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Roast Busters: Two thoughts

Two small thoughts on this whole awful business, to clear my head:

* Because of our cultural distaste for direct expressions of what we want and don’t want, NZ youth find it very difficult to seek or express sexual consent. In consequence, NZ youth are predisposed to see hazy consent as commonplace and normal

* Because of our national reliance on alcohol in social situations, NZ youth are predisposed to see gross intoxication as commonplace and normal; even desirable.

* (The above two interact in a dangerous way – I would wager a fair percentage of Kiwi youth have at least once deliberately intoxicated themselves beyond the point where they could meaningfully consent, and done so to make a sexual experience more likely.)

* This means many of the sexual interactions of NZ youth float around in a murky fog of assumption, expectation, and impaired judgment.

* In sum: certain pervasive features of NZ youth culture mean that rape is easy here.

And – this is definitely a minor point, but:

* Among the comments and outrage, I’ve seen several commenters refuse to accept that a young woman would freely choose to participate in this kind of sexual activity, particularly if she knows she is likely to be subjected to online bullying afterwards.

* They’re quite wrong, as they would know if they honestly interrogated their memories of teenage life. Sometimes, young women can and do freely choose things that seem appalling to adults. (Often that’s part of the point.)

* Of course, it’s very clear that some (perhaps a majority?) of the Roast Busters’ sexual partners are correctly seen as victims. They did not, or could not, give consent; or they were unable or afraid to withdraw consent when the reality of what they had agreed to became clear; or they decided afterwards that they had given consent to resolve cognitive dissonance.

* But not all of them were victims. This overstatement is a minor point – but it does irritate me, and I think it’s important in the long run, because if you want to change things in our society you have to start by respecting the full range of behaviours and choices made by young women (and young men, but it’s young women whose volition is typically challenged).

And now that I’ve typed that out hopefully I can get back to work without thoughts buzzing circles in my head.

{ 8 } Comments

  1. Dr Bunny | November 6, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Twenty years ago when I tried to talk about the first times I was raped (always by friends or boyfriends. Not always when drunk), excuses were made, but not for me. I knew if I tried to report it or even to talk to older adults that it would be my fault that I’d “put myself into those situations” (like sleeping in the same bed as my first boyfriend when I wasn’t sure about the whole sex thing?). I’d like to think things have changed, but I totally understand why the young women who do feel they were raped haven’t come reported it. I doubt I’d be brave enough even now.

  2. Jamie | November 6, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Good job Morgue.

    For mine – these guys are bad people, and always will be. I don’t see how anyone capable of such deeds could ever change their neural chemistry to a point where they loathe the being they once were and transform themselves for the better. I sometimes hate even considering the nature vs nurture argument as it always boils down to the same thing for mine – whatever the origin, can we truly blame someone for their failings? What is it that separates the choices they’ve made, versus the ones others would have? Their genes? Their upbringing? Society? Whatever the cause, when does it essentially become -their- fault?

    Argh. I’m already exhausted… “I think therefore I am”. Maybe Hamlet nailed it.

  3. Jamie | November 6, 2013 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    *Descartes*

  4. ObjectiveReality | November 7, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    @Jamie – I have to disagree with you. I think “bad people” is an unhelpful category because it tends to sort people accordingly to what start to feel like immutable qualities.

    My observation of the unpleasant people I’ve come across is that they’re people who’ve learned a nasty strategy to get what they want, and who stick with it because a) it works reliably and b) doing it regularly commits them to continuing (because it means they’re shut out of other strategies they could have committed time and energy to instead, and have have built up habitual ways of doing things now).

    I think these boys discovered a close-enough-to-socially-acceptable exploit that got them what they wanted, and I think the point where we can hold them responsible is the point where they prioritised their desire for particular sexual experiences over the rights of other people to consent to them. I think the roots of that almost certainly lie in their fairly (financially and legally) privileged backgrounds and the sense of entitlement that seems to have given them.

  5. Jamie | November 7, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    @ObjectiveReality – see now this is the sort of discourse I wanted, and you’ve raised some brilliant points. But for mine, that exploit they’ve seized upon isn’t one I would imagine just anyone stumbling upon and then harnessing – what was it about them that compelled them to choose to do what they did? You’ve aptly described some nurture-related attributes that might account for this, but again, what is it that fundamentally distinguishes these guys from anyone else who would, given the same developmental and environmental background, choose not to do what these guys have done?

    These guys aren’t toddlers, and regardless of the factors that might’ve contributed to their inability to truly consider the ramifications of their actions, I cannot ever envisage a reality in which these guys find, or even seek, redemption.

    I may well be wrong, and I hope I am, but in my experience, when people do bad things – and I’m not talking about trivial things, I mean things like these guys have done – it’s as a result of being possessed with a mind whose fundamental perspective of the world doesn’t anticipate or care about the moral ramifications of their actions.

  6. morgue | November 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    [loving this discussion you guys, will try and contribute something useful soon. Sorry if it takes me a while to clear comments to publish, getting hammered with spam at the moment]

  7. morgue | November 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    So… this is big stuff, some of the biggest of all stuff.

    There are people who can’t care about morality. That’s psychopathy, and it is something you can reliably diagnose with the right questions, and it seems like psyschopaths can’t be “cured” and moreover don’t have any interest in being cured. They can fake it, if they choose to. Psychopathy is fascinating and more than a little scary.

    Then there are people who don’t care about morality. That’s been called many things – when I was studying abnormal psyc it was called “antisocial personality disorder” but I don’t know if it is still called that, and you could have it to a greater or lesser degree, and maybe it just means you do bad things a bunch.

    I guess my high-level take has commonalities with both of you. I think people can change; patterns can be overwritten into healthier forms, perspective can be acquired, empathy can be engaged in new ways. There’s no such thing as a bad person in a prescriptive sense, just someone whose presently-favoured neural pathways generate solutions that harm others.

    But change sure isn’t easy. There is such a thing as a bad person in a descriptive sense, because once your head is set up a certain way, it takes a damn lot of work to rewire it; and the human psyche is strongly equipped to resist change that threaten’s self-concept and identity, deploying all kinds of strategies to convince myself why those people telling me to change just don’t get it and why I might have screwed up a bit but really I wasn’t doing anything wrong… You need to really strip down a long way to build back up. It’s possible, but it’s hard.

    But from a third perspective – I think there’s also a possibility that someone doing an awful lot of bad doesn’t necessarily have so much broken wiring in their head. A few small pathways spitting out the wrong connections can have huge consequences; and here, small adjustments can have huge ramifications. Case in point: perhaps some of these boys really just doesn’t get the idea of sexual consent, and has bought into some of the prevalent myths in our society about what girls really want and how they always say no because they’re ashamed of their desires. If they take that seriously, and other circumstances line up right, then you can get a whole lot of horrible horrible outcomes. If that’s the case (and we don’t know enough to say yes or no about these boys yet, I think) then they can definitely change. But would they? It still isn’t easy to admit to yourself you were fundamentally wrong and you really did hurt a lot of people.

    When you talk about culpability and responsibility though – yeah, there’s personal attributes that would make one person follow that misconception about consent through to abuse, while another would hesitate and walk away or listen or maybe even just lack the nerve to commit an assault that another boy would. All kinds of things could make that difference, and unpicking the specifics would be all but impossible. A history of self-gratification and entitlement would quite possibly tend towards the worse outcome, though, as OR suggests.

    Where the hell does that get us? I don’t know. It’s an unanswerable question I guess, and it might be healthy that it’s unanswerable, a reminder that human behaviour is messy and intention is a game we play rather than something concrete in the world that we can evaluate dispassionately. If we want society to work we have to be able to pass judgment on our fellow humans, but we should also remember that our judgment can only ever be an approximation of complex, self-contradictory and paradoxical ambiguity. We have to live with that; we have to live with not knowing. But we probably are better to lie awake sometimes wondering if we are getting it right, than to sleep soundly each night confident we have solved the puzzle of human behaviour.

  8. "Frank Jackson" | November 14, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    This problem is rife in New Zealand. Authorities go to extraordinary lengths to cover up under age sex crimes committed by child sex gangs. Our 14-year old daughter was also victim of a gang like this in Auckland. NZ authorities gagged us (parents) and our two sons in order to keep us quiet. The NZ Head of State gave the sex gang members medals.
    http://bit.ly/ourNZexperience

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