Bryce Edwards

Dr Bryce Edwards is a politics lecturer at University of Otago

Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: Police, rape, censorship, and sexual politics

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Police Minister Anne Tolley during a press conference over the Roast Busters scandal at Parliament in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police Minister Anne Tolley during a press conference over the Roast Busters scandal at Parliament in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The politics of policing, rape, sexual politics, social media and censorship are all potentially explosive and they've all gone off at the same time with the so-called Roast Busters social media group. The public's revulsion and outrage about the scandal is immense. On Twitter you can see some of the strongest and most interesting reaction and debate - see my blogpost, Top tweets on the Police and 'roast busters'.

The controversy has also attracted global media attention with reports such as the Guardian's Roast Busters: we can't let such Facebook groups thrive - written by Nicole Skews (AKA, New Zealand blogger and activist 'Coley Tangerina') - the BBC's New Zealand police probe ordered over 'teen rape club', CNN's New Zealand 'Roast Busters' alleged teen rape victim: I filed a complaint, the Daily Mail's The 'Roast Buster Facebook rape gang' who boasted online about vile actions, and the International Business Times' Did Police Ignore Rape Complaint of 13-Year-Old Kiwi Girl in 2011 Because One of Roast Busters Members Is Son of a Cop?.



Police failure

It's the New Zealand Police now feeling the most heat. For two scathing and well-argued critiques of police performance on the scandal see the blogposts FFS and A massive police failure on the No Right Turn blog. But condemnation is hardly restricted to the blogosphere and social media. Newspaper editorials are also strongly worded - see the Dominion Post's Police risk loss of faith and the Herald's Under age sex scandal reflects badly on all parties. For the latest details on the police's performance, see Stacey Kirk and Michael Fox's Police under fire for Roast Busters.

Have the police been involved in a cover-up? That's the question asked today by Toby Manhire. He says, '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.... 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' - see: Roast Busters questions scream for answers.

Or are the police just incompetent? Catriona MacLennan goes through a list of laws which the police could have used to action the complaints against the 'roast busters' - see: Police force fails NZ's women ... again.

Recently, TV3's The Vote ran a debate on the question of: Are the police losing our trust? - You can watch the 38-minute video here or read the Transcript. The producer of that programme, Tim Watkin has now blogged about the lastest controversy - see: RoastBusters, resilience and the reappearance of Bullshit Castle.

Further criticisms of the police can be read in Deborah Russell's Memo from the blue gang: women aren't citizens, Paul Buchanan's A Day in the Life, and Giovanni Tiso's This is what rape culture looks like.

RadioLive controversy

The heightened feelings about the scandal are epitomised by the RadioLive controversy involving Willie Jackson and John Tamihere's broadcast coverage of the issue. The RadioLive duo brought condemnation upon themselves for the way that they handled the topic when interviewing someone close to the victims of the 'roast busters'. This led to an on-air stoush yesterday when regular guest Matthew Hooton went on the show with Jackson and Tamihere -best covered in Patrice Dougan's Roast Busters: Columnist walks out on radio hosts. You can listen to the 2-minute part of the show here: Matthew Hooton walks out and read the array of tweets about the whole RadioLive episode in my blogpost, Top tweets on RadioLive's 'roast busters' interview. You can also read Hooton's explanation on Facebook.

RadioLive now appear to be dealing with a consumer/advertising boycott organised by blogger Giovanni Tiso - see Patrice Dougan's More advertising pulled from RadioLive and Amy Maas' RadioLive advertising boycott after show. Speculation continues about the future of the broadcasters, with iPredict launching a stock option on: Radio Live to cancel 'Talkback with Willie & JT' by 1 December 2013 - It's currently at 27%.

Any chance of a parliamentary political comeback for either John Tamihere or Willie Jackson is likely to be extinguished by these events. But how welcome is Tamihere back in the Labour Party? Rightwing feminist blogger Cathy Odgers has written a guest blog post on Whaleoil to complain about Labour's alleged endorsement of the controversial figure - see: Open Letter To David Cunliffe Re: John Tamihere.

Police censorship allegations

The pressure on the police increased yesterday due to their own actions in attempting to pressure a blogger to remove a satirical image criticising police - see Martyn Bradbury's Police threaten Daily Blog editor with 6months imprisonment & $5000 fine for parodying their Roast Buster Rape inaction, and Dear NZ Police - I won't back down.

Many other bloggers (and tweeters) have responded with outrage and condemnation of the police's heavy-handed intervention. Prof Andrew Geddis of the Otago University Law School has blogged to say, 'Apparently multiple complainants about sexual offending by men who then brag about it on the internet isn't enough to get before the courts. But there'll be no hesitation in prosecution if you dare to make a pretend poster criticising the Police's attitude towards such crimes!' - see: Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people. Other strong criticism can be read on the No Right Turn site - see: Police now threatening their critics and The Streisand effect.

So far, there hasn't been much in the way of satire about the issue - probably due to the sensitivities of the topic. But today's Herald cartoon by Emmerson is a classic - see: God help us all. You can see my aggregation of Images from the police and 'roast busters' scandal.

Gender issues

A national conversation about sexual politics now appears to be in motion. You can see this in columns by Chris Trotter such as How have we raised sons like these? and Our Distorted Perceptions Of Gender: Reflections on the Roastbusters Scandal. Similarly, see Tahu Potiki's Roast Busters not a new phenomenon. Much of the conversation focuses on issues of gender stereotyping and sexual abuse, and there are a lot of fingers being pointed at the role of pornography and sexualized material in 'modern society'.

Pornography is indeed to blame for a 'misogynistic culture in our society' according to Rachael Wong - see: Misogyny - it's not just boys and men to blame. And Bill Ralston appears to agree - see his Listener column, A right roasting in order (paywalled).

Few defenders of the 'roast busters' exist or are willing to go public. Yet, some of their female friends have shocked many by speaking out publicly in their favour - see Karen Rutherford 3-minute TV3 item and article, Roast Busters' actions defended. In response, see Rebecca Kamm's What we can learn from Roast Busters.

Ongoing policy implications

The implications of the 'roast busters' scandal go well beyond a national conversation, and will influence policies and laws. The Government's newly-introduced Harmful Digital Communications Bill now becomes more controversial and there will be pressure to make it more hard-line. Leading the debate is TV3's Patrick Gower, who complains that the Government's proposed cyber legislation is too soft and ineffectual. He says: 'The Roast Busters case has shown the Government up - it's far too soft on this disgusting kind of online behaviour.... It is not often that anyone would accuse Justice Minister Judith "Crusher" Collins of being too soft, but in this case she's been caught on the hop.... The Roast Busters case is making both our old and our new laws look like an absolute ass. We need to outlaw it' - see: Govt must outlaw Roast Busters. He proposes that stronger laws be introduced against offensive material: 'The offence would be to do with online "sexual" objectionable material and doesn't necessarily require evidence from the victim'.

Similarly, Colin Espiner complains that Justice Minister Judith Collins has been too soft on tightening up laws: 'Collins has consistently refused to progress recommendations made by her predecessor Simon Power that sexual assault cases should be subject to an inquisitorial system rather than the adverserial court process that discourages many victims from ever going through with their complaint. This recommendation should surely now be revisited' - see: Heat goes on the police over Roast Busters. In contrast to such calls for increased hardline laws, Anarcho-capitalist Mark Hubbard has blogged to say Free Speech Versus Cyber Bullying Law: The Roast Busters (Rapists).

A moral panic?

In the huge rush to discuss, support and condemn the various actors involved in the wider scandal, there's a question about whether it could all descend into a 'moral panic' or result in 'vigilante justice'. The latest Listener editorial, How far have we come? draws attention to the Mazengarb Report of 1954, which constituted a 'high-water mark of moralistic pomposity and stifling social conformity; a perfect example of what has come to be known, rather derisively, as moral panic'. The Listener suggests that 'The Roast Busters scandal is a Mazengarb-style moral panic for our times' and although the magazine approves of the current need to 'undertake a deeper and more searching self-appraisal' of ourselves, it hopes it won't be 'quite the same overheated puritanical climate that characterised the Mazengarb inquiry'. Nonetheless, as with other commentators, the Listener stresses the role of contemporary sexual mores: 'The ideal of sex as a consensual and mutually pleasurable undertaking has, to some extent, been thwarted by a rampant pornography industry that portrays women as fair game - and even worse, as willing participants in their own degradation'.

Others are less optimistic. For example, one person who knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of widespread public condemnation, Alasdair Thompson ?(@ajthompson13) has simply tweeted: 'Outraging, blaming, judging, holier than thouing, raging, aggressing, preaching, pontificating, narcissiting, hating, ranting, disapproving'. This point is very well elaborated upon by libertarian Peter Cresswell who asks in a blogpost Where's the tar and feathers?. He complains, 'It's fair to say that NZers like their issues small and provincial. Rarely do NZers en masse display their emotions or grapple with big issues. But give them a flawed person on whom they can unleash those pent-up feelings and invite their moral outrage... and New Zealanders can be all over it for weeks in a feeding frenzy of self-righteousness, pointing in public at someone else's vileness while keeping off the front pages issues that might affect them more directly and in more concrete ways'.

Finally, for something a bit lighter about a heavy topic, here are two pieces of satire: Ben Uffindell's IPCA to investigate whether Roast Busters victims were hot and Scott Yorke's Let's put a stop to this.

- NZ Herald

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