Wellington Scoop

Rape culture: a protest after a week of student “jokes” and threats

The subject of schoolboy behaviour is getting more attention every day, since the revelations from Wellington College on Tuesday. Not only from parents. Students themselves are showing concern – with plans for a protest at Parliament on Monday afternoon at 4.30.

The protest was first planned to be held outside Wellington College, but one of the organisers – a Year 13 student at Wellington East Girls College – said they changed the venue because of threats on social media. RadioNZ reported:

She said many people were afraid for their personal safety, and they made the decision to shift the planned protest to neutral ground. There was a lot of negative response from the boys at Wellington College who found out about it. “There were posts (on social media) … saying that they were going to show up in their cars and run us over. I think essentially they were joking. But they were jokingly threatening to incite violence if we were to go there and protest.” She said it was a tough decision, but the protesters’ safety was the most important factor.

The DomPost reports that girls from three Wellington secondary schools are planning to join the protest, with 250 interested participants so far.

She said there was a need to open up a bigger conversation around consent and the normalisation of rape culture.

RadioNZ first reported on Tuesday that two Wellington College students had written on Facebook posts about having sex with intoxicated, passed-out women, with some of the comments “liked” by many more students. One of the comments said: “If you don’t take advantage of a drunk girl, you’re not a true WC boy.”

In response to the report, headmaster Roger Moses started an investigation and said the comments were deplorable and disgusting . In a message on the school website he said

The school will be working with Rape Crisis and other agencies to make sure that boys understand the meaning of consent and the importance of respect in relationships. The boys have been given a clear message that part of being a good man is respecting women.

But there’s a lot more work for the college to do – another RadioNZ report quotes a Wellington College student as making the shameful excuse that the social media comments were “just a joke.”

“I think it’s just a joke that’s been blown out of proportion really. Obviously it’s not a nice thing to say, but obviously there’s no intent in it, he obviously didn’t mean it.”

One day after the first reports from Wellington College, there were headlines from St Pat’s Silverstream. The DomPost reported:

Four year 9 students have been suspended … for a “most distressing incident of sexual harassment” towards two female staff members….St Pat’s Silverstream rector Gerard Tully confirmed the incident, which involved inappropriate filming of the women… The school’s priority was for the safety, support, and recovery of the staff members involved.

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network (SAPN) general manager Fiona McNamara, who has worked with year 9 and 10 boys at Wellington College for two years, said attitudes towards sexual violence needed a cultural overhaul.

What had happened at the two schools were not things that could be shrugged off as “boys will be boys”, or as an exception to the rule. “People doing or saying these things are a product of a society where this behaviour is normalised. I don’t think this is something we can be laughing at … we need to deal with it really seriously, and put a lot of energy into making sure it does not happen again.”

Tony Wright offers this bleak opinion on NewsHub:

Kiwis might not want to hear this, but rape culture is embedded in most of our high schools and universities – any student will tell you this…. our youth culture …promotes misogyny on a scale older New Zealanders perhaps cannot comprehend – or maybe it was around in their day and they’ve long since chosen to forget it.

He has more to say, about the sexual exploits of rugby stars. And answering his own question about “what should be done about the young Wellington College men at the centre of this latest scandal,” he responds:

Do everything that can be legally done to them – make them and their friends and all the other young men who are doing it start thinking seriously about the harm they are causing.

A more benign comment comes from Jessica Dellabarca, 20, who graduated from Wellington East Girls College in 2014. Quoted by The Wireless, she says:

Those kinds of comments were prevalent at parties and online. “It’s not something that pops up every now and then, it is something that happens every single day.” The focus should be on changing the culture that allowed boys to think the way they did was acceptable. “I think it’s important not to vilify these boys who made these comments, because they’re not villains, they’ve just been brought up in a culture that they think that’s okay. Rather than say ‘oh, that’s bad’, we need to focus on educating them and bringing them into a system where they know that’s not OK.”

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  1. Parent, 10. March 2017, 11:48

    There have been strong comments online that Roger Moses wasn’t harsh enough on the boys, as he said they were really ‘good’ boys or words to that effect. I actually believe him. For me the question is – what in that school brings intelligent essentially ‘good’ teenagers to say or believe things like that?

  2. Iona Pannett, 10. March 2017, 12:37

    I’m so proud of these girls and ashamed and appalled by the actions of a few boys at Col; enough of the violence. [via twitter]

  3. Wendy, 10. March 2017, 12:56

    It is an indictment on our culture that girls have to resort to this.
    NZ clearly hasn’t progressed very far in attitudes towards sexual violence if these boys are examples of “good boys”

  4. Parent2, 10. March 2017, 16:38

    Yet, I am sure just like the St Pat’s Silverstream boys’ harassment and exploits are being made light of yet again by lifting the suspensions of the boys involved because they are “good kids.”
    When are we going to start making teenagers (young adults) fully responsible for their actions? Disgusted with what adults are prepared to condone and make light of in this world.

  5. Richard Winchester, 10. March 2017, 16:46

    If you’re in or near Wellington, I think these young women are standing up for an amazing cause; add your voice to theirs. [via twitter]

  6. Checkpoint, 10. March 2017, 17:54

    One of the Wellington College boys who joked about raping drunk girls is understood to be representing the school at a major sports event. [via twitter]

  7. Ben, 10. March 2017, 20:38

    @Checkpoint: The College needs to take a serious look at itself and the attitudes it is seen to condone when it allows any boy who unashamedly supports sexual violence against girls become a school representative. What message does the college think this sends to other impressionable young boys? It is not good enough. I sincerely hope the girls’ schools that have combined activities with Wellington College cancel these until they can be satisfied the girls will be treated with respect.

  8. Wendy, 10. March 2017, 20:47

    It becomes hard to believe that the Wellington College boys feel any remorse about what they have said and done when the girls are now being exposed to threats and intimidation if they protest.

  9. Parent 3, 10. March 2017, 22:18

    Why is one of the boys allowed to represent the school at NISS this weekend? What is the criteria for representing WC?

  10. RNZ, 11. March 2017, 12:02

    Lawyers for the boys at the centre of the controversy over comments about rape have taken an injunction against RNZ over any details leading to their identification. Late yesterday afternoon in the High Court in Wellington, Justice Clifford issued the injunction stopping publication of details not already in the public domain that could lead to their identification.

  11. Ben, 11. March 2017, 13:03

    So now we have lawyers protecting these boys. They are the ones who gleefully elected to spread encouragement for sexual violence against girls. What do they expect when it becomes public – sympathy??? They should be made to face up to the consequences of their actions and the wide spread fear and damage their attitude has caused.
    One has to wonder how serious any consequences have been when one of the boys is still representing the college at a sporting event. I guess winning at any costs still applies.

  12. Concerned Wellingtonian, 11. March 2017, 14:36

    Anyone with a grandson at Wellington College will tell you the names. Unless it is a very odd injunction indeed, it would not apply to that sort of communication.

  13. Level-headed student (not from WC), 11. March 2017, 17:39

    It’s a shame. Reading those comments makes me want to throw up. Getting everyone to think that Wellington College is full of future misogynistic rapists instead of the most talented boys in the country. Makes me want to die.

  14. Ben, 12. March 2017, 11:56

    @Level-headed Student: I agree with you that Wellington College is full of talented and promising young men, and I do not believe everyone thinks all students behave the way these boys have. However, unfortunately their appalling actions do have an impact on the rest of the college.
    I have a grandson at the college who last year expressed concern about the way some boys at the college talked about girls, so this is not just an isolated incident.

  15. Lola Ester, 12. March 2017, 14:43

    These beliefs about women come from the patriarchal system that we have. Media, marketing, advertising even govt and police have all promoted the wrong beliefs about women that have been fed into the minds of these people. It’s cultural. It’s an opportunity to try to educate, not to select one boys’ college.

  16. Sekhmet Bast Ra, 12. March 2017, 14:57

    When it comes to youth, we need to keep in mind the neocortex or forebrain does not fully develop until individual reach their early 20s. While this is no excuse for sexism, it is a factor in some of the less than smart behavior we see from youth, they are still in the process of growing up. Sexist speech does not so much happen in the classroom or at home, it happens amongst ‘the lads’. To effect changes in the attitudes of those young males who engage in sexist and homophobic speech, the onus is as much on peers as it is on parents and teachers. If we can engage the more intelligent amongst the youth to speak out at the time and remind their peers that sexism and other forms of discriminatory speech is not acceptable because it upsets people, then we have a better chance of making the changes in attitude that are needed.

  17. BotheredMuch?, 13. March 2017, 8:40

    It takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately this village seems to be trying to make two victims. The first are the young women written about and the second is this young boy. Our society sets the rules. One of which is even the worst young offender’s name is not published because as a society we believe young people are capable of change and shouldn’t be defined for the rest of their lives by the stupidity of their youth. Yes this boy is responsible for what he said. Yes he will be hated by his peers for dragging them all down with him. But my goodness the adults in Wellington baying for naming and shaming need to step back from the edge. At least the young school girls in Wellington are leading us all by example: highlighting this comment as systemic and bringing the spotlight down on the issue not just on one boy. Good for them and shame on the trolls.

  18. Lola Ester, 13. March 2017, 9:03

    @ SBR: No you are ill-informed about neurology, there is nothing wrong with their neocortex, none of the young men were found to have brain developmental problems. This sounds like an excuse. It is their wrong beliefs about women spread in our culture, (this disrespect of women is especially prevalent within the thugby culture).
    Sexism is not intelligent and it is mostly an action done “only among the lads” as they know it is unacceptable and wrong and fear being reprimanded or punished.

  19. Wendy, 13. March 2017, 10:14

    @BotheredMuch: We can only hope that the bulk of young men at Wellington College are letting these boys know that they do not approve of their attitude. However, it is understandable how outraged people are feeling as New Zealand has a shocking record for domestic and sexual violence. And it is the attitudes expressed in the tweets that make it easy to understand why.
    It is all very well to make excuses that the boys’ “forebrains are not fully developed”, or they are essentially “good boys,” but this is not good enough. What about the girls who are distressed by these actions? I suggest that Wellington College (and most probably many other boys’ colleges) need to do a lot more work to ensure their students leave school with a healthy respect for women and their rights.

  20. Mary M, 13. March 2017, 11:21

    @ SBR: It’s not their lack of brain functioning as the young men were developed enough to know that if they lied and said “it was a joke” they might get out of trouble. It is their wrong beliefs about women spread in our culture; this disrespect of woman is especially prevalent within the rugby and police culture.

    @BM: The young men are only “victims” of their own beliefs and culture that the village leaders taught them (as are the “trolls and shills” that you wish to shame).