Toby Manhire 's Opinion

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Roast Busters questions scream for answers

72 comments
Beraiah Hales (Kaci) is a member of the Roastbuster Roast Busters facebook group who have allegedly put pictures of their sexual conquests online.
Beraiah Hales (Kaci) is a member of the Roastbuster Roast Busters facebook group who have allegedly put pictures of their sexual conquests online.

The response was swift and pretty much universal: this was appalling, stomach churning, almost certainly criminal. Revulsion at the expose of a gang of teenage sexual predators was instant. And so the most immediately alarming questions was this: if it prompted anything like the same reaction two years ago, why didn't those who knew about it then make it stop?

These teenage cretins called themselves "Roast Busters". "Roasting" or "spit-roasting" is a sexual practice alluding to the manner a dead animal might be cooked, and which first came to public light in rape cases in Britain a decade ago. In the grotesque New Zealand example, they bragged about their conquests on Facebook, strutting their stuff and shaming their victims. They got away with it.

The police, who knew about it two years ago, have this week insisted, over and over, that their hands are tied. A policeman (presumably no women were available) on Sunday night explained the problem was a lack of complaint.

"None of the girls have been brave enough to make formal statements to us so we can take it to a prosecution stage or even consider a prosecution stage."

Except that they had. Four of them had come forward in 2011 and 2012. Four of them. Three were 13, one 15. One had made a full and formal complaint.

The clear impression is not of a police force with tied hands, but sitting on them. Or worse.

The manner by which all of this has emerged leaves the stench of a cover-up. Yesterday, a search warrant was issued. As a nation bangs its head on the desk, the screaming question is this: why weren't the alleged offenders' computers and phones seized years ago? Why weren't warrants for surveillance sought and executed?

A couple of days ago, it might have been possible to accept police assurances that the investigation was unaffected by the fact that the son of a police officer was linked to the predatory gang. Today, it seems naive to take that at face value.

The 13-year-old who gave the recorded statement in 2011, what is more, told 3News that she was "asked a lot of questions about what I was wearing, and I went out in a skirt". That "they said that I didn't have enough evidence to show, because I went out in clothes that were pretty much asking for it".

This horrible week has underlined just how heavily our culture loads the dice against rape victims. One in four females and one in eight males in New Zealand are likely to be subjected to sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Less than 10 per cent of those make a complaint. The proportion is lower among young people. Of those that do go forward, a minority of cases result in prosecution.

This week's revelations, complete with the ongoing echoes of that insidious "asking for it" refrain, can only make those sick-making statistics even gloomier. Unless there is a reckoning, in the form of resignations and a wide-ranging inquiry, victims will become even less inclined to "brave" a call to the police.

The overwhelming reluctance of sexual abuse victims to report crime is the crucial context in which to listen to RadioLive hosts who describe the activities of this West Auckland group of sexual predators as "mischief", who ask the friend of a rape victim "how free and easy are you kids today" and tell her the problem is that "as the pressure comes on, a lot more girls who might have consented ... might well just line up and say they were raped as well".

The overwhelming reluctance of sexual abuse victims to report crime is the crucial context in which to read a Bob Jones column in the Herald headlined "Rape a risk for those who don't act sensibly", which includes the transparent nonsense that "99.999 per cent of men are not rapists" and chides young female German tourists assaulted in a public park as "very silly" for venturing out at night in inappropriate clothing.

Police Minister Anne Tolley yesterday tasked the Independent Police Conduct Authority with investigating the way the case was handled. That's better than nothing, but it's not enough.

In 2007, the commission of inquiry into police conduct led by Dame Margaret Bazley identified examples of police displaying "stereotyped views of complainants; and a culture of scepticism in dealing with complaints of sexual assault".

That feels depressingly current.

There's little chance the IPCA will be able to ask this: is the West Auckland horror show an isolated case or part of something wider, systemic, even institutional? It was just over a month ago, remember, that central district commander Superintendent Russell Gibson apologised after describing a 10-year-old rape victim as a "willing party" in her sexual abuse.

It's up to the Government now to show that this is hugely important, that they could not be taking it more seriously, that it warrants a commission of inquiry. Without it, confidence in the police can only erode further, and those who have been sexually abused will increasingly conclude that going to the police is a bad idea.

Toby Manhire

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

Read more by Toby Manhire

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 31 Jul 2014 00:54:23 Processing Time: 490ms