International Women's Day (IWD) — March 8 — was marked by marches protesting the recent acquittal of former assistant police commissioner Clint Rickards and two other former police officers on charges of rape.
On March 1, Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum were acquitted on charges of sexual violation of a 16-year-old woman in 1984. Last year, the same three men were found not guilty in a similar case involving a Rotorua woman, Louise Nicholas. Both cases heard evidence — which was not disputed by the accused — that they had been involved in group sex with young women on a number of occasions during the early 1980s.
Following the latest acquittal, it was revealed that Shipton and Schollum were already serving jail sentences, imposed in 2005 for their role in the gang rape of a woman 16 years ago. Many features of the attack, including the use of objects such as police batons and bottles to violate the victims, were similar to the Nicholas case and the more recent case. This evidence was suppressed during the last two cases.
The cases have sparked a public outcry, focussed on Rickards' demand to have his suspension from the police force lifted and return to his previous job. But the cases have also highlighted the treatment of rape survivors by the NZ justice system. Only 5% of rape complaints go to trial; of these, less than 1% result in a conviction. Rape victims are subjected to vicious cross-examination by defence lawyers, as happened in the recent trials, with their past sexual behaviour being raised. Not surprisingly, most rape victims prefer not to press charges rather than put themselves through more trauma.
Marchers called for Rickards to be sacked, for justice for rape victims, and for changes to attitudes condoning rape and sexual violence.
In Auckland, several hundred women and men marched through the city centre in the largest IWD action for several years.
A number of speakers, including National Distribution Union secretary Laila Harre, addressed the crowd. While the march organisers stressed that the protest was not "anti-police", Daphne Lawless of Socialist Worker received applause when she stated that the rape charges represented the entrenched sexism of police culture, stemming from their function as protectors of the rich and powerful.
In Wellington, protesters gathered outside the Central Police Station, where they were confronted by a line of women police guarding the entrance. While the Wellington police commissioner claimed that this was an attempt to show that the police force had changed, protesters were not convinced after a woman was prevented from taking a statement on her own rape into the station. Protesters also gathered in Palmerston North and Christchurch for candlelight vigils.