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New Zealand's rape culture myth


I have several arts degrees. That makes me a liberal wanker. But above all else, as a sociologist, I seek understanding without fear or favour.

With that in mind, I am troubled by the use of this term "rape culture" that New Zealand is said to uphold. It seems that every second person among the privileged middle classes, and therefore many of my friends, are throwing it around as if it’s a fact. It’s entering the Kiwi lexicon.

Despite its sociological roots in the 1970s where it undoubtedly served an important polemical purpose, anybody using the term "rape culture" in the New Zealand context today are either unfamiliar with what culture means or are simply using it incorrectly.

We do not celebrate rape in art nor is it a custom or social behaviour of our society. Actually, we sanction strongly against it. New Zealand most certainly does not uphold a rape culture. It’s a misnomer that has taken on a life of its own.

There are some who victim-blame and, traditionally, policing has been far from ideal, but the former tends to be isolated to small, mostly conservative or religious individuals, and the latter has changed dramatically. Even historically, when these elements were more rife, it’s doubtful this ever encapsulated a "rape culture" per se. Furthermore, by overegging the cake, the people who use the term do a disservice to the important cause of addressing sexual violence.

This is why many men got upset with David Cunliffe apologising for being a man or why some turn around an argument about male violence and point out violence perpetuated by women. It’s because the vast majority of men are not violent toward women, sexual or otherwise.

I have sympathy with this position of frustration; innocent people don’t like to be labelled. It’s akin to generalising that women are caregivers (though the vast majority of primary caregivers are female) because it’s sexist, perhaps offensive. Although not as offensive as saying that New Zealand’s men uphold a culture of rape.

It has bizarrely become taboo to say it, but not all men are the problem. That is a fact.

We are all, however, part of the solution. Men need to speak out and step-up when they see sexual harms occurring. This includes being mindful of sexist language. There are some linguistic examples of engrained sexism in language that illuminate how words affect our thinking. Language is important. And that, in part, is why we need to stop saying New Zealand has a rape culture. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s also unhelpful.

*I have donated $100 to Women’s Refuge as part of my commitment to the cause. If all people who read this did that then we’d make their day, I’m sure.

Dr Jarrod Gilbert lectures in sociology at Canterbury University and is the author of Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand.

Comments and questions

Dr Gilbert makes a compelling argument for the dangers of myth making. As he says not all men are the problem, only a few. I'm not ashamed to be a man - in spite of Mr Cunliffe's protestations - and I would be the first to deal to one who was engaged in the reprehensible behaviour that those few engage in.

Well said. As Dr Gilbert invites, Women's Refuge gets my $100 as well.....every real man should do the same as he suggests.

Its all part of the BS PC story that 'we are all responsible for Child Abuse' etc (choose any subject that fits into the too hard basket) when only a few losers perpetrate the behaviour. But instead of tackling the actual criminlas it all becomes watered down and nothing happens when 'we' are all declared responsible. And that is why nothing will change in NZ.

Given several respected surveys show 25% of all girls are sexually abused in NZ, there is some merit to there being a rape culture. How else could so many girls be raped and molested?

NZ also has the 5th highest rate of child abuse in the developed world.

In my experience there is a culture in NZ to ignore sexual abuse, which is why the problem is getting dramatically worse according to the latest statistics from the MSD.

While what Dr Gilbert says is undoubtedly correct, in the greater scheme of things sociological and feminist it doesn't matter because he is a man, and as such is biased and hopelessly compromised in his views. As a member of the gender that perpetuates sexual violence, rather than being of the gender that is the victim of it, his views carry no weight as only the victim, in this case women, have the authority to speak on the matter. When it comes to rape, women get the naming rights.

And that is the problem I have with sociology as a discipline. Even in the face of truths, self-evident or otherwise, it, sociology and its sister, feminism, cannot acknowledge them as all knowledge and experience is constructed. There is nothing immutable. Therefore New Zealand does have a rape-culture simply because some women and men say so.

David - you are onto something and as it was a throw away line in Max's comment also I feel constrained to say that womens refuge used to get a lot of money off me up until just over a decade ago when I overheard a keynote speaker briefing a very large gathering that I guess was totally wimmin.. I was in an adjoining room while a female lawyer (I guess) was telling all 'how to survive divorce'. What struck me was the absolute primary must do; was pack up the kids and find the nearest refuge, even if for only one night. The rationale was that it creates a scene that can be fully maximised should it be necessary in any divorce proceedings. What a strange society we have allowed ourselves to become.

I assume the above comment was meant to be some devil's advocate position, as surely no one could seriously maintain this? A few of the glaring logical errors: 1. Only women may speak of rape; any man who does so must be ignored, as they are all rapists or potential rapists; 2. No academic discipline can discuss rape, because all knowledge and experience is 'constructed' (by whom?) and 3. Nothing is immutable and this somehow bears on the question.

David B, this issue certainly is within a man's purview, or more correctly, every free person, male and female, when the solutions being suggested against a rape culture, as promulgated by identity politics, and worrisomely being put 'on the table' by our two major ruling parties, are the destruction of two central pillars of the free society: innocent until proven guilty, and the right to remain silent.

Excellent! I too think, "Men need to speak out and step-up when they see sexual harms occurring. This includes being mindful of sexist language."
I too have donated to Women's Refuge in the past and I support Denise Ritchie who speaks up for women and children and men via:

Stop Demand Foundation
PO Box 41 400, St Lukes, Auckland, New Zealand 1346
Tel +64 9 846 4693; Mob +64 27 273 7654
Fax +64 9 846 7614
Contact Denise Ritchie, Founder/Barrister

Oh dear lord!

Dr Gilbert must issue an apology to Tania Billingsley immediately.

Louise Nicholas as well.

"I seek understanding without fear or favour."

I will hold on to that statement until I die.

If only everyone displayed this attitude, the world would be a better place.

Well said Jarrod. Too much loose comment. However - in view of your comment about incorrect use, I would have to point out that " anybody using the term rape culture in the New Zealand context today are either unfamiliar .." should be 'is either' not 'are either'. I'm not wanting to detract from your excellent comment but incorrect use is incorrect use.

For someone who says he's as clever as you do , you've missed the point this country do's have a problem , victims don't get a fare deal and giving money to the refuge might make you feel better but its the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff

No, Gavin Smith, it's you who miss the point. The writer didn't say the country doesn't have a problem, he simply says there isn't a rape culture. And I agree. In all my 50 years, no man has ever told me "rape is a good thing", "I want to rape someone" or "let's rape someone". No one I know has ever bragged about being involved in a rape. So where is this "rape culture"? Answer: It doesn't exist. Yes, like all other countries, there are evil men here who rape women, just as we have other criminals of all forms. But most men don't commit crime or want to commit crime, and that includes rape. And the few who do, certainly don't brag about it openly, as would happen in a true rape culture, because they know decent men, who have mothers, aunts, wives, sisters and daughters, wouldn't stand for it. This "rape culture" is an absolute myth.

Three cops used to force themselves on young girls . gangs call it putting them on the block. The roast busters!! If that not rape culture what is. It doesn't have to include all men to be a culture. We have a rugby culture in this country but we don't all play rugby .

The way the rape culture myth is spread you'd think NZ was the only country with a rape problem. The US, UK and Australia all have rape rates higher than NZ's. Sweden's rate is three times higher. Unfortunately, no country is without rape, just as none is without fraudsters and burglars. But just as there's no rape culture, there is no fraud culture or burglary culture. Throughout history, a certain number of people have always been prepared to break the recognised rules of society to obtain what they want, often through the use of force. That includes committing rape. This is not called a culture it's called crime. Don't try to elevate the Roast Busters, gangs and those rogue cops to any kind of bogus culture. They're common criminals, nothing more, nothing less.

In the same way that having several arts degrees doesn't make you a liberal wanker- probably depending on when and where those degrees were obtained - being in a rape culture doesn't make you a rapist. Being a sociologist Dr Gilbert knows about 'shame' culture and 'guilt' culture. They are terms that are widely and wisely used to give the overall tenor of how things generally work in a particular culture. They don't describe any one idiosyncratic individual. If Dr Gilbert's observation was correct then rape would be rare, most other males would be actively CULTURALLY vocal and physically involved in preventing and stopping rape. Its the direction cultural and community pressure would be applied. Exceptions would be rare and consequences significant. Clearly that is not the case in NZ. If you are a 'prominent person' the consequences can be minimal and if you are really prominent then you can get away with if for decades! Further more, if you are a rap artist you can make music and money by singing about it and glorifying it. The sanction- fame and fortune. No Dr Gilbert, your thesis falls at the first hurdle- it is unsupported by the facts.

Far more words than sense. Rape IS rare. Around 0.04% of men are convicted of rape in NZ each year. As a proportion of sexual interactions that is probably about 0.0004%. Multiply that by whatever fantasy you like to account for unreported rapes and it is still minuscule. Moreover the consequences and penalties for rape are severe and overwhelmingly applied against males.

And the "prominent person" was convicted of sexual assault, not rape. As for rap artists making money, it amazes me they get an audience whatever they "sing" about - but blues, folk and country singers have been making money singing about mistreatment and violence for ever as has Hollywood making films. Subcultures however abhorrent need to be exposed and examined. Doing so does not make them part of mainstream. That is your misconception.

Exactly. Rapists are jailed, they're not celebrated, as the arts are, for example. Someone pulled the ridiculous term "rape culture" out of the air and people who don't appear to give their brains a workout too often parrot it as if it were a fact.

Alan, the Police and Justice Dept state only about 10% of all sexual offenses get reported, and of those only about 1/3 result in a conviction.

I dought we have a rape culture but we definitely have a anti man and anti father culture.

Well you're right about one thing. You ARE a Liberal Wanker. Your solution to your utterly feminist society branding all males Rapists so as to (further) increase their stranglehold on power is . . . for Strong Men like you to donate to more fake feminist causes, like the endless Women's Refuges in the western world. Where are the REFUGES for MEN, there, Mr. Egalitarian? Yeah the streets and mancages are good enough for them, eh?

The solution is NOT for more emasculated men to 'step up' to 'report' even MORE NONEXISTENT rape-culture so that your women can dominate you (and the rest of us) even more than they already do.

You aren't part of the solution. You ARE the problem, and so are the millions just like you, whose 'solution' to the feminist takeover of your nations the past forty years is . . . more feminist 'manning-up' by men, more funding womens' bogus causes, and more submission to their accusatory, self-serving false narratives. Their Hate Narratives.

No solution to your feminist societies is possible while 'men' like you are in charge of the governments, media, education, and other instituions of society.

Grow a pair before you tell real men what to do again, boyo.