While the men convicted will be vilified as ‘monsters’, their attitudes and behaviours aren’t new, writes criminology emerita professor Jan Jordan.
This week two men were found guilty on a total of 69 charges against young women they targeted at the former Christchurch bar, Mama Hooch. Their offences related to numerous cases of rape, sexual violation and indecent assaults, involving drink spiking and drugging of the victims. More than 30 women had been sexually victimised by these men, and these are only the ones police know about.
The victims described feeling as if they had lost control of their bodies and becoming weak and floppy, often experiencing blackouts and memory loss. Many had fragmented recall of being grabbed, dragged, or pinned down, of having their clothes removed and of being groped and violated, all the time feeling powerless to control or stop what was being done to them. Some of them couldn’t even speak.
Sadly, evidence presented at the trial revealed they, even as the victims of drink spiking, drugging and sexual violence, were the ones who experienced high levels of shame and self-blame. A text message was shared with the court in which one woman said she felt such remorse the day after her violation, “squirming at some of the flashbacks” she was having, that she sent an apology to the perpetrator.
Not surprisingly, defence counsel alleged these were consensual sexual encounters, and the women needed to accept responsibility for their own actions and consumption that night. The cross-examination of the women in court has been described as “gruelling and graphic”. Despite this, the women continued to assert the impossibility of their consent being obtained, declaring: “We can’t walk, we can’t talk… that is not consent.”
They also didn’t consent to their bodies being photographed and filmed. The men belonged to a closed WhatsApp group where they posted photos of women they wanted to obtain sexually and joked about the spiked drinks they’d use to get them – “roofiecolada”. While much of the specific content has been withheld, the overall impression given was one of graphic depictions and a raft of sexually explicit material, including a 14-minute rape video.
These men may become vilified as “monsters”, but we need to recognise their behaviour has come from somewhere, as an extension of patriarchal beliefs and attitudes. We live in a society where women’s bodies are still routinely objectified and sexualised. I have heard from caring professionals of boys at primary school who are already addicted to pornography. Exposure to pornography has become much more normal, and the nature of the content has changed dramatically from the Playboy magazines my father hid to the often brutal, pain-inflicting videos so routinely available today.
This case also provides a sad reminder of how far we still have to go in terms of gender equality and consent education in Aotearoa. At the start of the two-month trial, the Crown outlined the convicted men’s tactics: “When they were unable to establish consensual relations with females… they turned to means by which such sexual contact could be facilitated and typically, that meant drugs.” The rationale is chilling: she rejects them, so they drug her into “consent”.
While conversations around consent are happening, they need to be adopted by just as many men as women. It is less than 40 years since our laws changed to recognise that wives had sexual rights within marriage, and there is clearly still a cultural lag with some men believing they are entitled to women’s bodies. While individual men may be willing to challenge these beliefs, the messaging everywhere from pornography to defence lawyers continues to uphold these ideas.
This latest case reminds us of how deep women’s blame and shame remains when it comes to rape, and how men continue to feel entitled to women’s bodies. It highlights the need for more consent education, and how bystanders can intervene in situations where they notice women being targeted. It should encourage all of us to work towards a truly respectful gender equality, one that enables everyone to live without risk or fear of sexual violence.