Opinion: Roastbusters shows how society enables rape

Dr Deborah Russell.

Every aspect of the Roastbusters story is chilling. There’s the sickening knowledge that a group of young men thought it was okay to target girls, get them drunk, pressure them into sex, and brag about it on-line.  It showcases a disturbing culture among some young men, where women and girls are regarded as prey, something to “have sex with” and as a point scored in a game.

This is objectification of women. Women and girls exist only as objects of sexual desire, instead of being seen as people who have hopes and dreams and plans of their own. They are treated as tools to be used to achieve someone else’s ambitions.

There’s finding out that police knew about the Roastbusters for two years, and did nothing. An underage victim laid a complaint with police in 2011, but no action was taken. Two years later, videos emerged of the Roastbusters joking about “having sex with” underage girls and police said that even though they were aware of the group, they couldn’t do anything until someone laid a complaint.

So police knew about the group, they had received a formal complaint, and they did nothing. They didn’t even take any steps to stop the Roastbusters from “having sex with” other vulnerable young women.

Then there’s the long police investigation which has come up with no result. Even though some of the young men had bragged about “having sex with” girls who were under the age of consent, police decided not to prosecute.

Next, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Grant Nicholls asked, “Where was the respect for these girls?”

That’s a good question, given the lack of respect shown by the police themselves. Not investigating the first complaint, not taking steps to shut the Roastbusters down, misleading the public about whether complaints had been laid, only beginning to investigate the complaints due to public outcry. All of this shows extraordinary disrespect for the girls.

Most chilling of all is that of the 30 girls who were known to have “had sex with” with Roastbusters men, 25 chose not to lay formal complaints, because they were scared of being bullied, or scared of going through the process of a trial.

Remember, these girls are not the perpetrators. They are the victims. Yet they are too frightened to lay complaints, to give evidence in a court, or to let it ne known that they “had sex with” Roastbusters men.

They have good reason to be frightened by our justice system. Women and girls who lay charges of sexual assault know their own behaviour will be scrutinised in depth. A victim will be blamed for wearing short clothes or walking down a particular street, told that being drunk means she can’t say no, scolded for not keeping herself safe, accused of leading her assailant on. It will all be her fault.

People who have been though the process describe it as degrading and shocking, and they talk of the need for great strength to manage and to survive. That’s as a victim, not as an alleged perpetrator. This is what our justice system does to women and girls, and men, who lay complaints of sexual assault.

It is still extraordinarily hard to get a result from the system. Of all recorded cases of sexual violation, only 13 per cent result in a conviction. It’s no wonder that so many of the girls who “had sex with” the Roastbusters decided to just let it all go.

The police and the justice system have let us down. But before we rush to blame them for this failure, let’s remember that this is our police force, and our justice system, and they operate in our society. We have created the culture in which it is possible for police and the justice system to give the message that sexual assault doesn’t matter.

Police and the justice system operate in a rape culture, where we blame victims, we make jokes about rape, we talk about forcing someone to have sex without understanding that means rape. Men are affected by this too: men and boys who are sexually assaulted are made to feel ashamed, or are told that they ought to have enjoyed it.

Our behaviour, our language, our treatment of victims all enable rape. People can commit sexual assault and get away with it, because the chances of being held accountable, either by police and the justice system, or by society, are so very low.

So let’s remember that if we feel that the police and the justice system have let us down, then we are the ones who have made it possible. Now it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t happen again. As a first step, how about making a donation to Rape Crisis.

Deborah Russell is a feminist commentator and a taxation lecturer at Massey University.

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