Comment

Weinstein problem in NZ? Who’s to know

Last week TIME Magazine named the ‘silence breakers’ as their person of the year. Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Taylor Swift, and Isabel Pascual appeared on the cover – all have spoken out against sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence, coming forward to tell their stories or taking action that have unleashed what TIME calls "one the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s". 

Swift’s, Judd’s, Iwu’s, Fowler’s, and Pascual’s stories and actions are emblematic of a problem of epidemic proportions, with particularly high-profile cases pouring out of Hollywood, New York, Silicon Valley, and Washington DC where the political, media, technology, and entertainment arenas seem rife with it. In the last week five congressmen and senators, including Al Franken, have either resigned or face further question after accusations of sexual harassment. According to several media reporters, CNN and The Washington Post have dozens of stories that will expose at least 20 US lawmakers, and potentially as many as 40—that’s over 10 percent of the male members of the United States congress. Where there is power, there is abuse of it; aspirations to be taken advantage of, protection rackets at the ready.

So, what of our own country? Our entertainment industries? Our technology and media sectors? Our corridors of power? Our workplaces and schools?

Up to one in five women will experience sexual assault as an adult. And New Zealand was ranked worst of all OECD countries in rates of sexual violence in 2009.

According to Rape Prevention Education, up to one in three girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16. One New Zealand study found that one in five sexually abused children is male. Up to one in five women will experience sexual assault as an adult. And New Zealand was ranked worst of all OECD countries in rates of sexual violence in 2009.

The decision to come forward, publicly, is an incredibly difficult and personal one. Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST) is the national network of those providing specialist services for sexual violence prevention and intervention. TOAH-NNEST states that sexual crimes are often the least likely crime to be reported to police and that research suggests only nine percent of all sexual violence offences are reported to police, with many survivors considering the offence to be a private matter. Ministry of Justice research indicates that just under half (43 percent) of sexual offences were not reported for this reason. There is no indication of whether proximity plays a role here or whether this is better or worse than other countries.

Sexual harassment complainants in New Zealand are first directed to go via the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment mediation services and if unresolved, to the Employment Relations Authority or the Human Rights Commission. Complainants can’t do both.

To prove sexual harassment under the Employment Relations Act 2000 (which the Employment Relations Authority uses) you have to show the employer or a representative of the employer was aware of the harassment.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission only received 151 sexual harassment complaints from 2010 to 2013 – 87 percent of those were made by women. Statistics are incomplete as MBIE, somewhat inexplicably, does not keep records on the issue.

Under the Human Rights Act 1993 (which the Human Rights Commission uses) it is not necessary to show that the employer knew of the acts that constituted sexual harassment by a co-worker. The onus is on the employer to show it took practicable steps to prevent sexual harassment taking place.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission only received 151 sexual harassment complaints from 2010 to 2013 – 87 percent of those were made by women. Statistics are incomplete as MBIE, somewhat inexplicably, does not keep records on the issue.

Despite our shameful statistics and clear indications of a problem, we haven’t seen quite the same level of revelation here as the US has. Are there a set of conditions in this country that make coming forward more difficult or the problem, more hidden? Are the industries where power can be too readily abused too small for people to feel safe in coming forward?

For all that I hope there aren’t victims as numerous as in the US and there isn’t a New Zealand Weinstein, I doubt very much that New Zealand will be exempt from having to examine our own culture of sexual violence and harassment. We need to start discussing whether there are greater risks and ramifications here, given sexual harassment and violence is often perpetuated against them by people they know, and we need to reduce these risks.

In a country where we’re separated by two degrees, not six, each one of us will need to consider our role in creating an environment for our own high velocity shift in culture rather than the perpetuation of a dark and dangerous shame. 

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