Is Gender Off The Table for New Zealand When It Comes To Sex Crimes With The Young?

 Stacey Reriti. Photo / Mark Mitchell (NZ Herald)

Stacey Reriti. Photo / Mark Mitchell (NZ Herald)

This item wants to draw the reader’s attention to a court decision in New Zealand. The NZ Herald recently offered a story of a female teacher being found guilty of sex with a boy from the age of 10 years of age – Female Teacher Jailed for 10 Years For Sexually Violating Boy. He is now a teenager and it would be safe to say he feels differently about his relationship with the teacher now than he did when aged 10.

Stacey Reriti used to teach at Natone Park School in Porirua – her role in the school was that of both teacher and deputy principal. She was judged to have exploited the boy. Prosecutor Dale LaHood offered the view Reriti’s conduct was especially bad because of the “vulnerability” of the victim. That claim is not unusual in cases involving adults having sexual relations with underage boys; what was untypical was how this statement was being made about a woman.

Reriti’s lawyer Stephen Iorns said his client suffered from a psychiatric illness and that prison would not be good for her. It is not unusual that the prosecution would stress how bad the case was; and the defense would point to how the legal process and what follows a guilty verdict is likely to do more harm to the adult than a reasonable person would want anyone to go through.

What is worth paying special attention to are the comments by the Judge. Justice Mark Woolford equated some of Reriti’s offending with rape. He also said the charge of unlawful sexual connection carried a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The Judge’s third comment catches one’s attention: “Because a woman cannot be charged with rape” the actions Reriti and the boy engaged in all resulted in charges of unlawful sexual connection; rape could not legally be on the table.

A great deal can be, and perhaps should be said with news of this court finding. To unpack three things is all we will do here.

First, it is possibly a good thing that in this case gender was seen as having no role to play in finding this adult guilty; usually it does and women gain much less punitive legal outcomes than males for similar criminal acts. I say possibly because objectively speaking I would argue we should be putting less people inside prisons for sex with the young than we currently do. It is my reading of some people’s views that women have been getting off light – men being hit hard for sex with those underage; and women not. But does that call to “level things up” really mean things get better? I am not that sure this is true – time will tell.

Second it shows our laws on rape need to be changed/overhauled – currently a woman can’t be charged with rape (this point of women being excluded as able to be charged with rape was made in the article). The teacher in this case was charged with sexual violation and that charge brings with it similar legal punishments as a charge for rape. However, I am going to argue there is a language game going on here that matters. The term rape has been crafted as a male crime – something men do to women and other males. I think there is an ideological bias here that I want challenged. It isn’t valid to argue men bad; women good. So I want rape to stay as a term denoting bad and unethical conduct, I just want the person who acts as a rapist viewed as potentially male or female.

Third, and this point is complex, the case clearly involves a process of change that has been commented on elsewhere – that 95% of sexual contacts between adults and children aged under 12 are situations where trauma does not happen at the time sexual contact occurs; trauma is experienced when the young person comes to appreciate society’s views and punishment directed at a person involved in such exchanges. This third point suggests we, as a society, can reduce that trauma by changing the way we act. There is a lot that can be discussed following the outcome of this court case.

If this statistic of 95% interests you, then read Susan Clancy’s book The Trauma Myth. It is from this text that this statistic is pulled.

Update: article in the Dominion Post,  “Teacher’s sex abuse convictions upheld,” section A4, Friday 24 March, 2017.

The decision was as upheld, and the sentence reduced from 10 years six months jail to nine years nine months. The reduction was intended to reflect factors presented at the appeal.

Details

Clancy, S. A. (2009). The trauma myth and the truth about the sexual abuse of children – and its aftermath. New York: Basic Books.
Weekes, J. (2015, 27/11). Female teacher jailed for 10 years for sexually violating boy [Online News Item]. New Zealand Herald (New Zealand).

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4 thoughts on “Is Gender Off The Table for New Zealand When It Comes To Sex Crimes With The Young?

  1. You make several very good points in this post. Thanks especially for the reminder to pick up a copy of “The Trauma Myth.” It belongs on my shelf right beside “Harmful To Minors” by Judith Levine (ISBN 978-0-8166-4006-5) — another book on a similar topic!

    • I have read Levine’s book as well. An excellent book. Given the nature of this topic, and having read a bit on it, I am glad to find women who are challenging voices. I dislike the modern meme “men bad; woman good”, the damage that message does inside our societies, and how it sustains human suffering is tragic.

      • There are more than a few women I know who reject that reductive, essentialist crap — women whose understanding of feminism is that the outdated and oversimplified stereotypes hurt men, too. I keep forgetting that when many people use that particular “f-word” it’s considered an insult, and used to describe a bunch of people who seem stuck in the 1970’s!

        The frustrating thing for me though, is that these same feminists who grasp that the difference between a sexual encounter that both parties wanted, agreed upon, and enthusiastically participated in… even if it may look to an outside observer like something “bad” or “taboo” (like, say, BDSM) — these same women can’t quite make the connection to acknowledging the bodily autonomy of *all* people. So, I hear things like “I was doing kinky things with my dolls and having what I would later come to understand as being sexual thoughts and feelings, when I was 3 or 4 years old” followed by “OF COURSE ‘children’ can’t have sexual thoughts or desires, and can’t consent in any way to anything of the sort!”

        I’ve been rolling around the idea as a potential blog post on my own WordPress for a while… but I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing in general for a while. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.

      • There is a lot there to work your way through. As you suggest, often people’s ideas are tied or linked to positions they are committed to. Also there is the view that says this is not only a mind/rationality thing. According to this view it is not about merely getting people to be logically consistent or to be consistent in their thinking. For some when a person says, “this is why I took some action” that explanation is a cover story, it masks what directs their basis for doing what they did. Jonathan Haidt wrote a book called The Righteous Mind, that explores this point of view. I have met a small number of women I find myself admiring because of their depth as people, but for me that has not happened often. My comment is not intended as a put down regarding women, I guess I just move in the wrong circles. In the women’s movements I get the impression the pro-porn lobby is small – the women who want female sexuality to be assertively positive about sexual joy in a woman’s experience of what is physical. The anti-porn crusader can be a hard line lesbian but she will climb into bed politically with a right wing Christian bigot whose view of the family and the human body is sterile and cold. A bit scared actually. I hope what it takes to write happens for you; it is not easy thing for me, that’s for sure!

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