Tag Archives: rape culture

Protecting girls

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This is what courage looks like

Tania Billingsley has come out publicly as the woman who was assaulted by Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a staff assistant at the Malaysian High Commission. She chose to have her name suppression lifted so that she could speak publicly about the case, and about the government’s failure to address sexual and intimate abuse.

I’m awed by Billingsley’s courage and strength. I’ve seen the kind of backlash that survivors of abuse have to deal with. If I was in her shoes, there’s no way I’d have the guts to stand up publicly like this. She’s made it very clear that she’s doing this not just for herself, but for every person who’s ever been sexually assaulted. In a public statement she said:

I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I have gone through. And if my idea of justice means ensuring the safety of women and others, then it cannot stop at the prosecution of this man. 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.

I’m also furious that it’s come to this. I’m outraged that a woman had to out herself as a survivor of assault in order to be heard and taken seriously. I’m livid that sexual violence still isn’t seen as a political issue. I’m mad a man decided to exploit his diplomatic immunity to assault a woman, because he knew he could get away with it. I’m angry that bureaucrats and politicians decided that the pain and trauma that Tania suffered, her right to accountability, and other women’s right to be protected from assault by the same man, were less important than maintaining good diplomatic relations. I’m particularly disgusted by Murray McCully’s lazy, cowardly and self-serving response to everything that’s happened.

I’m struggling to type this because I am literally shaking with rage.

New Zealand has a serious problem with sexual violence—especially violence against women. Over and over and over it’s been made clear that the problem is not a few violent, abusive individuals—it’s an entire culture that normalises abuse and punishes the victims instead of the perpetrators. I know this from my own experience. I know it from the experiences of women in my life.

Tania Billingsley has taken an incredibly courageous stand. She’s taken this stand for everyone who’s ever been sexually assaulted, for everyone who lives in fear of being sexually assaulted, for everyone who loves someone who’s been sexually assaulted. We owe her our gratitude, and we owe her our action.

 

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2013: less shit than 2012

This time a year ago I was spending most of my time in bed, streaming episodes of Once Upon A Time, subsisting on a diet of hommous and crackers because the anxiety was so overwhelming that even going to the kitchen was too scary. I was trying out extended-release Ritalin to see if taking it on a daily basis helped. Mostly it just turned up the anxiety to full volume (which is the exact reason I’d been avoiding Ritalin).

There’s a bunch of things that helped me recover. One was moving to a flat where I could use the kitchen without worrying about flatmates giving me judgmental looks for eating food that comes in a can. Another was that my grandmother left me some money when she died, which gave me the freedom to take time off and work on recovering without having to battle WINZ every few weeks. I think maybe the most important one was that after a ten-year break I decided to give anti-depressants another go. I’ve had such terrible experiences with anti-depressants in the past that things had to get pretty desperate for me to even consider it. I’m glad I did, because right now the combination of venlafaxine and atomoxetine seems to be working out ok. I keep waiting for the meds to stop helping, for everything to revert back to the way I felt before. It’s like tiptoeing in the dark waiting to step over the edge of a cliff. Past experience has taught me that depression is never solved; you just learn to make the most of the good times and be prepared for the worst times.

I started making a list of significant things that happened in 2013:

  • Margaret Thatcher died
  • George Zimmerman was acquitted
  • SCAF took power in Egypt
  • Beyonce released a surprise album
  • Chelsea Manning came out as trans
  • Cis boys wrote earnest facebook updates about how they were gonna call Chelsea Manning by her correct name and pronoun
  • Cis boys patiently waited to be showered with cookies 

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Last year we had the first NZ-wide conference about Palestine in two decades. Organising the conference was an educational experience regarding working with people who have drastically different political outlooks and approaches to organising. At times it felt like performance art on the nature of White Supremacist Patriarchy (White men making the decisions, Arab women doing the work).

I’m really glad it happened. It was awesome and inspiring and validating to meet people from around the country who are committed to the decolonisation of Palestine.

The highlight of the conference was the Palestinian writer and youth worker Yousef al-Jamal. He talked about his life in Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, BDS, and the Palestinian prisoners’ movement. Building personal relationships between Palestinians in Palestine and solidarity activists here (as well as Palestinian New Zealanders) is really valuable and I hope that in the future we can bring more Palestinians over here, not just from Gaza but also from the West Bank, the ’48 territories, and the refugee camps. It’s far more useful than sending New Zealand journalists over to Palestine—there are plenty of Palestinian journalists who report from there.

The conference also included Jewish-Israeli anti-Zionist Miko Peled. It was revealing that—with the exception of Native Affairs—every mainstream media outlet was only interested in interviewing Miko and not Yousef. They all thought the voice of the coloniser was more valid and impartial than the voice of the colonised.

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The conference gave birth to an Aotearoa BDS Network, which is where most of my time and energy went towards the end of the year. The global campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel is something that I’m incredibly invested in on a personal level. It’s the most useful way that people living outside Palestine can be actively solid with Palestinians. It’s an opportunity to abolish Israeli apartheid and see the refugees’ right of return honoured using non-violent tactics. I would much rather see Palestine liberated without more bloodshed. I also know that right now the chances of that happening are looking pretty slim.

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I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions but this year I’m resolving to be nicer to myself. I’m giving myself permission to do things just because they’re fun and make me happy, even if they don’t contribute towards The Revolution. My list so far:

  • Play music
  • Make street art
  • Pat dogs
  • Drink beer

I considered adding ‘have sex’ to that list. There are good reasons I decided to take a break. I miss having sex with other people, but I’m not sure I’m ready either. I wish I lived in a culture where being a rape victim wasn’t stigmatised. I wish I lived in a culture where knowing how to support rape victims was considered such a vital skill that everyone knew how to do it. I wish I felt comfortable talking to potential lovers about what my boundaries are and what I find triggering, and be confident that they would listen and respect that and respect me for telling them. I wish I never had to see that expression on someone’s face when they go all awkward and uncomfortable and I know that they find all this stuff too weird and scary to be thinking about. I wish I didn’t constantly feel like I’m not worth the trouble of having to navigate through my trauma.

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Last year was a ruthless reminder that I live in a rape culture. The group of teenage boys who got girls drunk, raped them, then humiliated them on Facebook, is one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. The response—from the boys’ schools, from the police, from the media—was horrific. It’s no wonder that boys think it’s a good idea to rape girls when they grow up in a culture where rape is minimised, condoned, laughed about, and blamed on the victims. I’ve seen so many people blame these boys’ behavior on drinking culture, on hook-up culture, on the girls they raped. The reality is that this entire culture is at fault for making it so easy to rape, and to get away with it.

Watching the story unfold in the media brought back so many shitty experiences that I’ve had. Almost every woman I know was feeling the same. Maybe one of the positive things that came out of it is that it encouraged people who’ve been raped to talk about what happened, to talk to each other, to know that we’re not alone.

It was amazing to see Civic Square full of people who came for the Stop Rape Culture Now march. It was amazing to hear so many brave smart women speak. I know that it’s much easier to come to a protest than to actually respect boundaries and pay attention to consent in all of your sexual relationships (not that paying attention to consent is that fucking hard!) but I really really hope that all the protests, and blog posts, and discussions did have an impact.

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Wishes for 2014:

  • No more rape culture
  • Decolonisation of Palestine
  • Anarchist revolution
  • Vegan pizzeria across the road from my house
  • Good science fiction with lots of trans, disabled, POC, queer and women characters
  • Introduction of transport beam technology 

Failing that, I’ll settle for satisfying work that makes me feel useful and lots of time spent with awesome people who make me feel loved.

Happy goy new year.

 

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