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Books: A Problem Called Chrissie Hynde

Reckless: My Life by Chrissie Hynde

A single comment from Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde has overshadowed everything about her memoir. In an interview with the Times, she said that she took the blame for being the victim of a sexual assault.

She describes the incident in her book. Hynde was 21, on Quaaludes, and alone with a biker gang in “a dark and noticeably empty house… it was a white slum that had ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’ written all over it”.

Hynde quite bluntly states that her story is a story of drug abuse. A series of unfortunate decisions put her in that room that night. Drugs make you do stupid things.

The response to her Times interview has been loud and angry and intensely critical. But the one thing no victim of sexual assault needs is for anyone to judge them for the assault – nor for how they handle it. Hynde simply stated that she went willingly. She was out of it. She knew them. She took the blame entirely. That was her personal choice.

Am I in a position to comment? Having been sexually assaulted walking home from work one sunny January afternoon along Auckland’s Sandringham Road, I can empathise.

The first question the policeman asked me was what I’d been wearing.

In other words: did I bring it upon myself? Absolutely not. I was wearing cargo shorts and a singlet, with a small backpack on my back and a bottle of water in one hand at five in the afternoon on a busy road. Is the question still valid if a girl is wearing a miniskirt, a boob tube, and is high on drugs in the city centre in the small hours of a Saturday morning?

If, like Hynde, a woman knowingly consumes illicit drugs, and then something bad happens to them, and they take responsibility for the outcome, let’s not then tar that victim with our own outrage that they’ve failed to tow the party line of it never being the victim’s fault. Let’s not victimise her all over again for not behaving the way we expect victims to behave. Victims all behave differently.

I was rescued by two strangers during my experience of sexual assault. I didn’t call the police until I got home, and after I’d showered. Having watched dozens of episodes of CSI. and SVU since, I now know that’s the last thing you should do, but washing away his touch was my first instinct. Will you judge me, too?

As for Hynde’s book – the first 40 pages are so exquisitely written that it’s like reading a weighty Man Booker prize-winning novel. Her description of growing up in Ohio evokes an Americana we all wished actually existed. She depicts it as a kind of utopia, but Hynde walked away from it because of her drug use, and into a nightmare that will never leave her.

And then she got famous. Sid Vicious, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lemmy, and Joan Jett feature in the book, as does Vivienne Westwood, who fired a young Chrissie Hynde back in the day. She took so many drugs that it’s a miracle she survived to tell her tale, let alone remember it. Reckless is the story of Hynde’s hard roads. There’s tragedy, rock’n’roll, and an earth shattering revelation on page 240. It’s simply a damn good read on either side of that page.


Reckless: My Life by Chrissie Hynde (Edbury Press, $38) is available at Unity Books.

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