"Rape culture" — Tania Billingsley, the victim of an alleged assault by a Malaysian diplomat in Wellington, is saying that is the problem in the handling of her case, and with New Zealand’s treatment of sexual assault and rape in general.
Billingsley wrote at length about her feelings in a cogently argued must-read four page essay published online after her interview with TV3’s ‘3rd Degree’ on Wednesday.
She opens her essay defining what she calls "rape culture" by saying "Violence does not occur in a vacuum. There are very real reasons why sexual assault is happening in our country every day. This is because our society normalises, trivialises and in both obvious and subtle ways condones rape. This is called rape culture." – see Ms Billingsley on how her case was handled and the wider issues it raises (PDF).
While both John Key and Murray McCully have declined to be interviewed on Billingsley’s statements, social development minister Paula Bennett did choose to comment, with TVNZ reporting ‘she accepts there is a rape culture in New Zealand’. Bennett is directly quoted as saying: ‘you can see it in the language that is used by some people. You can certainly see it in pretty much a pub or a nightclub in New Zealand on most weekends to be quite frank. So we have a lot of education to do there, I think’ – see Minister agrees with diplomat's alleged victim [Ms Bennett subsequently qualified her comments on TV3's The Nation, see 'I wouldn’t say we’ve got a rape culture' — Paula Bennett].
John Key’s handling of the case
In her written essay, Billingsley also links the ‘rape culture’ concept with the way John Key reacted to her case and praises David Cunliffe for his now widely reported speech, in which he said he was ‘sorry for being a man’. Billingsley writes: ‘Rape culture is in the reaction and words of our Prime Minister.
John Key recently questioned David Cunliffe's sincerity over his comments that preceded a speech in support of Women's Refuge. It genuinely makes me wonder if he has watched any of his responses to what happened to me. I think if he had, he wouldn't be so quick to question the sincerity of others – not only this, but his reaction to Mr Cunliffe's speech, the ever-present, knee-jerk reaction "not all men"’.
Pressure on Murray McCully to resign?
In her interview on 3rd Degree Billingsley also called for Murray McCully to resign over the case, saying ‘Watching a grown man try to talk his way out of responsibility at what is effectively failure at his own job is a painful thing to see. I can't believe his incapability to admit a mistake and try to fix it rather than pointing fingers at everyone else.’ More details are out on how an inquiry will be held into MFAT’s handling of the affair – see Hamish Rutherford’s Malaysian diplomat case inquiry head tipped.
The call for Murray McCully to resign has sparked numerous commentary pieces and a petition calling on him to do exactly that. Blogger Danyl Mclauchlan finds it incredible that McCully had not even met Tania Billingsley: ‘Why didn’t McCully do the politically obvious thing and meet with Billingsley to apologise in person? Presumably because he didn’t give a shit, but also didn’t think that anyone else would either. This might not be the best guy to be handling our most sensitive diplomatic negotiations.’ – see Doing it wrong.
Meanwhile, on Labour-linked blog The Standard, activist Greg Presland expresses similar sentiments to Mclauchlan in a list of what he sees as a selection of ‘sins’ by McCully, including ‘Blaming the staff and refusing to accept any responsibility. If you are the Minister you should take responsibility for shortcomings, especially where your personal performance lapses contribute to the situation.’ – see Murray McCully must go.
Murray McCully does find some support in an opinion piece by John Armstrong, who thinks that laying blame on him is misplaced. Armstrong argues that the incident is being used as an excuse by McCully’s critics to put him under pressure: ‘His reputation as a highly pragmatic back-room fixer with his fingers on the Beehive pulse means people find it difficult to believe he did not know what was going on; that, advised of the arrest, he did not follow it up at a later date; that he did not intervene. No one has found any holes in McCully's version of events. But he carries an awful lot of political baggage, much of it negative. This mess is a chance for his enemies to punish him for sins, more perceived than real, committed elsewhere.’ – see Minister's enemies want to pin something on him.
For more on the Tania Billingsley case, watch the 15-minute TV3 interview with her and report by Paula Penfold in full - see Woman at centre of Malaysian diplomat case speaks out. And for summaries of her interview with reaction from others involved, see the Dominion Post’s Alleged diplomat victim criticises John Key and the Herald’s Sex case diplomat's accuser: I want an apology. See also Toby Manhire’s Sex crimes tarnish our women’s rights halo.
Meanwhile, the interview itself is raising questions about whether the accused diplomat could receive a fair trial in New Zealand. Legal views are given in Petition calls for McCully to resign. Comment is given in Matthew Dallas’s Let natural justice tread its path: ‘The woman in the case, Tania Rose Billingsley, wasn't willing to wait. One headline has emphasised her demand for McCully to quit; another highlighted her hope of an apology from McCully. Plainly, she also wants justice - but the Malaysian diplomat is entitled to it, too, and the danger from politically charged pre-trial reportage is that the well of justice may be poisoned. The accused diplomat could then plead he can't be assured of a fair trial.’
David Cunliffe’s ‘sorry for being a man’
David Cunliffe’s speech a week ago, in which he apologised for being a man in the context of New Zealand’s record of violence towards women, continues to generate debate.
Left-wing commentator Chris Trotter writes about how his views have evolved during the week of the wisdom of the speech. Trotter writes: ‘Written down in full and contextualised, Cunliffe's words don't look all that silly - do they? Indeed, you might even say they look rather brave. None of us seated around that table at the pub, and no intelligent person reading Cunliffe's sentences anywhere else in New Zealand, would dispute them. The perpetration of psychological, physical and sexual violence is overwhelmingly a masculine phenomenon. And while not every male is guilty of assaulting and/or raping women and girls, the violence inflicted upon females by a minority of males does contribute to the maintenance of a patriarchal culture from which all men derive benefit.’ – see David Cunliffe’s apology brave, not silly.
The New Zealand Herald has also come out in support of the sentiments expressed in David Cunliffe’s speech. Its editorial on Thursday, We need to show it's just not manly to hit out interprets Cunliffe’s speech in the following terms: ' When Labour leader David Cunliffe went to a Women's Refuge forum and apologised for being a man, he was trying to make an important point. Domestic violence, as he went on to say, is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men against women and children. That does not mean, as those who applauded Mr Cunliffe seem to think, that men in general are prone to violence against women or that all of their gender are somehow responsible for it. The point he wanted to make was quite the opposite: that no self-respecting man would ever, under any circumstances, hit a woman, and that any man who does so is deeply and despicably unmanly’.
In a blog post for The Daily Blog, a powerful defence of Cunliffe and discussion of rape culture comes from Chloe King: ‘Cunliffe apologising for being a man and feeling ashamed of violent men’s actions is not an attack on masculinity. It is David publicly questioning and challenging us to think about what masculinity represents and what it means in the context of New Zealand culture. This is something we desperately need. I called for exactly this when I recently wrote on the toxic masculinity displayed by the gang rapists known as The Roast Busters. Men who rape and are violent are not aberrations. Men like those in The Roast Busters are socialised into believing a woman’s body is their sexual entitlement. This belief is shaped by a culture and a media that objectifies women’s bodies, that normalizes sexist language that plays down rape and abuse. New Zealand rape culture is a serious public health issue.’ – see “I got an apology”… said no survivor of rape or gendered violence ever.
Meanwhile, Press columnist Cécile Meier, who is a recent migrant to New Zealand and has a Swiss/French background, is not convinced that an apology was the best way for Cunliffe to deliver his message: ‘Some, including John Key, felt insulted because most men were good fathers and partners. Others backed Cunliffe's bravery. But the appalling facts and statistics that Cunliffe outlined in his speech were left out of the discussion. I do not believe he intended to divert the debate to his apology but, sadly, it happened.’ – see Good intentions often get lost in apologies.
Unsympathetic to Cunliffe is columnist Rosemary Mcleod: ‘ I doubt very much that rapists and violent offenders will respond to Cunliffe's battle cry of "stop this bullshit!", fall to their knees and be better men, but it's the kind of posturing good boys do to remind us that they're not one of the baddies. It's a public pat on the back to themselves.’ – see Cunliffe’s apology patting himself on the back.
Labour consent proposal
Also in the news at the moment are Labour’s plans for changing laws around sexual assault prosecutions, including a proposal for those accused of rape to have to prove consent. The Herald’s Derek Cheng outlines the plans in Rape accused would have to prove consent under Labour plan. National blogger David Farrar has posted several times on the issue and writes: ‘I’m not sure there is a (western) country in the world that requires you to prove consent when it comes to allegations of sexual assault. There’s a reason for that... If you ever needed a reason to convince your friends and neighbours not to vote Labour, this is it. I predict Labour will be forced to abandon this policy, as more and more people become aware of it – but can you trust them not to implement it after the election regardless?’ – see Herald picks up on Labour’s policy to make you prove consent if you have sex.
From the left, the proposal is also strongly criticised by blogger No Right Turn: I accept that rape cases are difficult to prove. This change will make them remarkably easier. If Labour gets its way, there will be a lot more convictions for rape. And a lot more of them will be of innocent people. We presume innocence because we believe it is far better for the guilty to go free than for the innocent to be punished. Labour clearly does not believe that any more.’ – see Time to defend the presumption of innocence.
Some of Labour’s proposals, particularly the idea of a more inquisitorial system, do find some support from broadcaster Rachel Smalley in Labour's inquisitorial system for rape cases: ‘If you look at the percentage of sexual violence cases that result in a conviction, it’s pathetic. The system is not working. Something needs to change. Rapists walk free every week. To be fair to Labour, they want the Law Commission to complete a report into the inquisitorial system. But Justice Minister Judith Collins has stopped the commission’s work. That’s a great shame. The inquisitorial system when it comes to sexual violence is, at the very least, a conversation worth having.’
National’s domestic violence policy
National has also been releasing related policy – and is again considering removing the right to silence, as well as using GPS monitoring for domestic violence offenders. For details of the announcements by ministers Judith Collins and Anne Tolley, see Derek Cheng’s More tracking of domestic violence offenders announced.
And National’s handling of statistics related to domestic violence have come under scrutiny – with David Cunliffe backing Andrew Little on his claim that the police are under-prosecuting domestic violence cases: ‘The numbers themselves are very surprising. The police have had 10,000 more cases under investigation for domestic violence, but they've had about 10,000 less brought to prosecution’ – see Firstline’s Cunliffe stands by police accusations.
Finally, youth-oriented radio station 95bFM has asked various MPs and candidates what they think are the biggest issues. Their responses have been tweeted in a useful infographic – see 95bFM.