Andrew Tidball is somewhat of a New Zealand music personality. He DJs, he hosts a radio show on bFM, he runs local music site Cheese on Toast—he’s a guy that can help your band get famous.
I never really had my finger on the pulse of the music scene, so the first time I ever heard of Tidball was when I found out he had raped one of my friends.
Yesterday The Spinoff published an interview with four young women who were sexually abused by Tidball when they were teenagers, one of them when she was only twelve. Some of their stories I’d heard before, others were new.
I’m in awe of how courageous these women are, to publicly come out as survivors of his abuse. I’m also very grateful to them. I know there are probably other women who Tidball preyed on, who have chosen not to come out, because they know how often women are punished for standing up to abusers.
I’m also angry. I know that Tidball would not have been able to abuse multiple girls over a span of over a decade unless he had people around to enable him. There is no way that Tidball could have kept his abusive and predatory behavior a secret from everyone. I’m sure that people at bFM knew that he’d been accused of rape, but they continued to give him a platform up until yesterday, when his behavior became national news. I know that at least one prominent leftwing commentator was contacted by a woman who Tidball raped, and told her that she should go to the police with her “very serious allegations”.
In case anyone thinks that there is no connection between Tidball’s radio show or his website or the gigs he DJs, and his abuse of teenage girls, I will now point out that Tidball used his clout in the music scene, his knowledge of and access to the cool indie bands, to befriend alienated girls for whom music was a passion. He befriended these girls so that he could groom them for abuse. Tidball needs to be held accountable for what he did to these girls, and so does everyone else who made it possible for him to do so.
It would be nice to pretend that Andrew Tidball is an exceptional predator, a man whose actions are repugnant to the society he lives in. But over and over and over again I see evidence that in New Zealand society, girls’ bodies do not belong to them, girls’ safety doesn’t matter, and girls aren’t really people. I’m thinking of Louise Nicholas and the other girls who were raped by police officers like Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum and Brad Shipton. I’m thinking of the girls who were raped and then publicly shamed by a gang of teenage boys who called themselves ‘roastbusters’. I’m thinking of the “prominent man” with name suppression who was found not guilty of sexually abusing two girls earlier today. I’m thinking of Rob Gilchrist, an undercover police officer who preyed on girls in the anarchist and animal rights movements. I’m thinking that he was enabled by both the police – who employed him – and by adult activists who should’ve known what he was doing but decided they’d rather not know.
The same day I read about Andrew Tidball, I also read an article in the Guardian about Henderson High School deputy principal Cherith Telford who told female students not to wear short skirts, in order to “stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”.
This school is teaching girls that it is their responsibility, not just to make sure that boys don’t see them as sexual objects, but also to make sure that their teachers – the adults who have power and authority over them – don’t see them as sexual objects. The school is teaching boys that if they see a girl as a sexual object rather than a person (who may or may not be sexual) that’s not their fault, it’s the girl’s fault. Worst of all the school is telling their male staff members, adults who are trusted to educate and protect children, that if they view girls as sexual objects, that’s the girls’ fault.
This is the kind of attitude that makes girls vulnerable to sexual predators like Andrew Tidball. This high school deputy principal is teaching girls that if they are abused it’s their own fault—essentially grooming girls for sexual abusers.
I remember what it felt like to be 14 years old. I remember what it was like to be 14 and wear a short skirt. At that age I hated my body. I thought I was fat and ugly—I didn’t look like the models in Dolly or Girlfriend. Wearing a short skirt was a big deal, it took courage and it was part of the process of learning to accept my body. It never would’ve occurred to me that adult men would see me in my short skirt and see an object of sexual desire. It barely occurred to me that boys my own age would see me as desirable.
My mother tried to protect me. She had strict rules about what I could wear, where I could go, who I could talk to. Of course I ignored her. I wore outrageous grunge outfits made of op-shop lingerie, I went for evening walks alone in the Botanic Gardens, I chatted with random men I met on the street.
None of my mother’s rules protected me. They put me in more danger. They meant that when the older boy at the party fondled my breast, when the grocery-store owner put his arm around me and showed me the wine he had available (evidently he thought punk girls trade sexual favours for alcohol), or when the stranger on the street kissed my neck and whispered “I think you’re very sexy”, I blamed myself. Instead of getting angry at these men who violated my boundaries and my autonomy, who touched me without my consent, I got angry at me. I thought that by dressing the way I did I accidentally sent a message to these men that it was OK to touch me that way. I thought that I was the one who had done something wrong, and that what they did was alright.
We need to protect girls. We need to protect girls by teaching boys that they are in control of their own actions, and will be held responsible for them. We need to protect girls by holding men accountable for abusing and preying on girls. We need to protect girls by refusing to give men who abuse and prey on girls any kind of power to continue abusing and preying on girls.
Most of all we need to protect girls by teaching them that their bodies belong to them, and that their sexuality belongs to them. We need to teach girls that it’s OK to wear short skirts, and it’s OK to walk alone at night, and it’s OK to flirt with boys, and it’s even OK to have sex if they want to have sex, and absolutely none of those things make it OK for anyone to sexually abuse them.
Anyone who teaches girls otherwise is part of the problem.