2017 rewind: Who has to apologise?

We’re into the top 5 most-read posts on Boots Theory in 2017. First up, we revisit the Metiria Turei story, and ask ourselves why so many people’s lasting impression is, “well she didn’t apologise, that’s what made it so bad.”

Originally published 3 October 2017.

An excellent piece by Maddie Holden at The Spinoff on the sexism of the 2017 election got me thinking. She writes:

Enter Metiria Turei. We’re all familiar with the story of her ousting from Parliament for a forgivable, decades-old mistake that shed light on the glaring deficiencies of our welfare system, but perhaps it’s not immediately apparent that her treatment related to her gender. It’s simply a matter of honesty and trust, we’ve been told, and charges of a racist, sexist double standard have been dismissed using fine-tooth comb analysis. It was her attitude, they said, and any MP who broke a law would be expected to pay with her otherwise flawless career in public service.

On the Sunday morning after election day I was on a panel for Radio NZ’s Sunday Morning, where the topic of Turei’s resignation came up. Fellow panelist Neil Miller said it “rankled” with many people he knew that Metiria Turei didn’t apologise, or appear contrite enough. Now, I stand by what I said then, i.e. “what the hell did she have to apologise for?” (weka at The Standard has helpfully transcribed some of my comments in this post, and here’s an awesome round-up of posts analysing the real reasons Turei resigned.)

But with the lens of Holden’s article, another thought struck me: the sexist double standards of apologies.

If you are a woman, especially a poor Māori woman, and you do something wrong out of the noblest of motives – providing for your child – let’s be honest: no apology would be enough. If you didn’t cry, it would be proof you weren’t sincere. If you did cry, it would be proof you were a weak feeeeeeemale and unfit for politics anyway. Whatever words you use, they will be found wanting; it’s all well and good to say sorry now, the talkback twerps would sneer, but why did you do it in the first place you awful bludger?

But if you’re a man? Well.

If you’re a man, you can shrug your shoulders and say “oh, those things I said weren’t actually my view, or even factually correct, soz.”

If you’re a man, you get to say “my lawyers told me it was okay” or “I reckon it’s pretty legal” and this does not in fact rule you out of being Prime Minister or Minister of Finance (but then, even blatantly lying about budget figures apparently doesn’t rule you out from being Minister of Finance).

If you’re a man, you get to say “oh well my life was just really hard back then when I physically assaulted my partner repeatedly” and pillars of the community will queue up to denounce anyone who doesn’t give you a second chance even when you continue to propagate violent rhetoric and label yourself the victim.

If you’re a man, you get to demean survivors of sexual assault live on air, refuse to take personal responsibility for it and get handed plum political roles while other people insist that we should just take it on faith that you’ve changed, even as you offer more non-apologies.

Hell, if you’re a man you can say “I’ve offered to apologise” when your government utterly screws up the handling of a sexual assault case and that’s somehow the end of the matter, and even if you subsequently refuse to apologise you get damning headlines like: “PM not keen on apology”.

Not.

Bloody.

KEEN?

Can you imagine it? Can you hear the shrieking that would have ensued if Metiria Turei had called a press conference, sniffled a bit and said “Look, I feel bad if anyone was offended, but I only offer apologies when there’s a serious reason for me to do so, I obviously never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a long time ago and has been taken out of context”?

Because that’s all a man would have to do.

It may well “rankle” for some people that Metiria Turei never apologised, for something which requires no apology from anyone with a heart. But let’s not allow this to become the received wisdom, as though any apology would have satisfied the critics. They are not fair-minded even-handed assessors of a complex situation; they are hateful troll-monkeys who would always be able to find some reason to demonise a Māori woman whose true crime was surviving and challenging the status quo.

Who has to apologise?

An excellent piece by Maddie Holden at The Spinoff on the sexism of the 2017 election got me thinking. She writes:

Enter Metiria Turei. We’re all familiar with the story of her ousting from Parliament for a forgivable, decades-old mistake that shed light on the glaring deficiencies of our welfare system, but perhaps it’s not immediately apparent that her treatment related to her gender. It’s simply a matter of honesty and trust, we’ve been told, and charges of a racist, sexist double standard have been dismissed using fine-tooth comb analysis. It was her attitude, they said, and any MP who broke a law would be expected to pay with her otherwise flawless career in public service.

On the Sunday morning after election day I was on a panel for Radio NZ’s Sunday Morning, where the topic of Turei’s resignation came up. Fellow panelist Neil Miller said it “rankled” with many people he knew that Metiria Turei didn’t apologise, or appear contrite enough. Now, I stand by what I said then, i.e. “what the hell did she have to apologise for?”(weka at The Standard has helpfully transcribed some of my comments in this post, and here’s an awesome round-up of posts analysing the real reasons Turei resigned.)

But with the lens of Holden’s article, another thought struck me: the sexist double standards of apologies.

If you are a woman, especially a poor Māori woman, and you do something wrong out of the noblest of motives – providing for your child – let’s be honest: no apology would be enough. If you didn’t cry, it would be proof you weren’t sincere. If you did cry, it would be proof you were a weak feeeeeeemale and unfit for politics anyway. Whatever words you use, they will be found wanting; it’s all well and good to say sorry now, the talkback twerps would sneer, but why did you do it in the first place you awful bludger?

But if you’re a man? Well.

If you’re a man, you can shrug your shoulders and say “oh, those things I said weren’t actually my view, or even factually correct, soz.”

If you’re a man, you get to say “my lawyers told me it was okay” or “I reckon it’s pretty legal” and this does not in fact rule you out of being Prime Minister or Minister of Finance (but then, even blatantly lying about budget figures apparently doesn’t rule you out from being Minister of Finance).

If you’re a man, you get to say “oh well my life was just really hard back then when I physically assaulted my partner repeatedly” and pillars of the community will queue up to denounce anyone who doesn’t give you a second chance even when you continue to propagate violent rhetoric and label yourself the victim.

If you’re a man, you get to demean survivors of sexual assault live on air, refuse to take personal responsibility for it and get handed plum political roles while other people insist that we should just take it on faith that you’ve changed, even as you offer more non-apologies.

Hell, if you’re a man you can say “I’ve offered to apologise” when your government utterly screws up the handling of a sexual assault case and that’s somehow the end of the matter, and even if you subsequently refuse to apologise you get damning headlines like: “PM not keen on apology”.

Not.

Bloody.

KEEN?

Can you imagine it? Can you hear the shrieking that would have ensued if Metiria Turei had called a press conference, sniffled a bit and said “Look, I feel bad if anyone was offended, but I only offer apologies when there’s a serious reason for me to do so, I obviously never intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a long time ago and has been taken out of context”?

Because that’s all a man would have to do.

It may well “rankle” for some people that Metiria Turei never apologised, for something which requires no apology from anyone with a heart. But let’s not allow this to become the received wisdom, as though any apology would have satisfied the critics. They are not fair-minded even-handed assessors of a complex situation; they are hateful troll-monkeys who would always be able to find some reason to demonise a Māori woman whose true crime was surviving and challenging the status quo.

The Police Commissioner and the Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect describes when someone’s attempt to cover up or censor something only leads to it getting more attention – the exact opposite result they intended.

Someone should tell Police Commissioner Mike Bush about it.

I tend to unplug from media on the weekends. So I’d missed Bryce Edwards’ column on the Herald website last week which did a fantastic job laying out why the public trust in our police has been rightfully shaken over the past few years – including the overturned convictions of David Bain, Teina Pora and (convicted at retrial) Mark Lundy, the Roastbusters case, and the perceived lack of teeth of the IPCA.

Thankfully, the Police Commissioner decided to submit a retort, which is so terribly overwrought and indignant that it prompted BLiP at The Standard to put together one of their legendary lists – in this case, police abuses and excuses since 2008.

There’s a really disingenuous tone to Bush’s response. Outraged statements like:

Does [Edwards] really think that a 100 per cent resolution rate for murder is just a “box-ticking” way for police to “prove themselves”?

I’d say it is something the public should rightly expect.

… completely ignore the actual point Edwards was making, which is that having a goal of a 100% resolution rate can lead, and has led, to such fantastic examples of policing as planting evidence to convict Arthur Allan Thomas (by an officer whom Bush himself praised for his integrity!) and bullying a confession out of Teina Pora.

Bush accuses Edwards of “need[ing] to get out from behind his desk” and “be[ing] one of the minority who just don’t like police”.

And he makes excuses like:

Space does not allow me to respond point-by-point to his assertions, nor am I in a position to re-litigate the historic cases.

… which handily allows him to not even mention very recent cases like the Roastbusters, while somehow finding the space to laud the Police’s “40-plus Facebook pages” and the number of “incoming social media contacts” they get every week.

The beautiful irony of it all is that Mike Bush waxes lyrical about needing the trust of the community, in what must be copy-pasted from a communications strategy document:

We can only achieve the best outcomes for communities – that they be safe and feel safe – if we have the consent of the public.

This is why our overall vision is to have the trust and confidence of all.

We must earn that trust every day, and be continually focused on achieving it.

Yet the first thing he does when someone raises important points which clearly impact the way the public views the Police is throw his toys from the cot, launch personal attacks against an academic who has backed up his criticism with plenty of evidence, and give the reading public absolutely no reason to trust that he actually understands the seriousness of the issues Edwards is talking about.

Mike Bush has only proven Edwards’ point. He refuses to acknowledge the serious problems in Police culture and training. He refuses to talk about how they will actually improve. The first instinct is to defend, defend, defend, and try to say that the critics are the villains.

And by quoting an anonymous young officer whose first instinct is also to complain about how hard and thankless his job is, he only illustrates that the cultural change we keep getting promised is a long way from happening.

If Mike Bush wants to see a great example of how a man at the top of a conservative institution can really rebuild public trust and show leadership in changing a toxic culture in his ranks, I highly recommend that he watch this video a few dozen times.

 

Measured, authoritative, careful not to pre-judge the case, but absolutely not taking any shit and giving a strong commitment to actually change. Not mouthing PR bullet points about “trust” and “vision”.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, Police Commissioner. Apparently you’re happy to walk past the re-victimisation of sexual assault survivors, the framing of innocent men, and the inappropriate use of force against civilian populations.

And you wonder why more and more people don’t trust you.

Roastbusters second report: surprising yet no surprise

[Content note: sexual violence, police inaction]

Other bloggers have already posted pretty comprehensive reviews of the second IPCA report into the Roastbusters debacle. As summarised by Danyl at Dim-Post:

Seven different complainants came forward and named same same three attackers, which is supposed to trigger something called a ‘Mass Allegation Investigation’ to address serial abuse by the same offenders or groups of offenders. Instead the police just looked at each case on an individual basis, decided it wasn’t worth prosecuting – because they didn’t understand the damn law – and then went around assuring each other that none of the victims wanted to lay a complaint – which was false – and that officers had talked to the boys and their parents, which none of them ever actually bothered to do.

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn notes:

“At-risk sexual behaviour, alcohol abuse, and parental supervision” is apparently considered grounds for a CYFS referral in girls, but not boys. That’s a toxic mindset right there.

And through all of this, there’s an obvious question: if the police were so crap at investigating these cases, are they also crap at others? How many other rapists are going free because police just can’t be arsed doing their jobs properly?

And of course all the officers involved have kept their jobs.

Melulater covers the report, its implications for our societal attitudes to sexual violence, and the urgent debate in Parliament yesterday in which many women MPs spoke very well and every male MP except the responsible Minister decided to take a long lunch break.

… as a society, we fail these girls if this report is allowed to languish on a dusty shelf in parliament’s library.  As a society we have to demand action from our law makers and law enforcement to ensure that victims are supported and protected and further harm is not inflicted.

I thoroughly endorse her link to Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess’ illustration of consent using a cup of tea.

The thing that gets me really angry about where this case has gone – beyond the fact that a pack of predatory little shits were allowed to assault people with impunity, beyond the fact their victims will probably never get any kind of justice, beyond the fact that this happens again and again exactly the same way and we never seem to make any progress – is that once again, even in the face of an utterly damning report which criticises the police’s handling of this case at every level … effectively, nothing happens.

Despite the fact that trained, specialist detectives whose one job was to investigate the abuse of children were apparently less capable to do so than anyone who’s watched a half-dozen episodes of Law & Order. Despite the fact that anyone in New Zealand with an internet connection could find the evidence of the young men bragging about illegal activities with a two-minute Googling.

Those cops go on with their lives. We’re left in the dark as to how many other rape and abuse cases were mishandled, how many other bragging predators were not only allowed to walk free, but got a clear message: you will not be punished for your actions. We don’t care what you do to underage girls. They’re not even important enough for us to take notice when they want to make complaints.

The NZ Police’s latest recruitment campaign uses the tagline “Do something extraordinary.” Unfortunately, it seems like it really would be extraordinary for them to do their goddamned jobs and investigate rape properly.