New Zealand: National protests planned over rape gang, police inaction

Recently, an organised criminal group called “Roastbusters” were exposed as a gang-rape organisation who targeted intoxicated and underage girls, then publicly shamed them online.

The police knew about this group’s action since 2011 but failed to stop them. Police claimed they were powerless to act because none of the girls who were raped are “brave enough” to lay a formal complaint. It has since transpired that four complaints were ignored.

The Roastbusters fiasco is another explicit reminder that there are huge problems with the way our society addresses sexual violence. On November 16, there will be national protests across New Zealand. The protests will demand an end to rape and all forms of sexual violence and that survivors of rape and sexual violence are supported. For details, check Fightback.org.nz.

The story of the Roasbusters gang is especially disturbing, but tragically far from unique. Writing in Scoop.org.nz about the case, feminist activist Anne Russell wrote: “It is, unfortunately, a truism that the older you get, the more of your friends have been raped.”

Riussell said: “Even when rape victims actually want their rapists to go to jail, many are put off going to the police by the victim-blaming and retraumatisation that frequently happens during questioning, with only a slim chance of a conviction.

“This is not to say that the police are incapable of being good allies to rape survivors, or that victims should never go to the police for help. But anti-rape advocates have known for a long time that the police aren’t often the first port of call for rape survivors.”

Russell noted four victims of Roastbusters came forward in 2011. “In the case of one of the girls, after making her re-enact her rape with dolls, the police told her that her case was inadmissible owing to lack of evidence and the short skirt she was wearing at the time. The idea of police as bastions of justice is clearly flawed when they won’t prevent children from being raped.

“I say ‘won’t’ rather than ‘can’t', because these people are middle class adults with state-granted powers of surveillance power at their hands. It wasn’t impossible for the police to dig up internet and telecommunications evidence to use against the Urewera 17, and yet the Roastbusters’ open admissions of rape were not enough for them to even report the page to Facebook.”

Russell points out although in this case, one of the gang members is the son of a cop, “this sort of inertia is all too common in police conduct around rape cases. It’s not a coincidence that an institution that frequently upholds misogynist power and violence ― as in the rape of Louise Nicholas by police in 1984, not to mention ongoing prison rape statistics ― is ill-equipped to understand or dismantle the misogynist power and violence that shapes rape culture.”

Russell said much of the commentary from politicians and in the media is about seeking to portray the Roastbusters as an anomaly. She said: “When asked about the case, [Prime Minister] John Key expressed disgust and said that the Roastbusters crew needed to 'grow up' (as though adults don’t rape) ...

“The cultural focus on whether or not the Roastbusters’ acts legally count as rape is part of an attempt to treat them as an anomaly, neatly dividing the world into Evil Rapists and Good Non-Rapists.

“If the accused rapist is found guilty in a court of law they can be sent to jail, wherein many people view prison rape as a fitting retribution, and we can forget about them―the problem is sitting in a remote cell. If they are not, their friends can keep inviting them to parties without discussing the violence they’ve committed because it’s too awkward …

“Outing a rapist in a public forum almost invariably risks accusations of slander or libel, because there is rarely concrete proof of rape that can be used in a court of law. Yet anti-rape organisations estimate that only around 3% of rape accusations are false ― these forming only a small fraction of rapes that are reported at all.”

Russell ended on a hopeful note: “It’s possible that the Roastbusters affair could be a watershed moment in New Zealand’s rape culture politics. The anger around the country is widespread and palpable ... Many are refusing to treat rape as a nasty but inevitable part of living in human society.”

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