By their own admission, a gang of young men in Auckland calling themselves the ‘Roast Busters’ has, over a period of several years, engaged in stupefying girls as young as thirteen years old with alcohol, raping them, and then further humiliating them by posting images of the activity on Facebook. The police have known about this for several years.
The actions of the young men are criminal. The scandal of the situation is the failure of the police to take the crime seriously and to properly investigate and prosecute the criminals. The first response of the police when the scandal was broken in the news media this week was to claim that they could not act because none of the girls involved was prepared to lay a complaint. Later it emerged that one had in fact come forward and made a formal complaint – she was 13 at the time of the incident. Then others came forward and said they had contacted the police, although apparently they never made formal complaints.
In the wake of the scandal there has been a great deal of hand-wringing in the media about the apparent acceptance of this criminal activity by young people of both genders, and discussion of whether sex education programmes in schools adequately impress upon both boys and girls that this kind of behaviour is illegal. On the other hand, social media have been awash with threats of vigilante justice against the young men involved.
Both of these responses are inadequate and dangerous. There is an opportunity to strike a blow against both the rapists and the culture that nurtures them, but both of these responses point in the wrong direction.
The vast majority of young people do not believe that this kind of sexual abuse is acceptable. If the girls humiliated in this way refuse to come forward and lay a complaint with the police – thereby tacitly ‘accepting’ it – this is because they suspect, with good reason, that the only likely result of making such a complaint is further humiliation at the hands of the police, and no action taken against the perpetrators. The record of this case shows that such a belief is well-founded. The one girl who did make a complaint was subjected to just such an ordeal, with questions about how she was dressed and whether she had been drinking alcohol. She was thirteen years old, and therefore legally not able to give consent to sex – not by drinking alcohol, not by the way she dressed, not by anything she did or said. Such questions were entirely irrelevant to the investigation, and only served the purpose of blaming the victim.
It is patently absurd for the police to claim that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the ‘Roast Busters’. They have the testimony of the first victim, who is clearly still willing to speak out. And the men themselves have supplied a great deal of evidence, in their online boasting of the crimes, which could be used in court. If the police were to make it clear they are seriously pursuing a prosecution, that would give confidence to many of the other victims that something is to be gained by coming forward, and it is highly likely that some would do so. Of course, it is possible that the men would claim in court that their online activities was just empty boasting, and it never actually happened. Let a jury decide whether this is so!
There is no need for further inquiries, no need for further ‘investigations’ by the “Independent” Police Conduct Authority, and no need for more laws. Rape by stupefying is already illegal. Sex with children is already illegal. There are already laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy. What is needed is to force the foot-dragging police to provide equal protection under the law.
Demanding that the police prosecute these men is also the best way to undercut the calls for vigilante violence against the men involved. Such calls are fueled by frustration at the police inaction. Since some of the perpetrators have been named, this now becomes a real danger. Resorting to vigilante ‘justice’ would disorganise and demoralise all those who are trying to build support for the victims of the rapists, and could only serve to portray the despicable criminals as being ‘also victims’.
A movement demanding the prosecution and jailing of these men would strike a harder blow against the ‘rape culture’ that is expressed by the ‘Roast Busters’ and their apologists than a thousand public inquiries or revisions of school sex education programmes. Organisations of working people, especially the unions, have a big stake in supporting this demand, as it would build solidarity on the job, which is constantly undermined by the inequality between men and women.
In passing, we should also demand the sacking of Willie Jackson and John Tamihere from the RadioLive talk show, on account of their intimidating and misogynist comments on air to the interviewee Amy on the ‘Roast busters’ case (as reported on Stuff). This is one more way to make the point that the jeering, sniggering dismissal of rape complaints by young women and girls is not acceptable. This is not an anti-free-speech demand. We are not talking about taking legal action against them for their comments. They should be as free as anyone to hold and to express their misogynist views – but without privileged access to the airwaves.