The Roast Busters case came to international media attention last November when the news broke that a gang of young New Zealand men had been plying underage girls with alcohol and then having sex with them, an act which is considered sexual coercion and statutory rape. The Roast Busters would then compound matters by naming and shaming these girls online. This group of violent young men then encouraged others through their Facebook and youtube videos to join them in their exploits. The case is still in legal review and the investigation is ongoing.
The news of these young men’s deplorable acts sent shock waves throughout New Zealand, and many people called for vigilante justice offering a “4k reward for footage of The Roast Busters getting hidings” as the NZ Herald reported, last year. When I heard the news last year I was left shaking with anger, but I was not shocked by their actions. The act of young men targeting underage vulnerable girls is something I have encountered over and over again in one form or another since I was young myself.
When I was twelve, I lived in a house on a quiet Howick, Auckland cul-de sac. On our street there were many families with teenage boys and young girls, unfortunately for some of these girls they hit puberty early, meaning that while they looked like women they were very much still young girls ranging between the ages of twelve and fourteen. I was lucky as I did not start to develop breasts and curves later until after the age of fifteen. Other girls in my neighbourhood who had breasts and hips by the time they turned thirteen, were not so lucky.
Two houses down from me the Wheat family lived with their two teenaged boys aged between fifteen and seventeen and their step daughter. It was here that these boys and others from the neighbourhood would take underage girls. In the basement of the Wheat house they would sexually coerce them into performing blow-jobs, hand-jobs and other sexual acts. A girl I was related to that I will call Amanda, believed for years that what had happened down in that basement was consensual. After all, she never said “no” – she never said yes either. Amanda was only twelve when they started sexually abusing her. No twelve year old girl can give informed consent. Amanda has often maintained to me that she performed those sexual acts because she believed she had no choice. It was not until many years later Amanda realised what had happened to her was in fact, rape.
I knew what rape culture and male sexual self-entitlement over women’s bodies was and looked like by the time I was 14 – I just had no language at the time to talk of what I had witnessed.
The Roast Busters and the teenage boys who lived in my neighbourhood are not aliens and they did not drop out of the sky from some far off planet. We live in a culture that not only teaches behaviour like the boys in The Roast Busters exhibited, but one that encourages it – and then when we hear stories like these boys are accused of doing, we are all shocked and outraged.
“We do not choose the ‘roast’ the roast choices us. We have girls asking to “hung out with us” The girls know what we are like, they know what they are in for”.
These words were spoken by boys in The Roast Busters in a youtube video. This internalised victim blaming aims to excuse their own behaviour and put the blame on the underage girls they boasted about having sex with on their facebook page. Their beliefs are part of our culture that endlessly victim blames girls and boys when they speak out about surviving sexual assault.
In the minds of The Roast Busters the girls turned up and made the choice to hang out with them, which for them was synonymous with them choosing the sexual abuse that came with it.
“She got drunk,” “she had a short skirt on,” “she walked down that ally way,” “she should have fought back…”, “she did not say no”, “she wanted it” are examples of how everyday people perceive rape survivors; not as victims of men’s violence, but as responsible for the violence committed against them. This focus on the female’s actions who are victims of violence renders the perpetrator invisible. When people make statements like “she got drunk” the person who committed violence is not even part of the conversation and therefore not accountable for their own violent behaviour. Jackson Katz, a theorist and anti-violence activist, points out…
“This is one of the way dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves. Which is to say, the dominant group is rarely challenged to think about its dominance.” Katze said, “…that is one of the key characteristics of power and privilege; the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection.”
When the case of The Roast Busters first hit the media, the police falsely reported to 3news the following, as stated by the IPCA report…
The Waitemata Distract Manager focuses on the young girl’s behaviour and uses the lack of bravery of the girls who had not come forward as an excuse when he explains why the police cannot act against the boys in The Roast Busters. The perpetrators are allowed to be invisible. Elizabeth Plank of .Mic wrote, “…it’s hard to feel like we can solve the epidemic of sexual abuse if law enforcement isn’t on our side.” As it turned out, young girls and family members had come forward to lay complaints of sexual misconduct against the boys in The Roast Busters, as the police later admitted to.
We need to stop erasing perpetrators of rape from the conversation as Katz explains,
“Why is it that, when we talk about sexual violence and domestic abuse, we talk about the women involved and erase the men from the conversation?” he explains, “[When we act] as if white people don’t have some sort of racial identity … as if heterosexual people don’t have a sexual orientation, as if men don’t have a gender, [then] the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance.”
We often talk about violence against women as a gendered issue, men often think ‘gender issues’ are synonymous with ‘women’s issues’ therefore have nothing to do with them. I know this might be a paradigm shifting perspective for some, but violence against women is first and foremost a men’s issue. Women are not hitting or raping themselves. We need to bring men who are violent back into the conversation and examine why they are behaving in violent ways. How we can do this is by examining and challenging publicly, what it means to be ‘a man’ in New Zealand, and global culture. In the media The Roast Busters actions where condemned but there was no examination of what produces boys like these and creates their extreme misogynistic views and ideologies.
In a searing opening speech by Angelina Jolie for the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict she said “rape is not about sex it is about power”, men are taught from the time they are born that the way to gain power is to dominate – this is the socialisation of men. They are taught as Jeff Perera, who works for White Ribbon, has reiterated for many years that being a man means adhering to the rigid, negative and damaging stereotypes of masculinity; never cry, be tough, be strong, never ever show fear, and show no emotion with the exception of anger. Whether this is internalised destruction, New Zealand has the highest rates of male youth suicide in the OECD, and/or externalised, Women’s Refugee reported between 33 to 39% of New Zealand women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. These rigid stereotypes are not just hurting both men and women, they are killing them.
Russel Smith, who works with violent offenders and is a clinician at Korowai Tumanako a service designed to support iwi, hapū and whanau who have been affected by sexual violence, said when we spoke,
“I have worked with 3 female sex offenders, over 600 adult male sex offenders and I have worked with about 300 adolescent males who have exhibited harmful sexual behaviour in my career.”
So why are we as a society so surprised when boys like those in The Roast Busters boast online about exerting their dominance over young vulnerable girls and exhibit extreme sexist ideas? We live in a society that tells them the way to be a man is to exert power and control over others. I witnessed boys in my neighbourhood behaving this way when I was 12, The Roast Busters behaviour is not a sudden or new phenomenon.
Sexual violence against women intrinsically intersects with rigid stereotypes of masculinity. We desperately need to disrupt and challenge these stereotypes, if we ever hope to end violence against women and raise young boys who are happy and hold healthy views about women. How we can begin to do this is to create a climate in our culture where men and boys who act in sexist or violent ways loose status.
The anti-sexual assault campaign ‘Are you that some1’ was launched last Friday by National’s Paula Bennett and was developed by the team at Rape Prevention Education, in response to the actions of The Roast Busters and other cases of sexual assault in New Zealand. The campaign uses the ‘active bystander approach’ in preventing sexual assault. It encourages young people to ‘step in and step up’, in non-violent ways when they witness young men engaging in unwanted sexual advances and/or behaviour with women in bars at parties or social situations.
The more men and boys who ‘step up and step in’ when they see behaviour they think is not ok, the more others will do the same. Positive peer pressure is a powerful tool to incite change and challenge everyday sexism that has become normalised in our society.
We have many strong male public role-models and community leaders in New Zealand, both Richie Hardcore, a personal trainer who works at the Auckland Council in drug and alcohol harm reduction and Shortland’s Street Sam Bunkall are both involved with the ‘Are you that someone1’ campaign. The before mentioned Russell Smith who works from a Māori perspective, challenges Māori men to rethink what being a man means to them and their own iwi, hapū and whanau.
Culturally diverse public male role-models that counter negative stereotypes of masculinity in their communities, are inspiring and it is encouraging to see, but they need to become the norm and not, the exception.
One of John Key’s responses to The Roast Busters was to say “These young guys should just grow up,” engrained sexism and misogynistic ideologies that can and do lead to violence against women, are not something boys just grow out of. It is behaviour that needs to be unlearned. Obama, recently condemned in a public speech the American college rape crisis and has dedicated a task force to combat the problem. We need this kind of leadership and condemnation for sexual assault from our male politicians and political leaders in New Zealand.
Marama Davidson who is a Green Party Candidate and fronts the indigenous rights movement ‘Idle No More’ said to Waatea News, while speaking on the recent release of the ‘Owen Glenn Report in to Child Abuse and Family Violence’, “we need to have a non-political party approach to fixing this problem, because actually it is successive governments who have not fixed this problem. We really need every political party to step up wipe away those political party barriers and say this is an absolute priority.” Ending violence against women is not just something some good men help out with, it needs to be a collective and national ongoing effort – we need to work with each other, not against. As Elizabeth Plank points out, “We [need to] publicly discuss gender, gender roles, masculinity and femininity as a matter of public policy and not the quirky, marginalized concern of “oversensitive” feminists and scholars.”
We need to engage men as allies in this cause to end violence against women. Most men are not perpetrators–and when we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become an important part of the solution.