Revelations - in a Herald investigation published last week - that 20 years of rape cases were written out of official data with the stroke of a pen are shocking.

The sex offences - thousands of them - were dismissed simply by labelling them "K3 - no crime". These were assaults put in the too-hard basket by police; ones in which there was limited evidence, in which the victims were intoxicated, or where consent was unclear - some 15 per cent of sex crimes.

The coding took place until as recently as 2013 - a decade after the issue was flagged by Victoria University criminologist Jan Jordan. It had pernicious effects; distorting statistics so it appeared fewer sexual assaults were being reported, keeping the "unresolved" rate artificially low, and (because the assaults were put in the same category as the small number of false rape complaints) making thousands of women look like liars.

It also let potentially thousands of perpetrators off the hook.


It is further evidence of what has been long known: that the true number of sex offences committed has been vastly different to the number reported, different again to the number investigated, to the number making it to court, and to the number resulting in a conviction.

Indeed, the Ministry of Justice's New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey shows in 2005 (its most recent reliable figure on reporting rates), only 9 per cent of the sexual offences recounted by respondents were reported to police.

There is no doubt police culture has undergone a sea change largely as a result of the dogged determination of sexual violence campaigner Louise Nicholas. Yet, that does not yet appear to be translating to less victimisation and greater justice.

The aforementioned survey showed that in 2014, 24 per cent of female respondents and 6 per cent of male respondents had experienced one or more incidents of sexual violence during their lives. And the Herald investigation found 80 per cent of overall aggravated sexual assaults go unresolved. Since 1994, that number is almost 14,000. (Add in those removed by the "no crime" categorisation) and it is thousands more again).

It all adds up to a disturbing picture of sexual crime in our little corner of supposed paradise.

It is difficult to know what to do for the best. Highlighting systemic failings ignores the progress and runs the risk of further alienating victims. Yet continuing to hide the ugly facts dismisses victims, too.

That is why the #MeToo movement is so vital. Not only is it empowering for victims of sexual harassment and assault, its momentum and spread has brought the issue into public consciousness and conversation.

It has been pleasing to see an increasing number of the powerful and privileged being held to account in recent months and years. But it would be dangerous to think these are historic problems being rooted out, ones that can be excused as "different time, different place".

Archaic attitudes are easily passed down to the next generation, who are getting them reinforced by the ready availability of hardcore porn, which complicates messages about consent, power and sexual gratification at a young and influential age.


In terms of changing the harmful power dynamics that let abuse thrive and justice falter, we are only just out of the starting blocks.