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).

Historic sex abuse cases

Taken from piece in MailOnline (See below for details).

Taken from piece in MailOnline, Source details/link given below.

Recently the British media offered yet another example of how things work for them and for us when telling a story. The news item was about Chris Denning and how he has been put in prison, again, for sexual abuse of the young. In this blog piece I am not writing about how they got it right or got it wrong; what interests me is the experience of the processes that typically shapes a historic sex assault case in countries like England, America, and yes New Zealand 2014/15. People may find these historic sex cases difficult and ‘annoying’ but in a way they are very much how we are as a society.

What are often referred to as historic sex charges involve allegations an adult has broken laws when the actions taken are very much in the past; in Chris Denning’s case the period was some thirty years ago – during the 1970s and 1980s. When events are located in the past they are rendered via our gaze, our looking back. How that rendering is done is what this post will seek to discuss.

Many fail to understand this process which generates feelings of betrayal and anger. This experience is not only possible for those who believe a child or youth has been sexually abused, it can also be how those who identify with the accused can experience the process.

Working with accounts of past events is hardly a new riddle to unpack. In my past professional life working with religious texts was central to what I did and through this work I have become familiar with how language and interpretation of items which sit in our past has been at the centre of fierce social debates. Religious texts are a central part of society, and have been so for our culture for as long as we have records.  In my lifetime I can see how working with texts has been shaped by discussions inside literary studies, philosophy, psychology, put briefly all the knowledge fields have had a say about how such texts can be rendered – the process is on-going. What I argue here first came into view for me because these ways of thinking were deployed when discussing accounts of early Christianity, and now I can see the very same ideas impact on how one does history and how one constructs a text for a law court – text is everywhere; in a radical sense, all texts are shaped by the same processes – they are made, read, and rendered.

For a time there was a belief we could, with discipline, retrieve an account of the past that was freed of our prejudices and such accounts could be seen as stable. I recall reading Michel Foucault argue such a discipline sits at the heart of what an intellectual and the academic world is tasked to do. In Religion this discipline was discussed under the headings of hermeneutics and exegesis. In our current time one of the interesting differences between the Muslim and Christian traditions  is how Christianity has found a new sense of itself by allowing these literary tools to help the reader discuss and access the texts Christians see as important to them. Muslims see their texts – often shared texts with the Christians – as important to them as well; however they have so far resisted bringing together the discussions that live inside secular discussions of literature, history, and philosophy and their readings of the Koran. From where I am now I see both what Foucault was arguing for – a disciplined accessing of the past and a rendering of that as an object of study – and a different set of readings shaped by postmodernism. Simply put we understand that we are continuing to tell ourselves stories and that this is just what we do.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with religious texts or just prefer a secular example for a discussion of how to write and how to read let’s look at modern literature. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell is a tale many of us are familiar with and it provides an interesting way of pointing to some of the debates focused on what is history and how to approach accounts offered to us about the past. The novel by Orwell is clearly a caricature and through the story we are offered pointers about ‘truth-telling’. I argue here that to point to an object is to imply its opposite. Orwell’s novel offers, along with it’s fictional tale, a belief we can do history. He shows us as a reader there are ways we use to decide how and if an account offered to us is legitimate. Orwell’s novel refers to institutions, social practices, and a view of knowledge where the reader can see these accounts of the past are reworked and rejigged – the principles of newspeak. At the very same time as this is offered to the reader its opposite sits silently in the background; accounts of the past can be rendered that are trustworthy.

Orwell and Foucault are not the only names to throw into the ring when discussing how accounts can be assessed. Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard spring to mind, and whole groups as well, Marxists, the French Nouveau Philosophies of the 1970s, Feminists, religious factions, pop and media culture, the list is extensive. The point is not so much who is right in some absolute sense, the issue is how accounts are made, read, the rules that govern discourse. We have in such a short space of time shifted how we decide what can be trusted when making judgements about any account we view inside Western culture.

In the mid-1970s television became a new way authors could access their readers. The old pathways of legitimation were pushed to one side as a TV interview with an author was capable of moving a book from obscurity to being a best seller. Now, 2015, it can be argued this is what is happening with the Internet, and why the media cultures which have become so central to how we live have become so powerful. Engage a person or a group in a debate inside these spaces and one has the sense one has lost control of what might happen. The rule has become ‘enter these spaces at your own risk’. It is my view those in the academic world, and in the legal spaces as well, share a common failing. The features of pop-culture and the world of media are often under-estimated in how these spaces gives expression and direction to both who we are and who we are becoming.

Our legal courtrooms are no exception to what is being argued here. A court of law may well task itself with the business of finding out what happened in the past, involving the competing claims made by prosecution and defence. In fact two things are happening, we can see how we both want to believe we can get to the truth – that the past can be a rendered as an object we can view and make judgements about – and we are aware of how constructed our accounts of life are. The picture is, for all this complexity, still incomplete.

Michel Foucault has argued discourses have rules. You cannot say just anything, not just anyone can speak. Where one is looking at a case like that of Chris Denning the rules in play block the very possibility of speaking inside the legal spaces as if he is ‘just like us’ – at the heart of the profile of the sex offender is how his humanity is not to be ‘believed’, any more than one would be free to construct an account of Osama Ben Laden as ‘just like us’.

Where an adult has had sexual relations with the young, and those relationships violate our laws about sex with the young, efforts to reconstruct the past as it may be understood by the adult involved are unlikely to succeed. Notions of friendship, consent, love, they are all blocked. Because of the rules that govern current discourse – to use Foucault’s way of viewing this process – one is not able to speak and in a sense that past the accused has in their head never happened. The rules Foucault speaks of are fluid, ever changing, and some spaces operate differently than others. The law court, the media spaces, blog sites, a discussion at a pub, a talk in our homes with friends, all offer different rules, but there are patterns, blockages – ‘you can’t say that …’, templates.

In a way analogous to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four what we have that guides our lives is both a textual process governed by rules, and its opposite. It is not as if, in an objectively real sense, what Chris Denning as an convicted sex offender has had as a set of experiences has been made to disappear.  With discipline one might well reconstruct an account Denning could look at and say, yes, that is what happened. However the tale we tell ourselves about those who have sexual contact with the young has a template that is dark, condemnatory and punitive. Yes, sexual assault does happen in the sense that unwanted sexual encounters take place, exploitation is a component of our social relations as people. My point is many do find the historic sex case difficult to experience because of all of what I am unpacking here, especially the person standing in the dock. (What contributes to this experience is far more than the simplistic question ‘Did you do it?’; to pose the question ‘What happened? is more open.)

As a closing remark let me say the blog discussion offered by Tom O’Carroll about the Chris Denning case is an interesting rendering of the past. It includes many bits that are unlikely to ever find themselves living inside the courtroom. Hopefully someone will find a way to allow Denning to view that discussion, he might enjoy the read.

DETAILS:

Being liberal is no easy life-choice.

Apparently we are all being watched.

Apparently we are all being watched.

The focus of this blog Take-A-Risk-NZ is on crime, sexuality, social change, and in particular, the situation minor-attracted people find themselves dealing with. The views offered here may seem to many to be off to one side and remote – if a reader goes to the pub or some social gathering the ideas I offer are probably not going to pop up in conversation.  Other issues it could be argued are more worthy of public concern.

I don’t see it quite that way, although there are some really big issues out there. The canary in the coal mine comes to mind. As things change and new problems replace old ones the signs a problem is present can be found in what at the time is not focused on and not judged to be important. In earlier days inside a coal mine those who went down into the mine would take with them a small bird in a cage. While down inside the mine the bird, perhaps a canary, might begin to struggle and fall ill, indicating a gas leak or the presence of a threat, a danger the miners may fail to register. To fail to see the bird having problems was to leave open the possibility a person might be the next animal to die. How minority groups experience problems can be for the rest of us a warning regarding our fate as a society.

Yesterday two plain clothes police officers came to my apartment complex. They had taken an interest in an image that was distributed inside Tumblr, a social media network much like Facebook. The picture these officers were interested in was of a boy pointing a handgun at his head. That image was used in a post put up on this blog that discussed the use of the term sexual orientation when referring to a person who is minor attracted. The American Psychological Association had just pulled the use of this term in favour of the phrase sexual interest when referring to the desire felt by a minor attracted person. (For a background to this see this Washington Times piece.)

What this blog piece offers was referenced by Tom O’Carroll in an item titled “Should we publish and be damned?” A commenter on that article, Peter Loudon, shared details about the person who took the image of the boy in the picture. The image eventually found its way to Tumblr. Peter stated as part of his comment, “The photograph was taken by Jan H Andersen using a model. Andersen lives in Denmark. His blog is here http://www.jhandersen.com/ and his stock photography collection is here http://www.expozero.com/. The photograph in question can be found in the collection ‘Death and Suicide’.”

When my blog item, along with image of the boy and the gun, was put up on Take-A-Risk-NZ a link to it appeared on my Facebook page.  It was this link the NZ Police took an interest in. The two women were in front of me to give me a polite message – we are watching you. I don’t have any criminal convictions, but apparently I am a person of interest. The police are, I am sure, convinced such interest is what their job requires – under that banner of “child protection”.

There are times when to understand an event one needs to locate it inside a context. Digital communications like those used by a lot of us – Facebook, Tumblr, emails – are of interest of the State and its agents, Mr. Snowden has helped us see this very clearly. Also 2014 seems to be part of what has been unfolding for some time now – over the last thirty years there has been a turning process unfolding.

The 1960s and 70s are now very much under attack and a part of the liberal commentary that filled those decades is now viewed as suspect, even dangerous. (See Tim Stanley’s views of both Camille Paglia and Allen Ginsberg, and a podcast on The Telegraph titled “Why did the 1970s become a haven for evil?”.) Men and women my age find themselves in the gaze of others as agents of dangerous views, and some bashing is going on, especially for the males in that cohort (see Barbara Hewson’s comments on the persecution of old men).

When responding to the two police officers I mentioned Mr Snowden and the watching process they referred to. I stressed this activity is well known to many of us. I also asked them to tell me if any image, like that of the boy with the gun, is linked to criminal activity, links I may be unaware of, please tell me of such things, I want to know if I have been pulled into something unawares.

If asked, my politics is liberal; perhaps the term “left” might be a fit as well. Whatever the label, the views I hold and the commitment I have to them is no easy road to walk. Over that period of thirty years I refer to above, it could be said the liberal and the left have not had the upper hand politically. It has been the neoliberals and the Christian right who seem to have been the movers and the shakers. One choice I have made is to back the liberal view because I think it deserves my support. Like the opinion voices of Alain Badiou and Michel Foucault I think an event is something that one should link to truth and truth telling. The 1960s and 70s can be seen as an event and a truth, something that broke through into our lives that needs to be allowed to touch us now in 2014.

Further Reading:

The ethics of ‘pixie sex’

Looney_Toons_23637Last week our local media in New Zealand published an item under the banner, “Man sent to jail for watching ‘pixie sex’.” Friends made jokes about how this story might impact our local pixies, and yes, some stated quite simply, “Have the New Zealand police and our court system gone crazy?” Even Roger Bowden, the man’s lawyer, said the conviction for possessing objectionable material was “the law gone mad.”

If this wasn’t about real people, I too would laugh. But it is not the pixies who are at the centre of this story. Very serious events have unfolded for “an Auckland man“ – and it’s not over yet. Having been convicted of a crime, he has served his time in a New Zealand prison and has now been released, under the supervision of the Probation Service. Usually after such a supervision period ends the ex-inmate is expected to fit back into society – find a job, get himself a place to live. It is my expectation that this man’s future prospects look nothing like that.

What assumptions can we make regarding the man? On a personal level his psychological state/mood would be moving ever closer to snapping point. The public media tell him who and what he is – social messages that are reinforced in his interactions with others. Inside these images, narratives and exchanges, the social identity of the ‘pedophile’/sex abuser is constructed.

Not only do these imposed narratives make it virtually impossible for an individual to maintain an integrated sense of self, but they block all attempts at resistance, be it political struggle or romantic heroism. The very idea of ‘legitimate’ resistance for a sex offender is a no-no.

One form of resistance is available for the sex offender –  it has two modalities, and both involve lies and deceit. First, the sex offender is expected to tell lies: he’s a liar before he opens his mouth. But there is also the potential for such a person to tell themselves it is in their best interests to avoid telling the truth. Prisoners will often disclose, after their release, how crucial telling lies was to their survival. Sadly, this is likely to include the inmate failing to take responsibility for what they have done.

There is something profoundly ironic happening here. Sex abuse narratives have truth telling as a central issue, but that process is a bit more complex than may at first appear. It is my belief the stigma of the sex offender and the pedophile is so powerful it feeds invitations to tell lies and do whatever it takes to keep out of harm’s way.

Telling the truth seems almost foreign for modern-day narratives of the sex offender – most see the offender as the one who misleads; I would argue speaking the truth is indeed a great need inside this situation, but lying is endemic, and the act of truth telling far from straightforward.

What sex offenders tell others, and what they tell themselves, constitutes a very deep problem. My decision to write seems infected by this problem of speaking the truth – how will my writing impact others?

In a fundamental sense, each of us owns our own story. That ‘truth’ is as valid for members of sexual minorities as it is for the rest of us. When writing any piece for this blog the author is challenged to take into account how the person or group being discussed might be impacted by what is offered. Anyone who has studied in the area of the social sciences will be aware that ethics and methodology are crucial aspects of how serious research ought to be undertaken these days.

Recent posts on this site can be lensed through such questions. The piece about prisons, for example: How might that piece impact on inmates, their friends and families, the victims of the crimes linked to why a person is in prison?

The more recent post –  which discussed children in art –  considered how those children would be impacted by public discussion of Graham Ovenden’s work? At first, British society viewed his works as positive, placing them in such prestigious art spaces as The Tate Gallery. When those images were recently taken down, and this move written about in the public media, how were the children in those art works impacted?

A number of items on this website have discussed the social profile of the pedophile. The intent of these texts was to urge the reader to consider the profile of ‘the pedophile’ and ‘the sex offender’ in terms of how they are currently positioned in New Zealand society and culture. How would minor attracted people (a term I use in place of pedophile and sex abuser) view my text? How does the talk I invite impact on them?

A pattern is emerging in New Zealand: men socially profiled as sex abusers and pedophiles are increasingly placed under extended supervision for periods of up to ten years, with a range of special conditions imposed. I know of a person who has been through this situation; his experience gave me a window into how this works. In such a situation as this the probation service will make specific recommendations. The person will often be blocked from owning or having access to any device that links to the internet. Ask people these days to do without such items as our computers, tablet devices or smart-phones for a week and watch panic set in.

I argue that when a person is ‘managed’ by the state it is difficult for them to be open about how that process happens. What choices do they have when telling the story? The biblical account of David and Goliath is not usually applied to the situation of a pedophile facing a courtroom. Perhaps that is the point: culture restricts the narratives we can choose when creating our personal stories – and not every story is offered to every person.

The David and Goliath image is something I have used; I argue the sex offender is prevented from doing so – his every attempt to characterise himself as another David battling Goliath is blocked and discounted.

There is the issue of power here – how can the story be told, and by whom? We are not him; what questions are we free to ask? Is it okay for us to focus on the process unfolding for the man in Auckland, and not limit our questions to issues of guilt or innocence?

Is the Probation Service being over-zealous? Is the state exercising ‘prosecutorial overreach’? Returning to our earlier question, how do our comments impact on this man? If we inquire into what the authorities are doing, the man is likely to become concerned about how they are going to react, and more to the point, what they will do to him.

There is a lobby group in New Zealand that seeks ever increased punishment of those who come before our courts. One can also speculate government staff who see themselves as ‘doing a job’ can become nervous – they fear being viewed as sloppy or lax. Another group in play here are professionals called on by courts to offer opinions – psychologists for example. They are not exempt from these power dynamics. If a psych report is asked for, and I dare say it already has been, how will it be written? It will take up a position, and it will be very likely ideologically driven.

My prediction: an escalation of this case is likely.

As things currently stand this man’s life is in public space, albeit a highly stigmatized version of his life. Media items that point to the pixie story extend beyond New Zealand. Having been to court and spent time in prison, he is already a person deeply affected by what has unfolded. I argue he continues to be at risk.

For some, this pixie story seems like a joke. It is far from funny. In addition to having served a prison term, the man may well have to endure extended supervision for as many as ten years.

Early on, this post pointed out each person owns the narrative that is their life story. Again I feel compelled to stress not only that this matters, but also for some, it is very difficult and complex.

Some are arguing this is a reasoned accusation and a punitive response with a feel-good factor. The view being put forward is this man’s sexual orientation – that of being a pedophile – means that having viewed this pixie material he may then go on to carry out acts that harm children.

It is an argument that turns on the notion of child protection. What it fails to show is any in-depth understanding of what having a sexual orientation means. Even if we have an adult who is not a pedophile, sexual assault of a child, I argue, demonstrates the sexuality of the person acting requires analysis. It is my intention to write on both sexual orientation and the presence of adults inside that group who sexually abuse children and are not pedophiles.

Related articles

  •  Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Farrar, D. (2013, 21/04). A yucky but interesting issue [Blogsite]. In Kiwiblog (Blogrole). Retrieved 28 April, 2013, from http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2013/04/a_yucky_but_interesting_issue.html
  • Foucault, M. (2001). Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), Distributed by MIT Press.
  • Goffman, E. (1986). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity.
  • Steward, I. (2013, 21/04). Man sent to jail for watching ‘pixie sex’ [Newspaper] [Electronic version]. In Stuff.co.nz (National). Stuff.co.nz(Online Story).