News that yet another young woman has allegedly been murdered by a man in New Zealand made for a sombre start to 2020.
Bella Te Pania was 34 years old. Media reports stated that she had been working on the street as a sex worker at the time of her death, and that the man who has been charged with her murder allegedly attacked her while she was out working.
Countless women have been murdered by violent men in New Zealand in recent years – though our shamefully high rate of violence against women is a trend that goes back much further.
Te Pania, along with all women who have died in this way, deserved to be safe.
Violence against women is endemic in our society and while campaigns such as #MeToo have shifted our societal discourse to some extent, the murder of a sex worker (and specifically women who work on the streets) often provokes a particularly insidious form of victim blaming.
Contemporary pornography is immensely popular, accessible and mostly free via pornographic ‘tube’ sites such as Pornhub, Xvideos, Youporn and live webcam sites such as LiveJasmin. The colloquial rules of the internet suggest that the internet exists for pornography, and that if pornography of a particular genre does not currently exist, then it soon will. Pornhub.com is one of the biggest and most popular online pornography tube sites. In 2018 alone, it reported a record 33 billion site visits, which amounted to 207,405 videos viewed every minute. As has been the trend in previous years, Pornhub’s annual year in review data for 2019 will likely show increased numbers of site visits, increased hours of content viewed, and increased numbers of videos uploaded to the site.
The front page of Pornhub has over 10 million videos to search from, as well as offering a selection of ‘hot porn videos in New Zealand’ and the ‘most viewed porn videos in New Zealand.’ It allows viewers to search for content from what seems to be an endless menu of sexual behaviours, acts and themes. Of course, this is perhaps not news for most – we know that New Zealanders feature in the top 30 countries in the world by capita for viewing frequency on Pornhub. Whilst pornography is often thought of as a man’s activity, we also know that Kiwi women are increasingly viewing pornography, making up 40% of New Zealand’s viewing audience.
Various claims are made about pornography and its impacts. Pornography is labelled dangerous and harmful for children, especially regarding their sexual development. It is labelled aggressive, misogynistic and degrading to women. It’s situated as a causal factor in the perpetration of sexual and physical violence. It’s claimed to affect intimacy in adult relationships, to be ‘addictive’ in nature. These claims encourage us to panic about pornography, and calls are often made to regulate, or ban, access to pornography.
Violence against women is one of New Zealand’s most significant and pressing social issues. Every day police respond to hundreds of family violence incidents, and women continue to die as a result of men’s violence. In December 2018 New Zealand recognised the severity of a specific offence – strangulation – and implemented legislative reform to address its pervasiveness. Five arrests for strangulation were reported a day in February 2019 . I mention all of this because of the Grace Millane murder trial.
On 21 December 2018 she was strangled to death while visiting New Zealand. Her body was later found in a suitcase, buried, in the Waitakere ranges in Auckland. The man accused of her murder claimed her death was the result of consensual rough sex that had “gone wrong”. After a three-week trial, a jury of five men and seven women found him guilty of murder after less than six hours of deliberation.
While a guilty verdict has been established, this does not detract from the distressing nature of this murder trial – distressing for myriad reasons: distressing because a young woman lost her life in a country where she should have been safe; because it quickly became a trial about a young woman’s sexual history and interests instead of the actions of a violent man; because while the defence said Millane was not to blame for what happened that night, the case it built suggested she was somehow blameworthy.
On Friday night, I sat down to watch a film that some critics have suggested that we should fear and stay away from. It’s called ‘Joker’. This film was pre-emptively labelled as “dangerous”, “right-wing”, ”irresponsible” and even “Incel-friendly” by online critics (Abad-Santos, 2019; Ehrlich, 2019; Thompson, 2019). Several commentaries suggest that the film panders to Incel culture – supposedly at a risk of inciting and celebrating murder, especially mass murder perpetrated by ‘lone’ white men who perceive themselves as marginalized. In a climate where this violence accounts for the clear majority of solo mass murder events, I can understand why there was a heavy police presence at cinemas around North America. I also understand why, in the weeks prior to the film’s release, US military were instructed to be on high alert for potential mass-shootings at film screenings. However, I think the fear response may cause us to overlook an opportunity to understand the social and systemic causes for such violence.
Incels (Involuntary Celibates) are an online group of men who perceive themselves as the losers in the genetic lottery. They self-describe as ‘beta males’ who cannot find a sexual partner, yet desire one. Self-proclaimed members of the group have engaged in horrific acts of violence, particularly aimed against their perceived oppressors: women. Incels are bound by a fundamental set of beliefs known as the ‘Black Pill’ that unites a wider online anti-feminist ‘manosphere’. The Black Pill represents beliefs of hopelessness, fatalism and biological determinism rooted in a selective representation of evolutionary psychological theories. Zack Beauchamp (2019) describes the Black Pill as “a profoundly sexist ideology… that amounts to a fundamental rejection of women’s sexual emancipation, labelling women shallow, cruel creatures who will choose only the most attractive men if given the choice.” Media scholar Debbie Ging (2017, p.12) highlights that such superficial interpretations and recycled theories are used to support Black Pill claims such as “women are irrational, hypergamous, hardwired to pair with alpha males, and need to be dominated”. In my upcoming Master’s thesis, I describe the Black Pill as a philosophical and ideological device used to both explain Incel’s lack of sexual and social success, as well as a radicalisation tool to ‘Black Pill’ other young men. The overall ‘aim’ of the Black Pill philosophy is to reassert a so-called ‘natural’ order of a hierarchical system of racial and gendered oppression. Continue reading The Joker’s Lessons on Male Violence→
When Verna McFelin founded Pillars over 25 years ago, no one recognised that the children of prisoners were victims of crime – ten times more likely to end up in prison, than the children of non-prisoners. Social services made no special provision for the children, who today number around 23,000. Verna changed that conversation through her advocacy for the rights of children, and developing best practice to prevent inter-generational offending.
…Last week, 700 people met to discuss criminal justice reform. Public servants, criminal justice professionals, gang members, victims, ex-prisoners, police and corrections officials, academics and politicians. The discussions were diverse, and covered a range of perspectives. But when Jayne Crothall whose daughter was murdered in 1993 took the floor it became instant headlines. It was a heart-rending story of brutality. In her view, victims had been ‘frozen out’ of the Summit. The media made headlines of her concerns, but in doing so failed to inform the public that three of the Justice Minister’s Justice Advisory Group had a special expertise in victims’ interests, that a special session on victim’s issues had been facilitated by the Chief Victim’s Adviser Dr Kim McGregor at the Summit, and that two teenagers had testified about the impact of domestic violence on their mother. In addition, every prisoner who spoke, described horrendous physical and sexual abuse suffered as children.
When Jayne’s comments were reinforced by National’s Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell, news release, who claimed that “Andrew Little’s attitude showed he was firmly on the side of offenders and didn’t want to know about victims of crime,” it was game over. As they say in the media, ‘what bleeds, leads”. There was no mention in the media that Jayne had met with her daughter’s murderer to help him through his healing journey. That part of the story didn’t fit their purpose.
I don’t blame Mark Mitchell for playing the ‘victims’ vs ‘offenders’ game – It is a political tactic that has served successive governments over the last thirty years, it is a critical part of the ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric – but it needs to stop. Continue reading Who Are the Victims?→
I am moved to write this commentary by the situation in the Philippines, where the president, Rodrigo Duterte, not only rose to power urging his people to kill drug “addicts”, but has now turned a blind eye, even encouraged, the extra-judicial killings of more than 8000 drug users, their families and friends.
This is a tragedy, not only for those who have been killed, but for human rights advocates and for anyone who uses drugs. How did we arrive at this situation?
The legacy of society’s decades-long (and ineffective) “war on drugs”, coupled with centuries of stereotypes and misinformation about drugs and drug users, has created an intense stigma around people who use drugs, built on a morally laden hysteria often directed at those least able to defend themselves.
A scathing report by the NZ Ombudsmen shows that almost half the prisoners at Hawkes Bay prison have been assaulted during their sentence. Public discussion has centred on mismanagement of the high security unit and lack of a coherent gang strategy at the facility. Yet problems of prison violence stretch well beyond Hawkes Bay. Inspections at three other prisons last year found similar levels of victimization. The rates of assault at Manawatu prison were higher.
When we send people to prison we expose them to violence. It is a normal and expected part of doing time – just ask anyone who has been there. The violence of prisoners is intimately connected to the violence of the institution: to control people inside, prisons unavoidably rely on coercion and physical force. There are 110,000 strip searches a year in our prisons, 300 every day. These violent incidents are not aberrations but a routine part of the daily rounds. Continue reading Preventing Prison Violence→