Rape: Challenging the culture of male dominance

By Simon Collins

Marama Hetaraka with scarves to comfort abuse victims. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Marama Hetaraka with scarves to comfort abuse victims. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Home-knitted woollen scarves have become a new kind of "teddy bear" for South Auckland women who have been sexually abused.

The scarves help the women "when they're not doing so well late at night" explains Marama Hetaraka, crisis team leader for the Papatoetoe-based Counselling Services Centre, which distributes them.

"It makes a difference, knowing that there's someone else out there who knows what they're going through. It's like a teddy bear - a teddy bear you can wear in public without being looked at sideways."

Her story

The young woman who started knitting the scarves a year ago, after reading about a similar project in America, has been through worse than any decent person could imagine.

Nine years ago, a shy, quiet first-year university student, she was raped by her boyfriend.

"He was always very domineering," she says.

"One day he just decided to turn about and raped me. He tied me up. And after that he shared me around his friends."

She didn't leave him. She felt somehow implicated, trapped.

"I went funny when I was with him. I had to do what he said," she says.

"I have no friends from high school any more - he would have said something whiny like, 'Oh, but if you go out with them, I'll be all alone'. And if I had invited him, he would have made excuses like, 'But we'd have more fun together' ... and from that I would know I had to turn them down."

It was almost three years before she escaped from the relationship. She switched careers to avoid him, but he made the same switch a year later.

"I went to a conference and he followed me round, reminding me that if I say anything, he's still around."

She became a teacher, but had to take leave because of unexpected triggers.

"One little boy has the same mannerisms. He will come up to me in a way that reminds me of him."

She has become isolated.

"I can't live with anybody because I'm too paranoid. I screamed at one flatmate because she left the door unlatched," she says. "I don't trust anyone at all, apart from my parents."

Instead, alone at home, she cuts herself.

"When it first happened, I felt so overwhelmed I thought my brain was going to explode," she says.

"I had pressure from school. I had pressure from trying to deal with what was happening.

"I tried to commit suicide the week before. It hadn't worked. I was so angry. I just picked up a kitchen knife one day, while I was standing there doing the dishes, and stabbed my leg. I realised, actually I'm concentrating on my leg now. It's freeing. The shock of doing it to myself shook my brain for a bit and I went back to normal for a while."

Later, she became quite clinical about it, cleaning her skin before cutting and dressing the wound afterwards. She is careful to cut parts of her body that are not exposed in public - her thighs and stomach and picking at the skin on her feet.

But she is going to counselling, and cuts herself much less now. She has found websites where she can talk to other people who cut. She has joined a Papakura-based rape survivors' group, Courageous Women. And she knits scarves.

"It's really neat to know that possibly I have bagged up more than 150 scarves to give them in the last year."

His story

The man who tells his story doesn't know the man who raped that young woman. But he has seen other young women gang-raped at gang parties.

"You can guarantee that the president will have her first, and then the rest of them," he says.

"It's something that guys do fantasise about, having their missus taken by their mates or a stranger.

"It comes down to the thinking pattern, what his thoughts are. He's probably been on the turps with his mates and said he's got a really nice-looking missus, and they probably talked him into getting it on with your missus."

Although he lived in the same city as that other, professional man, he grew up in what seems another world - in his grandmother's overcrowded three-bedroom house, and with a father who was "a very heavy drinker and very violent". He was sexually abused. "My grandmother was the only one I could turn to."

When the man was a teenager, his father had an affair with a young woman. "He even took me round to this lady's place and introduced me as his son."

The man had a child himself at 16, found a job, joined a gang and started a steady relationship at 19 that produced another child.

"I still had that mentality of the gang stuff: I'm the man, you're the female and you do as you're damn told," he says.

"She learnt really fast to not push the wrong buttons. If she was feeling upset with me, she couldn't really talk to me about it. I'd just say, 'Bloody hard nut, man'."

He was jailed for assaulting her and did an anger management course that actually made him cry. But he tore up the certificate afterwards.

"I didn't want to fix my anger," he says.

"I wanted to be that angry person, I wanted to be that violent person back then. I wanted to be like my mates. I wanted to have a reputation."

He was jailed again for a sexual assault on a relative. When he came out of prison, he found a job and settled down with a partner for five years. He is proud of the way he seduced her.

"We'd been out drinking. She didn't want to be intimate. I took control of the situation and manipulated it just like that. It was just so easy, she played straight into my hands," he says.

"I had a lovely partner, and it [sex] was there whenever I wanted it, she told me that."

But one day he went on an all-day drinking binge at a mate's place and began fantasising about the relative he had assaulted sexually a few years before. That evening he went around to her place. She let him in.

"She trusted me," he says. "I'm a very good manipulator, I learnt it from my father, I saw him do it. It's all verbal, and after that it's like sweet as."

His relative tried to push him away. "That's when I started to be more forceful," he says. "The manipulation started getting harsher, and before I knew it I was up on a rape charge."

Challenging 'rape culture'

At an individual level, part of the answer to rape is the same as the answer to so many of our social ills - to help parents nurture their children so that they can grow up to be loving rather than manipulative and abusive.

The Government nodded in this direction this week by funding 3000 places a year on the "Incredible Years" parenting programme for parents of children with behaviour problems. Arguably we need more such services for parents at every school and preschool and for every newborn baby.

Parents also need time with their children, which they don't have if they have to work long hours at low wages to pay swollen mortgages or rents. Higher low-end wages, and fewer tax rorts for well-paid investors who now set house prices, might help.

But rape is also different from other social problems. Feminists such as Auckland University psychologist Nicola Gavey, author of Just Sex? The Cultural Scaffolding of Rape, believe that eliminating it requires tackling our whole culture of male dominance, including the idea that sex is about hormone-driven men pursuing passive women.

Tying up your partner and passing her around to your mates is extreme and unusual - although not as unusual as you might think: 32 of the 301 survivors seen by Auckland Sexual Abuse Help's crisis team last year were assaulted by more than one offender.

But it is at the extreme end of a continuum on which there is no easy boundary between "normal" and "abusive" sex.

In an early survey for her doctoral thesis back in 1987, Gavey found that 25 per cent of 347 female students at Auckland University had either had sexual intercourse, or had a man try to have intercourse with them, against their will using "some degree of physical force" or by giving them drugs or alcohol. Altogether, 52 per cent had experienced some kind of "sex play" or worse against their will.

Even group sex is not necessarily abusive. Russell Smith, who runs the Maori sexual violence prevention programme Tiaki Tinana, says: "There are a number of men and women who engage in multiple sex in a consensual context."

But he points to a kind of group-think that can happen in some all-male sports clubs. "It's a man's world - league culture, rugby culture, some of the cultures reinforce this masculine society and the right to do what they want."

Tiaki Tinana, delivered at many Maori gatherings over the past three years, helps people to see both themselves and their partners not just as individuals but as members of wider whanau who need to be cared for and respected.

In Wellington, a pilot "sexual ethics" programme, paid for by the Justice Ministry, teaches young people how to negotiate sex as something actively desired or lovingly given by both parties, rather than desired by one and merely "consented to" by the other.

Auckland's Rape Prevention Education, which has focused for many years on "keeping yourself safe", has also developed a new "Sex'n'Respect" programme teaching school students about respectful relationships. But so far all these programmes reach only a tiny fraction of all schools.

Gavey also advocates challenging traditional sex roles - letting boys play with dolls and girls play active physical sports when they want to.

Kathryn McPhillips of Auckland Sexual Abuse Help says the law can also help to shift attitudes. She supports a proposal to reverse the onus of proof of "consent" in rape cases, requiring offenders to show what they did to make sure their partners consented.

She hopes that a Law Commission inquiry will lead to specialist sexual violence courts using an inquisitorial system to establish what happened, replacing the current adversarial system.

"In sexual violence cases usually there are few independent witnesses, if any, and very little corroborative evidence. It's about he said/she said," she says.

She also wants the Government to fund support staff for survivors, not just the 18 "advisers" who will be funded out of a new levy on offenders.

A Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence proposed in October that "sustainable funding" should be provided for programmes such as the new sexual ethics course and public education on the lines of the "It's not okay" family violence campaign. Justice Minister Simon Power is scheduled to respond to the report "in the coming months".

Meanwhile, grassroots agencies such as Auckland Sexual Abuse Help and the Counselling Services Centre are reeling from new, tighter rules for ACC-funded counselling, forcing them to turn to charitable trusts and lotteries.

Courageous Women, which draws up to 20 survivors to its Papakura support meetings, has run out of money, deregistered its trust and closed its West Auckland and North Shore branches.

"We have no funding so we are probably about to close the website unless we can find a sponsor," says co-ordinator Tania Blomfield. She says group members buy wool out of their own pockets for the scarves to comfort South Auckland's rape survivors.

"We are always looking for people to knit for us, and donations of wool."

Tania Blomfield, 027 253 6984.




52 per cent of female university students have experienced "sex play" or worse against their will.

25 per cent have had actual or attempted sexual intercourse against their will.

29 per cent of all NZ women in a 2005 survey have experienced "distressing sexual touching" or worse.

14 per cent of all NZ women have experienced "forced sexual intercourse".


1955 alleged sexual offences were reported to police in 2007.

Suspects were identified for 1068 cases.

Charges were laid in 601 cases. 251 offenders were convicted.

- NZ Herald

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