*Trigger warning: this post includes discussions around rape and violence against women*
Sports broadcaster Tony Veitch has been the target of “online abuse” and he wants you to feel really sorry for him. After he made a joke during an All Blacks Vs France rugby game about not knowing the difference between a “punch” and a “fist in the face”, he was subject to an online backlash over his ironic comments. A few days ago he updated his public Facebook page with this post in response to the backlash:
Tony paints himself as some kind of unsung hero who has rebuilt his life after surviving what he called a “hideous relationship.” You can lie by omission. What Tony fails to point out in his post is this: In 2005 he beat his then partner Kristin Dunne-Powell so badly that he broke her spine in four places. This was the “hideous relationship” he was referring to. In 2009 he went up against six charges of assault, of which all but one were dropped. He admitted in the court of law to “one charge of injuring his partner with reckless disregard” as Stuff media reported; these were the injuries that resulted in Kristin’s numerous spinal fractures.
I’d like you to take a moment to think about the kind of force which is needed to snap and fracture bone. Marc Otten, a neurosurgeon at Columbia University, said in relation to the force needed to break a spine, “If you’re talking about somebody with a normal spine, then you’d need tremendous willpower.” Take some time to think about how hard Tony would have had to kick Kristen repeatedly, in the back, for her spine to give way and splinter.
After beating Kristen he went to bed, leaving her to drag herself around, unable to walk or even reach the phone. When she pleaded with him to call her an ambulance he even refused her this basic help. Before this incident there had already been years of documented sustained abusewhich included Tony violently kicking and punching Kristin. Yet, Tony wants the public to feel sorry for him? He wants to convince you that somehow he is the victim. I responded to his post with these words:
Tony also negates to tell you he paid almost nothing for his horrific crimes against his partner. He did attempt to buy Kristin’s silence with 100,000 bucks worth of “hush money” and he was ordered by the courts to pay a measly 10,000 fine and got 300 hours of community service. He lost his Friday morning Radio Sport breakfast show after he was convicted but he later regained what he calls his “dream job” and he has continued commentating on sports with a weekly radio spot.
In 2011 Tony even had PM John Key on his show where they talked about which famous women John would have on his “wish list.” Because shooting the breeze’ with a known violent offender who has shown no remorse and done no restorative justice work, about which famous women he has a “crush” on is totally how a prime minister should behave? John Key, one of the most powerful men in Aotearoa, implicitly publicly sanctioned Tony’s abuse against Kristen by appearing on his radio show. But John’s dismal behaviour should surprise no one as he is well known for “minimising” and pardoning gendered violence.
When the heinous acts of the rapist gang known as the “Roast Busters” made international headlines, John said in response to this group of young men who had been violently gang raping young girls then boasting about it on Youtube, “boys will be boys.” Newflash: behaviour like Tony’s and the “Roast Busters” are culturally taught and therefore need to be challenged, unlearned, and the behaviour patterns disrupted. Violent misogynistic behaviour is not just something young boys will eventually grow out of. We raise boys to adhere to rigid, toxic stereotypes of manhood; collectively and culturally we tell boys the way to become men is to sever some of the most powerful and life saving emotions we have as human beings: compassion and empathy.
Young men are taught that to be vulnerable is to be weak: all these things are directly associated with the feminine. The word “girl” is often used to humiliate and put down boys and men who act in ways perceived as “weak” or “emotional.” Eve Ensler, noted playwright of The Vagina Monologues and founder of One Billion Rising, said in her moving TedX talk,
“I think the whole world has essentially been brought up not to be a girl. How do we bring up boys? What does it mean to be a boy? To be a boy really means not to be a girl. To be a man means not to be a girl. To be a woman means not to be a girl. To be strong means not to be a girl. To be a leader means not to be a girl. I actually think that being a girl is so powerful that we’ve had to train everyone not to be that.”
Toxic stereotypes of masculinity which tell boys and men they need to always be “tough,” that the only emotion they are allowed to feel is “anger” with maybe the exception of jealousy, all intersect with violence against women. These entrenched ideologies can’t just be palmed off and minimised as some passing adolescent phase or a one off thing. Men like Tony and the Roast Busters are not some aberration, they are a product of a culture that glorifies male power and dominance, while at the very same time glorifying and sexualing the subservience and submission of women. Aotearoa has the higest rates of intimate partner violence in the developed world; this is not just an epedemic it is deeply cultural.
The Roast Busters, like Tony, got away with their crimes; they were given no long term punishments and no jail time. What kind of message do you think this sends society? Other than the very large, clear sign that as a man you can beat, rape, and even kill women and get away with it. My own father sexually abused me as a child, and just like Tony, and exactly the same as the Roast Busters, he served no time for his crimes either. He was ordered to pay a couple of thousand bucks in compensation for what he did. Money, regardless of the amount, could never ever ease the lasting pain he has caused. My Farther, quite like Tony, has gone on in life, in his case to have another family, continuing to live in relative peace and happiness.
So often men who commit unspeakably violent acts against women’s bodies go unpunished, thanks in part to a biased and sexist “justice” system dominated and controlled by white men. These men serve power; their perspectives and their efforts help the powerful, and not the relatively powerless. The lives of women are meaningless in the court of law.
Tony whinged publicly about the “online harassment” he was experiencing via his Facebookupdate because of his ill informed comments, but I doubt it compares to the “online harassment” that was directed at me and anyone else who called bullshit on Tony’s post that described himself as the victim. If you need any more evidence that sexist and abusive attitudes like Tony’s and the Roast Busters aren’t just some aberration but are in fact widespread, here it is. This is just one of the personal messages I received from a man in response to the post I made on Tony’s update:
The day after Tony’s “I am the victim” post, Women’s Refuge tweeted this:
This is why I need feminism: because every one of those comments was actually directed at me. AsWomen’s Refuge pointed out what they tweeted was only “a few” of the abusive comments being thrown at me in response to my previously mentioned post. Any other women also who stood up to Tony were also called “crazy” or “loony” time and time again; the word “feminist” was endlessly used as an insult, as if fighting for gender equality is some kind of evil that must be outed:
Tony Veitch did not moderate any of these abusive and often misogynistic comments; he stayed silent and allowed them to remain on his Facebook page until he finally took his post down 24 hours later. Please tell me again how he is a changed man and deserves redemption? I guess Tony only cares about “harassment” and online abuse when it is happening to him. Notably Netsafe has come out in defense of Tony. Stuff reported yesterday that Netsafe Director, Martin Cocker, had said in support of Tony “[People] just become abusive and angry and try to create a public shaming type event out of it, at which point this crosses over from a positive thing to a negative.” Martin has suggested some people had “stepped over the mark” and some of the reactions were born from a “mob mentality.” Martin was not talking about the violent comments directed at any women who took a stand against Tony, he was talking about the “online harassment” Tony allegedhe was facing.
Where is Netsafe’s defence of Kristin? In Tony’s original post he slagged her off: remember that “hideous relationship” comment? Where is Netsafe’s defense of me and the other women who endured the very public online “mob like” attacks from Tony’s supporters? Spoken word poet and writer Hadassah Grace penned a necessary and powerful political essay entitled, “Who the hell is Tony Veitch” which she posted the day after Tony made his post. In it she takes a stand against violence against women and speaks about the serious trauma Kristin continues to endure because of Tony. For her efforts Hadassah received these online threats:
And yes, it gets worse and even more violently abusive:
You want to talk about “online abuse and harassment”?! Try highlighting the threats of violence and rape women who dare have a dissenting opinion in public space have to deal with on the daily. Honestly, fuck Tony Veitch. He has no idea.
In Aotearoa we don’t just give rich white men like Tony a “get out of free jail card” when they beat women over sustained periods of time and break their bones, we celebrate them. We pat them on the back, hand them a beer, watch a bit of rugby with them and say: “Oh well, you only kind of fractured Kristin’s spine and it was a one off, so don’t sweat it bro!” No wonder Tony thinks he is the “victim” and has done nothing wrong; our society, including John Key and now also the executive director of Netsafe, have collectively reinforced this message. While Tony was busily “rebuilding” his career Kristin’s injuries eventually prevented her from returning to her own job. In Kristin’s 2009 victim impact statement she said,
“Since July 2008, my family and I have been harassed and hunted by some journalists… It feels like there is no end to the spreading of malicious lies, rumors and falsehoods… this has made it difficult for me to regain employment.”
If anyone knows what it feels like to be “harassed” and about the work it takes to “rebuild” your life after massive trauma, it is Kristin. Hadassah Grace writes,
[Kristen] has had to have years of physical therapy and counseling for PTSD. Muscles in her back have permanently atrophied, causing disfigurement. She has ongoing triggers and panic attacks. She has been hospitalized for nervous breakdowns as a result of PTSD.
On the other hand Tony who put his partner in a wheel chair, will not face any life-long consequences for his appalling behaviour, on the contrary; he gets a secure job which puts him in the top earning bracket in Aotearoa – that 10,000 dollar fine he paid is mere pocket change to him. He has hundreds of thousands of supporters and dudebro cheerleaders who are prepared to defend him via social media till their last, abusive breath. After his “poor me” post Tony gained at least another 2,000 “likes” on his Facebook page. Despite what Tony apparently believes, compared to Kristin and the one billion women and girls who are survivors of rape and violence on this earth, he has not had to “rebuild” shit.
You can read Hadassah Grace’s full “Who the hell is Tony Veich” piece in full here.