White Ribbon Pledge

White Ribbon Pledge

I’m going to head off on a short rant about entitlement and privilege. Trigger warning, this one may ramble all over sexual assault, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and how completely fucked-up the media narratives around power and control are, to do with personal boundaries around women’s bodies and women’s lives. 

What set that off, you ask? Oh, #ponytailgate, Mike Hoskings in general, his comments about the blogpost Amanda Bailey wrote for TDB in particular, and a multitude of instances of male appropriation of the narratives around what women find offensive, whether that should be so, and why they (males) don’t think it’s all that much of a problem. 

Of course, if you happen to belong to the demographic of the 1-in-4 women who (across the whole-of-lifetime) has been sexually assaulted, not to mention the subset who have survived multiple assaults, by various predators, across the span of their lives, then you will find it pretty bloody disgusting that there are a large group of media people who minimise, deny, obfuscate and manipulate, to create the public opinion that says, ‘women who don’t take care of themselves adequately get abused’. The truth is that those 1-in-4 come from every walk of life, are mothers, daughters, wives, grannies, aunties… 

And sometimes, it’s a man you know, who was sexually abused as a child or teenager, who has grown up with fear, anxiety, shame, pain, who has ‘odd’ reactions to incongruous situations; because they are situations that trigger memories of abuse, and bring to the surface those fears of the abuse happening again. 

Our rates of reporting and conviction for sexual assaults (child or adult) are not great. The ‘best guess’ was about one in ten rapes of over-16-year-olds are reported. Child sexual assaults are under-reported, although reporting by medical surgeries who diagnose STD’s in children is increasing the reporting rates. Some areas have epidemic levels of medically-reported child abuse; CYFS and Police do not have the capacity to clear anything like the amount of historical cases, either. Neither do ACC, whose criteria for ‘sensitive claims’ casework has been revised after an avalanche of new cases, some involving abuse going back decades, have been reported in the wake of Clint Rickards’ trial and acquittal for abuse of Louise Nicholas in 2007. 

Meanwhile, abusers drift from town to town, sniffing out the vulnerable and manipulating their way into another situation they can take advantage of. Precarity of housing, jobs, and benefit access, mean that vulnerable people will be targeted by those who have no scruples, who will rip off and abuse where they can get any toehold. There is a growing pattern of elder abuse happening, as middle-aged abusers target their own families in scams set up after ‘moving home’ due to job loss or some other event that has made them temporarily homeless. 

Police are not keeping up with the sociology of abuse. ‘It’s not ok’ defines relationship abuse solely in terms of sexual-partner abuse. The abuse by a dominant adult ‘child’, or the bullying that happens in some flatting situations, is not on their radar; policy around Policing is still reliant on a mid-20th C family dynamic that assumes nuclear, heterosexual, monogamous families, and fails to address modern households comprising multiple generations, extended friends-and-family houses, the post-student-loans indebted 30-somethings who are still renting-with-friends to survive – all of these non-normative households are also sites of dispute, fraud, assault or violence on occasion, and the law has no real regard for the plaint of individuals whose lives do not fit the templates. 

Wait, how did I get here from ‘entitlement & privilege’? Heh. Because every abuser I’ve ever met (a long and inglorious list) has had one thing in common with all the others: an overwhelming sense of entitlement, a conviction deep inside that s/he deserves everything his/her heart desires, and the privilege of having had no wait for gratification of those desires imposed, ever. Dinner on the table, someone else to clean up the mess, and sex on-demand, livestreamed, no concerns about ‘consent being sexy’, because the only person who matters in these exchanges is the narcissist, the psychopath, him/herself. 

‘Femicide’ was the name I labelled a file in which I kept clippings of domestic violence related killings, for one traumatic twelve-month period. I had to give it up (it was research for a tentative writing project), because the sheer scale of the number of incidents overwhelmed me. Because so many of these events involved murder-suicides, there were constraints on reporting the crimes; thus, the stories sank quickly from view, and the general public, readers of media, fail to note the severity or frequency of domestic violence killings. 

A pony-tail pull seems infantile, innocuous by comparison with the previous paragraph; but the underlying principle is the same: unequal power, use of that imbalance to impose upon another person’s body without their consent, and the sense of entitlement that gives the abuser permission to deny any agency to the person being so abused, in the expression of the gratification of the abusers desires. It seems that ‘top-down’ change in the attitudes of the NZ male around abusive behaviour is not going to happen. 

Laydees, looks like it’s up to us to enact ‘bottom-up’, grassroots (or flaxroots, if you prefer) change, to break the power binary, to stop the abuse in our communities. Those who control the narratives (Police, media, politicians) are not doing enough to prevent abuse, nor to hold abusers to account. Now it’s our turn. 

Resource: Power and control wheel 

All of these headings, the segments on the wheel, are forms of abuse, behaviours used to control, manipulate, and break the spirit of a victim. To become a survivor, the victim has to escape the abuser. For some, this never happens; the period immediately after leaving the location of abuse (home, workplace, school) is often the time when the victim is most vulnerable to further abuse. The media court the ‘powerful’, and the narratives around ‘victim-blaming’, ‘slut-shaming’ and the like allow abusers to continue to perpetrate crimes by walking away from their abuses, and on to the next victim.

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