Allegedly, there's been a rapist working at Parliament. What can I say? I'm not surprised.
That may seem bald – improper, even – but when you've heard as many rape stories as I have, you tend to lose that very human sense of shock you're supposed to feel when you hear awful things.
Almost every woman I know has a tale of sexual harassment. Many of them have darker stories, of sexual coercion, inappropriate touching, and rape. Outside of my own circle, I've lost count of how many women have written to me to tell me stories about their rapes and assaults over the past few years. When you hear versions of the same story over and over, it starts to lose its shock value.
Statistically speaking, between one in four and one in five Kiwi women will experience sexual violence during their lifetimes. Ministry of Justice research from 2014 found that 24 per cent of women surveyed reported that they had experienced one or more incidents of sexual violence, while only 6 per cent of men reported the same.
I have repeated these statistics, and other similar numbers from different (reputable) sources, many times; in columns, in campaigns, in speeches, around the dinner table ... Yet, no matter how many times I mention them, there's still a significant group of (mainly male) New Zealanders who express shock at the prevalence of violence perpetrated against women in this country. Far fewer women express surprise. I wonder why ...
If we take those statistics, and apply them to the people working at Parliament, it's hardly surprising that a rapist might have been working in the heart of our democracy. When nearly a quarter of New Zealand women report experiencing sexual violence, it logically follows that there is a smaller, but still substantial, group of men who are perpetrators. Most of them walk among us. As the vast majority of sexual assaults go either unreported or unprosecuted, many of these perpetrators get up and go to work – at offices, factories, shops .. and even, potentially, the Beehive – every day.
I haven't written a #MeToo story in a while. That's not because everything has miraculously changed and women are no longer at risk of sexual victimisation, but rather because the laughable lack of significant change and action that has occurred since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke has left me jaded. Are women any safer in the post-MeToo world? I doubt it. While companies have scrambled to implement window-dressing policies suggesting that they have "zero tolerance" to sexual violence, the power dynamics remain the same.
They don't just relate to sexual violence. Sexism of all forms is still rife in many of our workplaces. The revelation that a serial rapist may have been walking the halls of Parliament over the past few years is only one of the appalling stories to have come out of Wellington this week. The Francis Review into the workplace culture at Parliament found that 60 per cent of those interviewed reported they had experienced offensive remarks, comments, jokes and gestures that were sexist. Experiencing comments that were sexist and of a sexual nature was reported by 35 per cent.
And then there's the fact that a list Green Party MP is now required to go about her daily life with a round-the-clock security detail. Golriz Ghahraman has been the target for repugnant xenophobic and sexist comments on social media for as long as she's been in the public eye. This week a police-devised safety plan was put in place for her, after serious threats against her emerged, following a Newshub story on white supremacy and an interview in which David Seymour collegially labelled her a "real menace to freedom" in New Zealand. Which surely is a great example of playing the ball and not the man and not tantamount to bullying at all. I jest.
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Detractors of Ghahraman argue that she has brought this on herself due to her political views. When defenders of the freedom to express views without fear of violent repression suggest that an MP is to blame for the threats against her safety because she ... dared to express her views, sanity has surely left the building. But then, victim-blaming narratives aren't exactly unusual when a woman is targeted.
There I go again, banging on about gender. If there's something I've learnt over the past few years, it's that suggesting that women are disproportionately targeted and abused in part because they are women results in spluttering denials. No matter the plethora of statistics or compelling lived accounts presented, suggesting gender plays a role in abuse is like suggesting to flat Earth believers that the world is – gasp – round.
Sexism may change its methods occasionally, but its aims are always the same: to discredit women who dare to question the status quo. Until the status quo changes, women will always have to deal with sexism, whether it's in the form of gendered remarks, inappropriate touching, death threats or serious sexual assault.
Plenty of male MP express views either similar to Ghahraman, or that would be controversial to various strata of the electorate, without threats being made against their personal safety. Not only are female MPs more likely to be on the receiving end of abuse, the kind of abuse they receive is gendered. For example, rape threats or graphic depictions of violence. One thing is for sure, Ghahraman wouldn't have been allocated personal security because she received measured expressions of disagreement.
As women, our safety (or lack thereof) is the script running in the background for much of our lives. We think twice before ducking down dark alleys. We pass stories between each other of handsy men to avoid. We ask our friends to text us when they're home, so that we know they survived the ride.
But surely we should be safe at work?
Unfortunately, rapists go to work too.