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Sexual violence, social media, students and schools

April 07, 2016 at 4:47 PM

Sexual violence, social media, students and schools - court decision, IPCA statement, media

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*

A number of reports of sexually abusive behaviour by school aged young men have been discussed in the media over the last few months. Comparisons have been made with the so-called "Roast Busters" group in Auckland. These have led to a statement by the Independent Police Conduct Authority, a court case and a Memorandum of Understanding being drafted between New Zealand Police and the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand.

The information on what has occurred and how many different cases there are is not always clear or complete, however links are provided below.

Social media 'competition'

The New Zealand Herald reported Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) executive member Patrick Walsh speaking out about sexually abusive behaviour in November 2015. Mr Walsh said "The boys had a competition where they would get young girls drunk and they would dangle their genitalia over their faces and take photos. The competition was how many girls you could get into those compromising photos." Media reported the young men were given warnings by Police. Patrick Walsh was quoted as saying "What they are doing is criminal and totally unacceptable. In my view they do need to be charged, convicted and a message [sent] to teenagers across the country that this is totally unacceptable."

Radio New Zealand reported Russell Smith, Co-Director of Korowai Tumanako as saying, "I think it needs more than just a warning. I think there needs to be some enforced mandatory counselling and then at least they're on the radar, and should those young people reoffend in future, you can be charged and they can bring that historical harm forward. ... We all know what happened with Roastbusters ... but I daresay that those boys may not have got any support around the harm they've caused."

IPCA statement

On 16 February 2016, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) issued a statement saying that the Police investigation into a matter "reportedly involving school-age students posting lewd photographs online" had been "thorough and robust." IPCA said it reviewed the Police investigation (which was carried out in September and October 2014 and concluded in December 2014) after receiving three complaints from members of the public. Chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said IPCA had found that the investigation was conducted in an "exemplary manner." The statement provides no information about what occurred or where - IPCA said it "will not comment on the specific details of this incident. However, it is in the public interest to note that some of the information previously reported by the media is not supported by fact, and comparisons with the 'Roastbusters' matter are not justified."

Opotiki cases - guilty pleas, discharged without conviction

In December 2015, media reported that five young men with links to Opotiki College had been charged with unlawful sexual conduct with six young women aged under 16. The five young men were aged 17 and 18 at the time of the offences and the young women aged 14 and 15. The men all plead guilty. On 31 March 2016, Judge Louis Bidois discharged the five men without conviction and permanently suppressed their identities, saying it would be too harsh a punishment for their offending. Media reported that all the sex was consensual and that one of the young women criticised the Police for prosecuting. The judge said "All of you are young men and most of that is human nature … The female young persons all seem to be robust Kiwi girls who are generous in their attitudes towards you."

A range of responses to the judge’s comments were reported in NZ Herald and Stuff articles and other media listed below. Dr Nicola Gavey from the University of Auckland has alsoblogged about the cases, writing "There is a lot we don’t know about the case – or more to the point, these cases. We don’t know – and neither should we – what went on between all of the girls and boys and what lead to charges being laid. But we do know some of what was said in the courtroom during sentencing. And it is troubling. There are so many contradictions, and they pose a real challenge to what we think we are doing to address sexual violence."

Other cases

In December 2015, Stuff reported that a group of Feilding High School students were found with naked photos of a female student on their phones. The image was reportedly originally sent to the victim's boyfriend but following a breakup he shared the photo with his friends. Some students were stood down as a result of the incident. Police investigated but no charges were laid. Feilding High School principal Roger Menzies called the boys predators and addressed the "widespread issue" with students at an assembly.

Stuff reported that Youthline national spokesperson Stephen Bell said the organisation was contacted six times between October and December 2015 about explicit images being shared, and that NetSafe operations manager Lee Chisholm said they received about one complaint a week. 

Memorandum of Understanding

Media reported that New Zealand Police and the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand are developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide clear guidelines for principals and police when managing offensive online behaviour by pupils. SPANZ Executive Member Patrick Walsh said "We were able to canvas on behalf of secondary school principals a range of issues that the police are now aware of. We're going to work collaboratively with them." Media reported that the MOU is in draft form and not publically available.

Sexual violence prevention advocates respond 

 Sexual violence prevention advocates have highlighted how widespread issues are. Dr Kim McGregor said "Rather than stigmatise Opotiki or even West Auckland where the Roast Busters were, I think it's important the public know that probably every school in the country is dealing with sexual violence whether they know it or not. ... We know that young people don't usually report to counsellors or police, and often they don't report to their families first. Usually the first person they tell is their best friend. So we also have to educate our young people how to help a friend."

National Survivor Advocate Louise Nicholas said "Let's start being proactive instead of reactive. We need to be in our schools. It's not about saying don't drink, don't have sex or don't take drugs. We have to help them understand the repercussions." Ms Nicholas later againcalled for more education in schools.

General Manager of Sexual Abuse Prevention Network Fiona McNamara said "We need to be talking to young people about consent and healthy relationships and the same messages need to be reinforced by all parts of society, including schools, parents or caregivers, peers and popular culture. Young people are growing up in a culture in which forced sexual acts are normalised and this needs to change. We need to make healthy respectful sexual relationships the norm."

For support

Netsafe - an independent non-profit organisation whose purpose is to promote confident, safe, and responsible use of online technologies.

Sexual violence prevention and intervention services around Aotearoa New Zealand are listed on the TOAH-NNEST website.