Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

Roast Busters: A long wait for justice

It's the case that threw up so many questions. Why didn't the police prosecute the Roast Busters gang? And how can young men grow up thinking this behaviour is acceptable?

Is the internet to blame?

The behaviour of the group calling themselves Roast Busters is too easy to dismiss as "the extreme behaviour of an aberrant few" and a debate is needed about the influences on teenagers, says Waikato University psychology lecturer Dr Neville Robertson. "These young men are not growing up in a vacuum. They got the idea that this was okay from somewhere." Robertson says Roast Busters was the logical outcome of "widely-held misogynist attitudes reflected in the ready availability of pornography, the sexual objectification of women and the everyday sexism which surrounds us". Outrage at the behaviour was understandable but should also be directed at "the social conditions which helped create it".

Researcher and social justice advocate Celia Lashlie, author of He'll be OK: Growing Gorgeous Boys Into Good Men, is calling on men to lead the debate.

"It's a discussion men should be having, it's men's business," she told the Herald. "It's about men calling other men and boys on what it is to be a good man, what a good man does and doesn't do."

Willie Jackson and John Tamihere, the RadioLive hosts, community leaders and former politicians who sparked a furore with their questioning of an 18-year-old female, named as Amy and who said she was a friend of a victim of the so-called Roast Busters, were forced to apologise for their questioning in which they asked about her own sexual behaviour and dress sense.

Two days later, on Thursday, political commentator Matthew Hooton walked out of an interview after confronting them about the interview and claiming the radio hosts were friends of former Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards, who was acquitted after two trials on sex charges dating back to the 1980s. Rickards resigned from the police after his acquittal and is a Waipareira Trust board member, along with Tamihere.

Gender issues and sexual violence expert Nicola Gavey said the Roast Busters story raised concerns about how men saw women. She said that from many forms of media, including pornography and music lyrics, young men adopted the attitude that women were "props" for their sexual pleasure. Victim-blaming attitudes and chatter on social networking sites, along with the impression of bravado shown by the boys was likely to put girls off coming forward.

How do police deal with sexual abuse complaints?

Detective Senior Sergeant Nadene Richmond, from the Child Protection Team, told the Herald most victims they worked with were under 17 and would first be spoken to by someone from Child Youth and Family. A preliminary interview would establish what the victim wanted to share, then an evidential video interview would follow. "It has to be their story. As it's evidential, you can't ask [leading] questions, you have to let them tell their story," Richmond says. A specialist interviewer could ask open questions, such as "tell me about what happened to you", but interviews were not about demanding specific answers or proof.

The video interview was then given to police who took over the criminal side of the investigation. It could also be used in court so the victim did not have to relive the experience again. They would have to attend any trial for cross examination, but if they did not want to face the person who assaulted them they could appear via video link or behind a screen.

Richmond acknowledges the decision to go to police about sexual assaults is difficult for victims. Police are open to speaking to them or their parents to give advice to help them decide.

"It's not uncommon for parents to ring us. Just because someone calls the police, it doesn't mean it's going to get out of control. We need to speak to the victim but for whatever reason, they may never be willing to engage with police. It's a very personal decision."

Despite earlier saying their hands were tied unless a girl was "brave enough" to make a formal complaint, police later acknowledged that four girls had approached them with complaints, one of whom had made a formal complaint and undergone an evidential video interview.

This was made by a 13-year-old girl in December 2011. Police have said evidence was insufficient to bring a charge. That complainant, now 15, told TV3 she was angry no charges were laid. She alleged three of the group were involved in her alleged rape. After she plucked up courage to tell her family two weeks later, her parents took her to the police. "I had a video interview where I had to act out what had happened with dolls ... it was traumatising." The girl felt it was her word against the boys'. Her brother gave police the names and addresses of the youths involved.

During the public furore this week, police have said a six-officer team that is working full-time with a "small group" of girls identified as possible victims would take action if the girls were prepared to "take it further" and make a formal complaint.

Victoria University associate law professor Elisabeth McDonald says it shouldn't be the case that the police think a complainant "is not a very good victim". The police's role was to gather the information, such as verification that she met the alleged offenders, that she was plied with alcohol.

What happens in the court process?

Next to the initial statement, the most traumatic part is giving evidence in court, particularly cross-examination, says experienced child abuse prosecutor Phil Hamlin. Better ways have been found to deal with court, such as using the complainant's evidential video statement as their evidence in chief, but they still had to face cross examination which could scrutinise their sexual history.

"The clients I have dealt with over the years, the thing they hate about the court process is not facing the accused - some want to, some don't - but the cross-examination. They don't mind being tested but the way in which we do it is difficult for them, they feel. The adults feel that as well as the children."

If more than one complainant alleges the same offender or offenders committed similar crimes against them, it is possible their cases could be run together, thereby strengthening the case due to what is called propensity evidence. It needs to be relevant to a fact at issue. If the defence is that a complainant consented it could add strength to the prosecution case if there are several girls who each say they had not. Or the girls could collectively state that the offending had occurred if the boys were to argue that their social media statement of stupefying and having sex with under-age girls were hollow boasts.

Memory impairment of the complainant due to alcohol or drugs could pose problems, Hamlin says.

"We have to be able to try to prove these things beyond reasonable doubt. If there is a complainant who doesn't remember anything, that does present a number of difficulties. Unless there's such things as injuries or video evidence of it happening, it is very difficult to assess it, particularly if the lads are saying it was consensual."

Is the law being reviewed?

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill tabled this week by Justice Minister Judith Collins aims to curb cyber bullying. It would provide sentences of up to three months in jail or a fine for posting objectionable material and enable the courts to issue "take down" and "cease and desist" notices.

But recent recommendations for overhauling how the courts deal with sexual violence cases are not being taken up. A Law Commission review was instigated in 2011 by then-Justice Minister Simon Power but dropped by his successor, Collins.

A Law Foundation-funded review led by Victoria University law academics recommended court specialisation for sex crimes, including use of experienced or specifically-trained judges and lawyers, fast-tracking cases where possible, dropping juries in favour of a judge alone or a judge sitting with specialist lay assessors, and setting up a system of reviewing the process of deciding whether to lay charges.

Collins this week said she disagreed with introducing proposals "that would be tantamount to having inquisitorial court processes".

"This would mean a significant departure from our criminal justice system, requiring large-scale retraining of judges, lawyers and all those involved in criminal trials with different standards and procedures - sometimes involving the same parties and fact situations such as a case where there is both a kidnapping and sexual assault."

An amendment to the Evidence Act requiring notice if the defence wanted to introduce evidence about a complainant's previous sexual experience and improved protections for child witnesses were on the way, the minister said in a statement.

Research has suggested only seven of 100 incidents of sexual violence are reported, of which three get to court and only one gains a conviction.

Former Prime Minister and Law Commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer called the prosecuting of sex crimes "a troublesome corner of the law, in a foreword to a book produced from the research, From Real Rape To Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape In New Zealand, published in 2011.

"We know as a community New Zealand is not performing well in this area of the law ... Nothing less than a complete re-examination of New Zealand law and practice is required."

- NZ Herald

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