A national day of action against rape drew thousands of protesters onto the streets across New Zealand on November 16. Outrage continues to grow at revelations police were aware of an Auckland “rape gang”, which posted videos boasting of their exploits on social media, for at least two years, but did nothing.
The group of 17-and-18-year-old men, who included the sons of a Hollywood actor and a serving police officer, called themselves “Roast Busters” (“roasting” or “spit roasting”, according to the Urban Dictionary website, is slang for group sex in which multiple men have sex with a woman).
After picking up often underage girls, plying them with alcohol and raping them when they were too intoxicated to resist, the Roast Busters posted videos to their Facebook page where they named their victims and made derogatory comments about them.
After TV3 News revealed the existence of the group and its Facebook page, police admitted they had known of the existence of the group since 2011. They claimed they had not been able to get the page taken down for “operational reasons”. The page was removed shortly after the TV3 repor).
Under NZ law, it is illegal to have sexual contact with a person under the age of 16, or someone who is incapacitated by alcohol. However, the police claimed they were unable to charge anyone as none of the victims had been “brave enough” to come forward and make a formal statement.
They also claimed they had warned members of the group that “their behaviour [was] verging on criminal if not criminal, and suggested it cease”.
In a video posted to their Facebook page, one Roast Busters member said: “We take what we do seriously, some of you think this is a joke, it's not. You try and get with the amount of girls we do.
“This is hard, it's a job, we don't do this shit for pleasure.”
Another member of the group, 17-year-old Beraiah Hayes, asked what his favourite saying was, responded: “Go ahead, tell the cops, they can’t un-rape you.”
One of the group’s victims told Three News that she was underage when she encountered them. “I just kept blacking out 'cause I had drunken too much,” she said. “You could say I got raped. I had sex with three guys at one time.”
The police line that no victims were prepared to come forward was subsequently disproved when it was revealed at least four women complained to the police after their experiences with the gang.
One told Three News that she had been sexually assaulted by the Roast Busters two years previously, when she was 13. “I had a video interview where I had to act out what had happened with dolls,” she said. “It was traumatising.
“They said that I didn't have enough evidence to show, because I went out in clothes that was pretty much asking for it …
“From then I have had my friends sexually abused by them. How many girls have been raped? I have seen posts done by girls saying Roast Busters ruined their lives.”
It is not surprising these revelations sparked a storm of protest. However, the scale of the response has been unprecedented, and largely powered through social media.
Several Facebook pages were set up condemning the police inaction and demanding justice for survivors. Two young Auckland women, 16-year-old Jade Schutte and 18-year-old Ash Hilton, set up a Facebook page and were interviewed on Three News.
An organising meeting called by the two women and other supporters drew over 50 people. It called a rally for November 16 under the slogan: “Bust Rape Culture Now, Justice for Survivors.”
Within a few days, similar marches were organised in other major cities and some regional centres.
An online petition calling on Prime Minister John Key to ensure that the Roast Busters were charged, that survivors of sexual abuse were supported and that adequate services for victims of rape and assault were provided, has gained more than 90,000 signatures.
The campaign has also targeted media who engaged in, or condoned, victim blaming. Radio Live talkback hosts John Tamihere and Willie Jackson were taken off air after a young women who called their show to discuss her knowledge of the gang, who had raped several of her friends, was asked why the girls had been out late at night, why they had been drinking, and at what age she had lost her virginity.
An online campaign resulted in companies such as ANZ Bank, Telecom and Yellow Pages withdrawing advertising from the show. By the end of the week, the radio station, which initially defended the two broadcasters, announced they would be placed on leave until at least the start of next year.
The government, which had initially backed the police, was forced to respond to the outcry. On November 7, police minister Ann Tolley announced the police handling of the Roast Busters would be referred to the Independent Police Conduct Authority for investigation.
Police Commissioner Peter Marshall admitted police could have done more to investigate, and had repeatedly given wrong information to media about the number of victims involved. A multi-agency taskforce, headed by a senior female detective-inspector, has been set up to investigate the case.
Left-wing blogger Giovanni Tiso ― who had initiated the online campaign to get advertisers to withdraw from Radio Live ― pointed out that while the social media campaign had been successful, it was due to the public outrage which resulted from an increasing rejection of rape culture.
“That sentiment,” Tiso said, “derives from a very precise set of ideas about gender, sex and consent that have been campaigned upon by feminists for decades. We may just have reached a turning point in which enough people have been persuaded for the entire societal compass to be abruptly reoriented.”