12 November 2013

The messages we send: thoughts on the Roastbusters and rape culture

The last week or so in New Zealand has been hard. The revelations of the West Auckland "Roastbusters" gang; the apparent inability of the police to bring these boys to justice; and the light it has shed on rape culture and victim blaming; has shocked us all. As a sexual abuse victim myself (not at the more severe end of the spectrum, but devastating nonetheless), and as a mother of a teenage boy and a teenage girl (both of whom it transpires attended the same high school as some of the gang members*), I have been angry, and sad, and scared. And I have spent a lot of time thinking about the messages we have been sending our kids - both boys and girls.

Like many parents of girls I have taught my daughter the requisite lessons in keeping herself safe from sexual abuse. They started when she was a small child with "Stranger Danger", safe touching, and speaking out; lessons also taught to my boy. When she became a teen the lessons were about things like how not to get her drink spiked, and not getting so drunk that somebody could rape her. I have also had discussions with my son about respecting women and about the mixed messages sent by pornography; and hopefully he lives in an environment where respect for each other is role modeled.

As many people have so rightly pointed out we shouldn't have to teach our girls how not to get raped, because we should be teaching our boys NOT to rape.

But in the aftermath of Roastbusters I find myself wondering whether it's more than that. Whether, in our eagerness to teach our girls how not to get raped, we have inadvertently done them, and our boys, a disservice. Could it be that despite our undoubtedly good intentions, in our eagerness to teach our girls that it is their responsibility, we have reinforced victim blaming and this seemingly pervasive mindset that "boys will be boys".

Take for example the young girls, friends of the Roastbusters boys, who spoke out in their defence:

"They are good guys," said one. "They can make really dumb decisions but they are being teenagers.

"People know that they are Roast Busters and they go hang out with them and do stuff [... ] but they're not rapists, they're cool dudes." 

What are we to take from this? It seems as though these girls really believe the Roastbusters did nothing wrong, that perhaps the victims should have known better? Are we really saying that if girls have been taught all the sexual abuse avoidance lessons and yet still find themselves a victim, well on their heads be it because those boys "... are being teenagers"?

This cannot, should not, ever be the case. These boys have the ability to think for themselves, to make decisions, to make moral and ethical judgements. How is it that they are making decisions to do something so abhorrent; something which has such a devastating and lifelong effect on another person, so much so that it is believed at least one of their victims has since attempted suicide?

What are we teaching our boys?

I do not have answers. I do have hope. Hope that in the aftermath of this terrible event there will be more discussion, more openness, and more teaching. Hope that we can change rape culture. Hope that my kids will grow into adulthood in an environment where we respect each other equally.

So please, teach your kids. Boys and girls. Teach them respect for each other and for themselves. Teach them morals. Teach them not just by telling, but by doing. Be the change you want to see. Let's just make this world a better damn place. Please?

* This is the clarification of the boys' attendance at Green Bay High School, from a press release by the Principal Morag Hutchinson:

"None of the people identified as perpetrators by the media still attend this school. One attended for 1 year as a Year 9 student in 2009. Another enrolled in November 2010 and was in Year 11 during 2011. He left May 2012. Another person not yet identified in the media coverage but linked with those above, attended from Year 9 to Year 11, 2009 – 2011."

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