TW: Explicit Discussion and Description of Rape and Sexual Violence
*Names of people who are quoted first hand have been changed.
“It was just a joke” “It was a prank” “Boys will be boys” “It was not that serious”.
Sexual violence against boys when the perpetrators are of the same age is consistently dismissed as bullying that has gone too far. When the reality is that it is rape regardless who the perpetrators are and who the victim is. Non-consensual sexual contact and any sexual contact with a person under the legal age of consent (16 years old in NZ) is a violation and should be treated as such.
This is not to say that we have created a system or a culture in our society which takes any victim of sexual assault seriously or treats those with any dignity or empathy. One of the most extensive rape myths that people have fallen accustomed to is that rape physically can’t or just does not happen to men.
The idea of sexual assault we have created often does not include a majority of what rape cases consist of. People often exclude coercion, threats, manipulation, taking advantage of an individual's vulnerability, the abuse of power and when rape is disguised under other labels. All of these things contribute to distorting the ability of an individual to freely give consent.
As we embrace the structure of how we view and accept what we believe rape is, it leads to the large dismissal of male sexual assault victims. Often the delegitimisation of male rape victims extends to the point of a joke and in some cases believe that it is justified because it is not a ‘real crime’.
Sexual bullying is a form of verbal or physical assault of a sexual nature. Targeting someone based on their gender and sexuality to perpetuate the bullying. There are various types of scenarios in which people are targeted by sexual bullying. Sexual bullying includes when people degrade, inflict harm and humiliate others in relation to their sex life (including slut/virgin shaming), people’s bodies (for example breast size), people’s sexual orientation or gender identity in a derogatory way, using sexual words in a degrading way (such as slut, whore, easy, skank etc.), threats or jokes towards others about things such as rape, spreading true or false rumors about someone else’s sex life or sexuality, touching people’s body parts where they don’t want to be (such as groping), putting any kind of pressure on someone in a sexual way.
Drawing attention to the severity of sexual bullying is important, as it highlights the extent of minimization and toxicity towards males who are subjected to this type of violence. Under Section 128, 128A and 128B of The Crimes Act states the definition of sexual violation with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. There is sexual violation committed if there is an unlawful sexual connection from or more people towards another, with consent expressed freely. Under the law, any sexual contact made regardless if there is a presence of genitalia used in the assault, therefore if an object is used sexually during the assault, this is a legal sexual violation.
When males fall victim to sexual violence in a bullying context, the severity of the situation is often undermined and not acknowledged for the reality of what it is. In these cases perpetrators abuse their power over another individual to degrade, humiliate, hurt, traumatise, intimidate and dehumanise through sexual power.
There have many circumstances of this taking place, particularly in single-sex boy schools. However, often these cases are covered up and attempted to keep victims quiet with the toxic attitudes of “boys will be boys” when justifying the behaviour and protecting the perpetrators. There have been three notable cases of this happening in New Zealand involving students sexually assaulting other students. The Taradale School case in 2001, the Pukekohe school case in 2011 and Christchurch Boys High School case in 2018.
In October 16th in 2001 a horrific sexual attack took place against an unconscious teenager which lead to the prosecution of seven other teenage boys. The party was held to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of the perpetrators, held at the venue of another student from the school. The assault which took place was against a student who was last minute invited to the party after receiving a text from one of the perpetrators inviting him.
The assault happened at around 3 am in the morning whilst the survivor had fallen asleep from intoxication. The survivor gave a description of the attack in court, he woke up to feeling his boxers and shorts being pulled down, he tried to pull them back up and could hear voices saying “hold him down, hold him down, keep him still, don’t move” and he then could smell a deep heat ointment as he continued to struggle to get away from the attackers. The survivor was then violated with a broomstick with Vicks VapoRub smeared on the end of the handle. He was then left struggling to walk. The victim was left with physical and psychological trauma from the vicious attack. The survivor suffered internal tears from the broom handle and grazes and bruises from where he was held down by the attackers. Father of the survivor stated in court that his son spent most of the following months alone, as he was too traumatised and afraid to venture out in case he ran into the people who raped him.
On the 24th of May 2002, overall seven teenagers were convicted on different accounts of sexual violation, attempted sexual violation, unlawful sexual connection and indecent assault.
The response from the legal system, including the judge of the case, the general public and the media’s handling of the case, displays how as a society people do not take sexual violence against males legitimately. The New Zealand Herald covered the incident, which made light of the situation and continuously praised the perpetrators as good boys who had made a mistake, rather than perpetrators of a sexual crime.
One of the articles which described the details of the attack and gave background information about all of the perpetrators. A quote from this article presents how there is admiration for those who cause harm, and play it off as a joke, “Among the 30 to attend were some of the school's most popular and respected students - who would be forced to use those qualities in their defence later in court when charged with sexually violating a friend with a broomstick.” This particular article also gave profiles of all of the perpetrators, highlighting all of their ‘positive’ characteristics.
This included highlighting their academic and sporting achievements, praising all of them individually for their natural sporting talents, how highly thought of by staff members at Taradale, their positions in student politics as deputy and head boy, involvement in school choirs and bands, as ‘a nice a guy’, had earned respect from others, Christian who never participated in substance taking, house captains who were honest and sensible and hardworking. When explicitly describing the assault, The Herald indicated that it was not as vicious or harmful as it was, “What he (the victim) didn't know at the time was that it was their (perpetrators) second attempt. An inconvenient belt had halted their progress the first time.
Their second effort was a success, and they sexually violated the youth with a broomstick that had Vicks VapoRub on the end. He was left struggling to walk, and a long way from home.” Displaying that all of the perpetrators were people who are respected individuals who have made mistakes, whilst never mentioning anything about the survivor or the trauma caused shows how this was never taken seriously as the aggravated, violent sexual assault in which it was.
The defence from all of the perpetrators exemplified their attempts to refuse to acknowledge the horrific assault which they had committed. They violated the victim’s autonomy, safety, sense of self and trust, in which all seven knew exactly what they were doing to the victim. This was a blatant sexual attack, which could not be construed as anything else. The perpetrators, however, attempted to humiliate and degrade the victim further in their explanations in court and to the police investigating. All seven of the perpetrators stated that they had never intended to sexually harm the victim, but only play a prank on him which then went too far. On the day of the trial, only one perpetrator pleaded guilty to the crime
Minimisation continued from the judicial system, from comments from the Judges and lawyers to the reduction of their sentences. The judge, Justice Gendall, who was presiding the case made a multitude of comments which reflected the same attitudes and dismissiveness which was exemplified in the media. Gendall stated that "It is extremely difficult for judges to sentence extremely decent young men when they do bad things ... it's easy to sentence bad men when they do bad things" and also confirmed at the retrial that he had regretted jailing the boys. Further quotes from Gendall during the trial stated that he took into account the boy good character, lack of previous convictions and the unlikeliness of reoffending, he also said directly to the perpetrators that "your future prospects look bright, I think they still are bright."
One of the lawyers for one of the perpetrators, Russell Fairbrother, attempted to get the charge reduced from sexual violation, arguing that the stigma for having a conviction of sexual violation would hinder his client’s employment and travel opportunities for the rest of his life. The request for the reduction was denied by Gendall. Through the reporting of this trial, it is clear that even through the criminal justice system, this was only treated as if they were bullying the victim in a school playground rather than gang-raping him, which is what they did.
Public attitudes are a large contributor to the minimisation and retraumatization for victims. Ben* grew up in Napier and went to high school at a different school a decade after the incident took place. Ben said that minimisation of the fact that the incident was a legitimate sexual assault was very predominate, even a decade later. The incident was always discussed in a threatening or joking manner throughout everyone around the highschool age, things were said, such as ‘don’t go to Taradale High, you’ll get broomed’.
Ben stated that he even heard many teachers make light of the situation and make jokes about the attack to claim that Taradale was not a good school. As observed in the many articles describing the assault, Ben also noted that the guys who did it were kids with considerable amounts of power and that it was purely a situation to force dominance over and individual because they knew they could get away with it.
The boys knew that they were able to get away with it, due to the involvement of homophobic toxic culture embedded in single-sex boys schools. Ben said whilst reading the articles about the attack, that the lawyers attempted to make the connection between the vicious assault and ‘typical’ stag night pranks or rituals for sailors. Ben acknowledged that the culture and public opinion surrounding this type of assault was largely dismissive and treated as a joke. No one took seriously that this was a sexual violation.
Another significant case which happened which also displayed the same attitudes of dismissal, victim-blaming was in Christchurch in 2018. A 17 year old was charged with sexual violation after sexual assaulting another boy with a toothbrush. The attack took place at a high school sports trip in The North Island, involving members from Christchurch Boys High School (CBHS). The victim was overpowered by students from CBHS, his clothing removed and then was violated with a toothbrush. When a complaint was raised, senior staff members from CBHS flew into the location of the tournament to help tend to the aftermath of the attack. The team, however, was not withdrawn from the tournament. The aftermath of the sexual violation resulted in the expulsion of one student and the suspension of three others. All of the school staff and the principal of the school declined to comment when approached by the media.
The minimisation in this scenario came by the majority from the school when they responded to media coverage of the case. The school were highly critical of the media coverage, but this was not in terms of protection for the victim, but concerning the school’s reputation. Taylor Shaw, Barristers and Solicitors lodged a complaint on behalf of Christchurch Boys High School against Stuff and The Press and then to the Media Council .
The main issue in which CBHS had with the article was that the article presented a comparison of this case to the Taradale case. The school believed the comparison was unjustified, due to the aggravating nature of the Taradale assault. The school claimed that they were worried about prejudicing against the school and the students involved . CBHS stated that the article created a contrary to the presumption of innocence that the perpetrators were entitled to.
The school’s attack on the article shows the intensity of institutional cover-up and maintaining a positive public reputation rather than the protection of the victim. If the school’s primary focus with the media publicity, was the protection of the individual’s privacy, it would have been more clear that there was a more empathetic motive behind the complaint. The complaint’s only concern was for the presumption of innocence for the perpetrator’s to be maintained rather than the safety and support for the victim. The issues that the school had with the comparison to the Taradale case, was because they believed the other assault was more violent and therefore a comparison is not warranted. Both incidents are incredibly harmful with lifelong impacts, regardless of the intensity of the violence, it is still violence. The ongoing trauma and impacts are still present in cases of sexual violence, as the act of a sexual violation is one in which dehumanises, humiliates and can destroy a person’s self-identity and worth.
The final case study in which is important to shed light upon is an attack which took place at Pukekohe School in November of 2011. All students involved were year 10 and the survivor of the assault was 15 years old . The Herald who reported on the incident understood that the student was held down by a group of students behind the school gym, whilst another student sexually violated him with a vehicle part. This was reportedly an attack on a student who was moving schools, which had homophobic undertones. The reporters on this article inferred that the student was moving to boarding school at King’s College and as the violation was being perpetrated comments such as "If you're going to King's [College] you deserve this sort of thing'' and "This is what you will get in boarding school.” Police investigated the incident and the school expelled the three students involved in the attack.
Unlike CBHS, school staff including the principal did comment when approached by the media. However, the minimization from the staff members was severe. Both the principal of the school and the Board of Trustees representative displayed a direct lack of empathy and blame on the victim rather than perpetrators. Pukekohe principal Ian McKinnon commented on the incident, describing the assault as ‘joke’ which had gone ‘too far’, a quote from McKinnon as a response to the attack, "Kids just don't know when to stop with some of their behaviours.''
The response of the Board of Trustees representative, Angela Clark, showed complete minimisation and did not acknowledge this as an assault at all. Clark completely dismissed this attack of sexual violence whilst also claiming that the impact on the victim was non-existent. Clark decided to take aim at the media reports of the incident as spreading misinformation when in fact this was not a sexual assault which caused any harm. Quotes from Clark, demonstrate the gross lack of empathy towards boys who have been sexually violated. Clark’s description of the assault, “I can confirm he was held down. I would not go so far as to say he was violated, I mean this is a group of friends who were playing a joke on a mate and have gone too far. Ultimately that's the sad part about it." Clark claimed that there were no physical injuries as a result from the assault, and therefore it can’t have been to the seriousness of the degree that it is being presented as, ‘She said she did not believe he was seriously hurt. "He was humiliated, I'm sure, no one likes to be held down especially by your mates I wouldn't have thought, but the physical injuries... to my knowledge there were none."
Clark’s main concern following the incident was not the welfare of the victim or those who had witnessed the assault, but rather her belief that misinformation was being displayed in the media. Her focus was that the assault was a target of the pupil transferring to King’s College and that as she understood it was not that serious. During her interview with Stuff (13 days after the assault) she also expressed that she was not aware whether or not the student had returned to school . The lack of interest in the wellbeing of student implies that sexual violence against males is not at all serious and when an incident like this does happen, people are overreacting, reinforcing the idea that this is just what boys do.
These are just a few examples of the side of rape culture and toxic masculinity which is completely ignored. It is NOT normal coming of age behaviour to rape another person, we need to stop treating it as such.
- "CHRISTCHURCH BOYS HIGH SCHOOL AGAINST THE PRESS / STUFF". 2019. Mediacouncil.Org.Nz. https://www.mediacouncil.org.nz/rulings/christchurch-boys-high-school-against-the-press-stuff
- Crimes Act 1961. 2005. Vol. 128. New Zealand: Parliamentary Counsel Office Te Tari Tohutohu Pāremata
- Dupper, David R. School Bullying : New Perspectives on a Growing Problem New York: Oxford University Press, 2013
- NZ Herald, Hawkes Bay Today. 2003. "Home Detention For 'Broomstick Boys'". https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3513993
- NZ Herald, NZPA. 2002. "Broom Handle Attack Students Jailed". https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=2043037.
- NZ Herald, NZPA. 2002. "Night Of Madness Scars All Involved". https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=1793098.
- Otago Daily Times. 2011. "Boy Violated Over Planned Shift To Private College". https://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/boy-violated-over-planned-shift-private-college.
- "Sex Alcohol And The Law - Family Planning". 2019. Familyplanning.Org.Nz. https://www.familyplanning.org.nz/news/2015/sex-alcohol-and-the-law.
- Stuff. 2011. "Pukekohe Pupil Sexually Violated". http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/6052789/Pukekohe-pupil-sexually-violated.
- Stuff. 2018. "Schoolboy Charged With Toothbrush Sex Assault At Sports Tournament". https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/109002273/schoolboy-charged-with-toothbrush-sex-assault-at-sports-tournament.
*Name Changed to Protect Individual’s Privacy.
Another discussion point is the culture of male victims of rape in prison.
“Sexual assault is not a crime of passion, it is about the abuse of power,” a quote from congress representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to Brett Kavanaugh’s election to the Supreme Court. This quote epitomizes the reality of what sexual violence is, it is not about sexual desire, but a tool for the abuse of power in which someone is violates another’s autonomy in the most degrading and dehumanising way.
The dismissive attitudes surrounding male sexual violence are strongly related to historical beliefs surrounding gender, gender roles and sexuality. These beliefs create a constructed platform so that there are toxic attitudes surrounding sex and also sexual violence in terms of masculinity and heterosexuality.
There are many misconceptions of male rape which include the idea that it is impossible for men to be raped because of constructed ideas about masculinity that men should always be able to defend themselves, that male rape only occurs in prison, male rape is only committed by gay men, yet because sexual violence is about power and control not sexual desire many male rapes are committed by straight men and another misconception is that men who are victims of sexual assault by other men must be closeted gay.
The toxic constructions surrounding masculinity enforce homophobia when it comes to male rapes both from those involved in the assault and from the wider society. The ideals surrounding masculinity create a stigma about male rape. Whether the assault was committed by a male or a female. If a male is sexually assaulted by a female, homophobia is often present as to beliefs that he must be gay if he didn’t enjoy it because women are not seen as legitimate perpetrators.
Homophobia is also present when males assault other males due to ideas that they should be able to defend themselves and if they weren’t, they must have enjoyed the attack. These attitudes are also reflected upon the victim themselves. As a form of PTSD for being assaulted men will blame themselves which can then lead to homophobia, by believing that queer men are a threat to straight men.
Rape is sometimes used as a homophobic attack against gay males by straight men as a form of violence. This is a similar concept to ‘corrective rape’ committed against lesbian and queer women, involving them being raped by a man in an attempt to make them straight. Sexual violence committed as a homophobic attack is performed in order to dehumanise, humiliate and harm someone because of their sexual orientation. Regarding those who identify as gay or bisexual as lesser and therefore it is okay to use rape as a punishment for their sexuality.
An example of sexual violence used as a tool against male victims, which often is dismissed and not considered ‘real sexual assault’ is the use of sexual violence as bullying, often predominant in single-sex boys schools. Often referred to as ‘sexual bullying’. This is when sexual violence is used against the victim as a way to cause physical and emotional harm in a bullying manner.
There have been several cases of this happening at many different schools, including New Zealand, where students have sexually assaulted other students, often using objects to assault a student. Regarding these attacks as bullying rather than a violent sexual assault or rape, creates the sense that the perpetrator(s) is justified in their behaviour. It is often used to protect the perpetrator and the school’s reputation, as bullying is considered ‘normal’ but addressing it for what it actually is, would cause for a very different response.
Attitudes surrounding male sexual violence victims are overlooked, minimised, discredited and often dismissed entirely as being a legitimate problem. The only recognition that male sexual violence has gained is the notion that sexual violence exists but exclusively in a prison setting. There are two primary issues with this rape myth. The first is that men can be victimised by sexual violence, coercion and harassment in any context. The second primary issue with this myth is that although there is an acknowledgement of sexual assault taking place in prison, it has highly dismissive and not recognised an issue.
The jokes, expectations, trivialisation has led to the normalisation of sexual assault in male prisons. Sexual assault in prison has become so normalised that is associated as a part of the punishment for offenders. Those who spend time in prison are completely ostracised from the rest of society. The prison institution is designed so that the most vulnerable and excluded members of society remain this way and are excluded from the mainstream political and social sphere.
This attitude was exemplified in 2017 when at the time deputy prime minister, Paula Bennett stated that gang members have fewer human rights than others. Prisoners are seen and treated as ‘subhuman’ who deserve the treatment that is inflicted on them. The sexual violence inflicted on inmates in prison is regarded as an appropriate part of the punishment because violence inflicted on subhumans isn’t ‘that bad’.
A primary example in New Zealand of the attitudes surrounding victims of sexual assault and in particular victims who are prisoners was in 2016. The then prime minister, John Key, publicly made a joke about prisoners being raped in the shower. John Key appeared on a radio station, The Rock, where he performed a stunt which referenced prison rape. Key and a radio host were locked in a cage and Key was asked to pick up a bar of a soap which was dropped on the ground.
After the skit aired, the Broadcasting Standards Authority ruled that skit was inappropriate and was in poor taste. However, after the backlash towards the then prime minister and the radio station, Key refused to apologise for his involvement in the skit. He claimed that he was not aware of the reference. Even after being asked to apologise and after advocates created a petition for Key to be removed as an ambassador for White Ribbon, he still refused and remained an ambassador. The blatant ignorance demonstrated by the prime minister proved the attitudes of what many believe surround sexual violence and in particular sexual violence against males.
The fact that in modern day we still believe that sexual assault in prison is justified is barbaric. Rape and sexual assault are one of the most dehumanising and invasive harms that a person can do to another. Sexual harm causes severe physical and emotional trauma which can last for people’s entire lives. Regardless of this, there are still attitudes that this is not serious enough for it not to be trivialised and made out like those who are victimised by sexual violence either were not harmed that badly or that they were deserving of what happened to them.
The public attitudes are not solely created by the media and politicians who believe they are comedic geniuses but are justified in legislation. The belief that prisoners are sub-human and not deserve to be treated with the same rights and dignity as those who are not in prison is enforced in our laws surrounding double bunking in prison cells.
The justification for our laws surrounding double bunking is in relation to New Zealand’s mass incarceration rates. New Zealand’s justice system strongly mimics that of the U.S, with having vastly punitive practices and having one of the largest incarceration rates in relation to our population. The incarceration rates also reflect how New Zealand is still being heavily impacted by colonisation, with Maori representing 51% of the prison population, despite only representing 15% of the general population.
There have many legislative and attitudinal changes over the past decades which have caused New Zealand’s mass incarceration rates to increase drastically. The ‘tough on crime’ ideology which has been popularised the justice system has become vastly more punitive, meaning harsher penalties, harsher sentences and more people behind bars. The current justice system does not recognise how victims and offenders are not mutually exclusive. Many of those in prison have been victimised throughout their lives, but the laws reflect the ‘ideal victim’ and stereotyped offender.
This doctrine resulted in the Bail Amendment Act 2013 being put in place by pressure from the organisation, The Sensible Sentencing Trust run by Garth McVicar. SST is a regressive organisation and McVicar has no background in criminal justice and policies are not based on evidence. The bill aimed to strengthen bail laws for offenders of violent crimes, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to seek bail.
However, when this bill became effective, the number of individuals who were on remand doubled. The Ministry of Justice stated that now people’s housing situations had been taken into account for decisions about being placed on remand. Resulting in people being placed on remand who had not committed a violent offence. This resulted in thousands of people serving time in prison on remand despite not being convicted of any crime. 30% of the prisoner population are those serving on remand.
In order to make more room for those serving time in prison, people were no longer allocated individual spaces, prisoners were now required to double bunk. Once this policy was enforced, there were not regulation surrounding the individuals who were being placed together.
This meant that age and offences were not taken into account when placing two people in the same cell. In October 2018, the Department of Corrections revealed that 674 inmates who were double-bunked had previous or current sex offences.
These inmates were bunked with other inmates of any age or offence, some of who were young and had not been charged with a violent offence. In November 2017 Corrections staff allowed two repeat sex offenders to double bunk with younger inmates. William Katipa was sentenced for the rape of a 13-year-old girl and another rape of a young woman in front of the woman’s two-year-old child.
Once placed in double bunks, Katipa raped three of his cellmates. Another case was sex offender, Stephen Gotty who had 140 previous convictions was allowed to double bunk and sexually abused his young cellmate.
Socially and politically as an entire society, we have a long way to go with how we can legitimise sexual violence against males. Acknowledging, recognising and understanding the reality that 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. No one deserves to be degraded by sexual harm, regardless of the context. Rape culture is real.