believe that anyone who considers themselves politically progressive should give this topic weight and reverence, and realise that they're writing on women's lives and women's pain.
Monday, March 05, 2007
It may be easy to see the police rape trials as particular to the time they occurred in. But it's just not true. There is another rape trial going on at the moment. In this case a female student was raped after she passed out on her bed at the party.
During the evening she accidentally sent the rapist a text message intended for her tutor, which said "thanks, I need help, can we meet?"
Later on Jaskaran Singh went to her room and raped her.
It depresses and angers me how much basic matters of consent are ignored. If we had a society that actually valued consent, no defence would argue that that text message meant anything at all.
I know Jaskaran Singh is not alone, I know that he is not the only man that a drunk woman, a woman who has shown interest in him, a woman who has text messaged him have all consented to sex.
That knowledge is terrifying, for myself, for the women I know and love, and for all other women.
There is one nasty, horrific detail of this case that hasn't been discussed as much as I would have thought.
In 2004 the police searched Brad Shipton's house and found his diary. In his diary they found the defendants name, and then the phrase 'milk bottle'.
I wonder what else was in Brad Shipton's diary that lead the police to believe that the phrase milk-bottle next to someone's name meant they should probably contact her, because Brad Shipton might have raped her with a bottle.
When they contacted the defendent she told her story, and gave the same date that was in Brad Shipton's diary. But the diary wasn't allowed into evidence, because the defendent said that she was raped with a whisky bottle, not a milk bottle.
Update: This story is now being covered in the mainstream press. The details I received came from an e-mail and were slightly different. I don't know if there were just one or two instances where Brad Shipton used the phrase 'milk-bottle'
Just when you think things can't get any more awful:
Shipton, suspended Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards and former Rotorua police officer Bob Schollum were defence witnesses in the 1994 trial of a policeman charged with raping Nicholas as a teenager [she was 13] in Murupara. After three trials - the first two were aborted - he was acquitted.What?
The trio attacked Nicholas' credibility by testifying she had had group sex with them in 1985 and 1986, allegations which later formed the basis of her high-profile rape complaint.
How does the fact that an 18 year old has consensual group sex (which wasn't consensual) prove that she wasn't raped when she was 13?
What is wrong with our rape shield laws?
How can this be evidence when the number of women these men have raped is considered irrelevant?
Sunday, March 04, 2007
I believe that in the vast majority of cases juries shouldn't know about criminal convictions. For the past year I have been unable to make an argument about what I think was unjust about the decision to treat the three recent cop rape trials seperately. Now the suppression orders are lifted I can begin to talk about what I think was wrong
I disagree with the comments from the defendents' supporters (now there's a surprise) that the jury knew of the convictions, and that made the verdict more sure. The point is the jury were specifically told to ignore any other knowledge they had of the case, and they did. The fact that three women told of very similar experiences when these men raped them was judged to be irrelevant by our justice system (with one exception). Similarly there has been a lot of talk on the jury deciding the case on the evidence put in front of them. Which is exactly the issue which is being disputed, what evidence should be put in front of the jury.
There are some issues that were specific to this case, that I want to discuss first.
When someone has been convicted of an offence, like Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum have, their lawyers are curtailed in the defences they can use. While the jury won't know about the offence the defendant's lawyer is not allowed to stand up in front of the jury and say 'my client is a fine upstanding member of society who would never hurt a fly.' I also believe that if the defendent takes the stand the crown can cross-examine them about their criminal history, which is why Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum did not take the stand.
In this case obviously Clint Rickards had a much wider range of defences than Brad Shipton or Bob Schollum did. But because they were all being tried together Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum were in a very practical sense covered by the defence of Clint Rickards.* This meant that collectively the defence could have it both ways. Clint Rickards supposedly clean record could be touted, but Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton's records could not. Now I'm not advocating that this be changed, or even that they should have been tried seperately (although I suspect if they had have been Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton would be more likely to be convicted). But just pointing out some of the effects of the status quo.
What I am advocating should be changed is what happened during the trial last year, where Louise Nicholas's past was discussed extensively, and the defendents pasts were inadmissable. The most vile example of that, which simply shouldn't have been evidence, was the statement that she wore the white dress that those three men raped her in again. It should not be admissable to suggest that rape survivors should behave in a certain way, and use as evidence the fact that the woman did not conform to these stereotypes.
Likewise, it seems manifestly unjust that the fact that Louise Nicholas was the complainant in a previous trial that did not result in a conviction was considered evidence, while the fact that the complainants were in jail was not.
But the main issue this brings up is the question of whether or not previous behaviour by the accused could be evidence. Usually, as I understand it, there has to be something distinctively similar about the crimes, before prior convictions can be entered into evidence. In the Mt Maunganui case Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum were convicted of all charges except those relating to rape by a baton (I believe this is because there was some confusion about the sort of baton that was used). I suspect that if they had been convicted then the baton use would have been a clear enough pattern that their convictions may have been admissable (are there any legal experts in the house to give me an opinion).
To me it's not so much the conviction that is relevant, but the testimony. Three women independantly gave statements that they had been raped with objects by these men. They hadn't met each other, didn't know each other. I believe that the independance of these stories makes it more likely that the complainants are telling the truth and the defendents are lying when it's a he said she said situation about whether or not the sex was consensual.
That is why I see rape trials as different from other trials, because the discussion is not whether a certain individual did the crime, but whether what happened was a crime, and the only witnesses are ususally the defendent and the complainant.
If the defence is not that the sexual contact was consensual or didn't happen (if instead they are running a defence of mistaken identity, for example), then I think entering evidence of other offending or accusations would be unjust.
In short, I don't think the fact that you are a rapist makes you any more likely to have committed a particular rape (which after all could have been committed by any number of rapists), but I do think it's more likely that sex that you claim was consensual was actually not consensual.
In the trial in which Louise Nicholas was the complainant, the woman in the current case was a witness and told of her experience. In theory I would be fine with this approach, where it's not the convictions that are emphasised, but the statements of the women of similar experiences (as statements convictions could be prejudicial).The problem is that in this case that would have meant that all three women would have to be cross-examined 10 times (four lawyers for four defendents in one trial, and three lawyers for three defendents in the other two). Given the abusive nature of the cross-examination, that seems too much to ask of these women.
In the end I don't know if this current system can be fixed for women. I don't know if it's worth trying to change. Louise Nicholas wanted an inquiry into police conduct, not a trial - and an inquiry would probably have delived more justice. Perhaps what we need is an alternative to a court process. Women could choose not to go to court, but could instead tell of their experiences in a different sort of justice system. One that couldn't mete out punishment to the men involved, but would listen to what women had to say.
* I know it doesn't work like that legally, and I'm sure the jury covered each defendant seperately, but the fact that Clint Rickards could take the stand would have made a difference.
** I've got a question for all you legal people out there. Is there anything to stop the crown introducing expert testimony about memory. In the latest case the defence suggested that the fact that the complainant was vague or innaccurate about details made her testimony less credible. This seems to go against any understanding of how memory, particularly memory of traumatic events. I believe Louise Nicholas summmed this up when she said she remember the details of her assault vividly, but couldn't tell you what she had for lunch that day. Could the crown have introduced witnesses that pointed out that the memory patterns this woman had were completely consistent with a traumatic event?
I had to spend Friday out of town, as we were driving back I said to my friend how much I wanted to know what had been going on during that day. Here's some of what did happen.
Spanblather's post Powerlessness is incredibly well written and demonstrates the connections between her personal reactions and the wider political issues (me - I deal with this all with a crazy burst of activity - the more leaflets I give out and posters I put up, the less I'll have to confront how hard it can be to live in a world like this).
Jo has a great picture of the Christchurch graffiti.
indymedia has had some really great stuff, and generally gets a radical version of the mainstream media up pretty quickly.
There has also been some good reporting in the mainstream media.
Morning Report's coverage on Friday morning was excellent. My favourite was there interview with Louise Nicholas, although all their stories are worth listening to.
Although my personal highlight was when Clint Rickards' lawyer listed the things that he believed put pressure on the jury he mentioned blogs that put out prejudiced ideas(but he didn't a misogynist society where gender relations are to a large part built on rape myths). John Haigh QC doesn't like me; I'm feeling better already.
While their obsession with the sexual element of these crimes makes it clear that they don't have a clue what they're talking about, NZ Herald does have some good stories. Plus the general tone is definately 'they're guilty as fuck, whatever the verdict is", which is something I appreciate.
Along that lines, I liked Tom Scott's cartoon, even if it was considerably milder than I felt.
You don't hear me praise the government often, but right now I like their timing. It was good to hear: "Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton, and Bob Schollum were acquitted, meanwhile the government has announced one million dollars for a research project into how to secure more convictions for sexual offences."
When I was driving along tonight and heard this: "How the police and the courts can support victims of sexual assaults." I laughed to the point of hysteria. Police officers could stop raping women - many women would feel supported by that change. I also suspect this isn't the most helpful way a police officer can respond to a woman who is laying a sexual abuse complaint: "He looked me in the eye, told me I was wasting their time, that I was making some pretty serious allegations and who's going to believe you? He indicated, there's the door, use it."
I imagine not giving the Assistant Commissioner job to a rapist would also be a step in the right direction.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Louise Nicholas is a hero. She didn't get the justice she sought, but if she hadn't gone public Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum would never have been convicted. She didn't just fight back for herself she used her experience of abuse, oppression and injustice to try and make things better for all women. As she said:
When I look back over the injustices that have occurred, finally now after 20 years I have got the opportunity to perhaps right those wrongs. And I think I have done it. I know that. They might have been acquitted but that means nothing to me because I think a lot more has been achieved from it."The woman in the current case is a hero.
The woman in the Mt Mauganui case is a hero.
Donna Johnson, who was raped by Brad Shipton and gone public because the police won't prosecute, is a hero.
There are other heros right now. There are many people who knew and loved these women, and believed them. But in my mind, and I'm sure many others, Ross Nicholas has stood for them all. His heroism has been obvious, even though he has kept in the background.
I also want to pay respect to the individuals within our various institutions who have believed these women. As institutions the police, the courts and the media have let these women down again and again, they're not set up to be on our side. But there were indivduals within these institutions who fought for these women. I'd like to pay particular tribute to the twelve jurors in the first trial, and the jurors in the other trials who believed what these women had to say, but weren't given the evidence to convict.
(with credit to Amanda for a starting point).
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Well the jury retired with a word from the judge
Not to go and do anything rash
And the lawyers withdrew, replenished anew
With undisclosed payments of cash
It was on a Wednesday that the jury retired
And on Thursday came dutifly back
There was nothing so special they had to report
It was just one more Thursday in black
There was no expense spared to make sure it was fair
There was even a guest star Allblack
But at closing the law showed who it works for
It was one more Thursday in black
Well if you¹re a pig and sufficiently big
And there¹s several of you in a pack
You can do pretty much what you like to a woman
And know that she can¹t hit you back
Right now somewhere unknown ,there¹s a woman alone
In pain and in fear on the rack
while grinning police ready bottle and grease
for one more Thursday in black
There was no expense spared to make sure it was fair
There was even a guest star Allblack
But at closing the law showed who it works for
It was just one more Thursday in black
by Don Franks
What can I say that I haven't said before and Don's song doesn't say better?
There are two things that I choose to hold on to, from the series of cop rape trials. The first is that this it not OK. The legal system does not deliver justice for women, but more than that - this should never have happened in the first place. Many people knew that these cops were abusive, and no-one did anything about it, and these are not the only police who have used their power to rape and abuse. We must hold onto our outrage, because it is out of that outrage that the hope for a something better can be built.
What gives me real hope is the knowledge that I'm not alone. That all over New Zealand, in places I wouldn't necessarily expect, people are thinking what I'm thinking, and feeling what I'm feeling. If we can get just some of these people together, who knows what we could do.
I'm sure I'll have more tomorrow, but all that's left to say tonight is to pay heed to the dignity of the women who sought justice against Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum. And leave the last words to Louise Nicholas: "We did our best. We did our very best. The justice system has let us down again."
I have a rule about listening to Jim Mora which is 'don't', but at the moment if the jury's deliberating National Radio is on. Which mean I listened to George Garth ranting. His general rant was on politicains pushing through radical social engineering that the public don't want (round here we call that Rogernomics). But he said that it started with the abortion law reform back in 1977, which was pushed through despite huge opposition.
He's not wrong - it's just that the 1977 abortion law restricted access to abortion rather than liberalise it. The minority that pushed through the laws were the misogynist, anti-abortion, assholes like Muldoon, Lange, Birch and Bolger.
I have to say that yelling 'he's a fucking liar' at the radio the entire time he was talking did make me feel a bit better.
I wrote this about the last time:
"If it's not the first news story, the jury isn't back yet," I said. We both waited - the fifth time we'd listened to those beeps together today.I remember ducking out of a meeting to catch the midday news - another woman rushed in when she heard the radio "is there a verdict?"
"There is still no verdict in the Louise Nicholas rape trial." As the hours and days dragged on, I kept having the same conversations: "At least someone believes her," and, "I hope they stay staunch."
The waiting is almost harder this time round. Yelling "it's not a sex trial" at Sean Plunkett didn't make me feel that much better.