Michael Hewat: Govt failed to take fuel off Roast Busters' fire

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Beraiah Hales and Joseph Parker.
Beraiah Hales and Joseph Parker.

Since the Roast Busters story broke the public mood has progressed quickly from shock and outrage to seeking to answer the questions of "Why?" and "How?" could such things happen in our modern, enlightened, secular, liberal democracy.

Many glaringly obvious factors have already been identified: flawed sex education, debased attitudes towards sex, misogyny, the prevalence of porn and violence in all media (including cinema), and unbounded social media networks.

The danger is, though, that instead of addressing these factors with the serious intention of actually remedying them, suitable scapegoats will be found, blame will be apportioned - and little will change.

Unfortunately, the search for scapegoats has already begun, with Minister of Police Anne Tolley calling the commissioner Peter Marshall into her office. Is this a case of police ineptitude, or something more sinister - like institutional misogyny, or a cover-up to protect a policeman's son? Will this now turn into a witch-hunt, with all eyes and anger trained on the police?

One hopes not. The police can only operate within the legal boundaries set for them, and the evidence so far supports their claim that they could not, at least until now, have brought a successful prosecution.

At the heart of this issue is a factor that has so far been largely overlooked: alcohol.

The Roast Busters were able to violate and humiliate these girls because they had first ensured that they were so intoxicated that they were in no fit state to resist their advances. Apart from the deployment of alcohol to this end, even the most promiscuous young teenage girl is highly unlikely to have allowed herself to have been stripped naked and violated by a group of delinquent boys. Alcohol was not merely a contributing factor, it was the sine qua non in this crime.

Then one might consider what fuelled the depraved actions of these boys. The stepfather of Beraiah Hales told One News: "He is arrogant and incredibly silly and an idiot - but we don't really think he is capable of that sort of thing." That may or may not be true of the sober Beraiah, but when young men drink alcohol they become capable of anything. Of course, while the Roast Busters plastered their victims with Tuis, they remained stone cold sober. Yeah right.

On Campbell Live an interviewer repeatedly asked two teenage friends of the Roast Busters why they had not stopped them behaving so badly. The friends dodged that question by redirecting it to the parents. They did not admit to having been under the influence of alcohol themselves, but reasonably assuming they were, this is the single most likely reason they did not stand up to their peers and stop them.

Alcohol also ensured that a successful criminal prosecution would be nigh impossible. Jumping straight to the courtroom:

Defence lawyer to victim: What do you recall from the night the alleged rape took place?

Victim: I met up with the accused and we drank RTDs?

DL: How many?

V: I can't remember.

DL: Why not?

V: Because I was too drunk.

DL: What else do you remember from that night, apart from meeting the accused and drinking with them?

V: Nothing.

DL: How then can you be sure you were raped ... How do you know it was these boys who did it?

Verdict: Acquittal (due to lack of evidence).

We will have to wait for the IPCA to complete its investigation to know whether the police could have stopped the Roast Busters earlier.

But given the critical role that alcohol has played in this affair, and the fact that minors were involved (Hales was 15 when the only official complaint was laid with police), the finger of culpability should be pointed at the Government.

Following a comprehensive evidence-based review of the liquor laws by the Law Commission, Parliament last year had the opportunity to make legal changes which would have had a significant impact on the country's high level of alcohol-fuelled crime and social dysfunction. In what has rightly been dubbed "The Alcohol Non-Reform Bill", the House failed to deliver, badly.

In the light of the Roast Busters' actions, the Government's failure to implement any of the Law Commission's most substantial recommendations may be construed as criminal negligence.

John Key and Anne Tolley should stop looking for a speck in Peter Marshall's eye and take the inebriated log out of their own. It is they who have the power to prevent this behaviour recurring. Do they care and have courage enough to do so?

Michael Hewat is vicar at the West Hamilton Anglican Parish.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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