Deborah Coddington: Our women damaged, not promiscuous

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Now that we've had a good snigger at the Durex survey which purported to show New Zealand women are the "most promiscuous in the world", with an average of 20.4 sexual partners, can we put aside the jokes and think about why this might be?

Could it possibly be connected with another international survey, out this week from the World Health Organisation, showing New Zealand girls are more likely to be sexually abused than females from all the other 11 developed countries surveyed?

This shameful revelation, coming as it does on top of facts showing New Zealanders care little for the wellbeing of children - physical abuse, unwanted teenage pregnancies, abortion statistics - is no surprise to anyone who, in the last few decades, has had anything to do with the sexual abuse of children.

But this is a subject we don't talk about. It happens in our own homes, next door, at school, at friends' homes, but we turn away and change the subject. We'd rather fuss about false accusations of sexual abuse (which do happen, albeit rarely), and make national heroes of those who publicly campaign for acquittal.

But nothing will change while we cling to the nonsensical belief that the privacy of perpetrators is paramount.

Even when abusers have been convicted and sentenced, they're entitled to get on with their lives, we say. There's such a thing as double jeopardy. We shouldn't punish them more than once by repeatedly publishing their names, or alerting communities to their danger.

I've held my tongue, thus far, on the recent police raids and arrests of suspected terrorists. But what I'd really love to see is a nationwide, co-ordinated, massive police raid of known recidivist child sex abusers. Can you imagine the outcry, though, if this were to take place? Police, especially those working in the child abuse teams, know exactly who the perverts are in every neighbourhood. They question them whenever there's a sexual assault. I would argue that the threat to the safety of New Zealanders, especially children, is far greater from sex offenders than from terrorists, but police are not allowed to breach the so-called privacy of known and suspected sex abusers. They've been forced, in the past, to pay compensation for doing so.

To paraphrase Hone Harawira, that makes me bloody angry, and when I think about this comparison, I start to have some sympathy for those rounded up in the last fortnight's raids. The public of New Zealand have never received an explanation from the Government about why 2005's Operation Tercel - a meticulously planned nationwide bust of child pornographers scheduled for October 2004 - was postponed until international media could no longer hold the story, resulting in local suspects receiving prior warning. Were rumours correct, that a high-ranking politician was on the list handed to New Zealand police by Interpol?

According to New Zealand Statistics, 2006 saw 3524 convictions for sexual assaults and that doesn't include child pornographers - the highest since 1996 - and that's just the ones who get caught.

In Hawke's Bay in 1998, 654 fourth-form students (as they were then known) were surveyed by the Wellington School of Medicine and 39 per cent were having sexual intercourse. Maori girls were four times more likely than European to report having had more than five partners (we're talking 13, 14, 15-year-olds here) and three times more likely to report their first sexual intercourse occurring under age 12, with, tragically, 32 out of 258 students having had sex before they were 10.

That's illegal, in any culture or community, but I bet the perpetrators have never been punished. And it's not new. Women my age get together and out of, say, six of us, there'll be at least four who can remember a neighbour, family member or friend, getting them alone and shoving his hands into their pants, over their breasts, often repeatedly. They didn't tell anyone, but they never forgot the shame and disgust. And the men (99 per cent of sex offenders are men) probably just thought it was equivalent to stealing apples from the neighbour's tree. No harm done.

Oh really? Is it any wonder so many women in New Zealand, who've had their innocence stolen by force, grew up without the skills to say no, with nothing special to treasure and save for one person they really loved?

You don't need a touchy-feely degree to join the dots and wonder that perhaps, just perhaps, New Zealand women are not promiscuous, but damaged. Isn't it time we started going after those responsible for this mayhem? If anyone in Parliament's genuine about following other countries and tackling this national disgrace, I've got all the material for a Sex Offender Registry Bill. I'm in the phone book, just call me.

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