Speak to any Rape Crisis worker, and she will tell you that only some rapes are reported to police, only some of those are prosecuted, and of those prosecuted, only some end in conviction.
In New Zealand, the conviction rate for sexual offences is about 20 percent lower than for other violent offences – the estimated conviction rate for rape in 2005 was 31 percent. (Source – NZ Listener)
Given these odds, it’s a brave woman who pursues a rape conviction – as journalist Tracey Barnett says, she will be put on trial herself.
And that’s not all. Even if she doesn’t secure a conviction, even if the men who are accused of raping her walk free, there’s a good chance they will turn around and make her life hell for having the temerity to ask them to be accountable for their actions.
There have been two classic examples of this in the New Zealand media over the weekend. Last week, rugby league player Tea Ropati was found not guilty of rape. The case was terribly confused: the woman was drunk and high on drugs; it seems that Ropati was drunk too; the woman may have consented to go with him but she may not have consented to the type of sex that eventuated.
Having been found not guilty, Ropati’s family are now pursuing the woman who brought the charges. She has admitted she was high on drugs, and they are terribly upset that the police haven’t prosecuted her for it. So, they are going to bring charges themselves, or so they say.
What on earth are they trying to do? They claim that Ropati’s name was dragged through the mud, so I guess they are trying to restore his honour. But before they get too carried away with that, whatever the issues of consent, there are some facts that we know about this case. Whatever the woman was doing, Tea Ropati, a married man who now has a young child, was drunk, on the prowl, was prepared to engage in pretty rough sex with a complete stranger. And to top it all off, he’s just been convicted on drink-driving charges, from a completely separate incident. Not what you could call honourable, by any stretch of the imagination. This man’s actions were mud, whether or not he was up on rape charges. And now, he and his family are turning around and threatening the woman who dared to bring charges against him.
The similarities with John Dewar are uncomfortable. Dewar, you will recall, was convicted on four charges of attempting to obstruct or defeat the course of justice in his handling of historic sex allegations. That’s allegations of rape by serving police officers made by Louise Nicholas and other women. But Dewar has been reluctant to accept the judgement, and he seems to be doing his best to shut Louise Nicholas up, first back in September 2007, with 16 pages of complaints against Nicholas, and now with something that at first glance seems a little more concrete – a complaint that what Nicholas said in court didn’t stack up with what she said to a journalist 12 years earlier.
Well, it will be interesting to see some of the detail of that at some stage. I have no reason to doubt the journalist’s notes – Denis Welch is a respected journalist – but what has been reported about what’s in his notes is not inconsistent with what Louise Nicholas said in court, whatever she said to Welch was not under oath, and it was not subject to cross-examination. And it seems very odd that Dewar’s defence team didn’t use Welch’s notes as part of their defence, if it was so clear that the notes would cast doubt on Nicholas’ claims about what she had told Dewar when she first tried to get the rapes investigated.
Aside from the content of the notes, it’s the pattern of behaviour that’s disturbing – yet again, trying to bully a woman who has dared to hold men accountable for their sexual behaviour. It’s just the same sort of behaviour that the Ropati family are exhibiting. And the message is loud and clear – if you dare to hold us accountable, we will break you.
That message isn’t just directed at Louise Nicholas, and the woman who brought the charges against Ropati. It’s directed to any woman who thinks that she might have cause for complaint against Ropati, and Dewar, Schollum, Shipton, Rickards et al. I’m guessing that there are more women who could make good claims of rape against these men, or at least reveal some of their sexual history. And maybe that’s why they are so jumpy, so eager to posture and display their strength. They like to claim that they are honourable, that they are the good guys. But let’s get one thing straight. Married men who go prowling for sex at bars and nightclubs are not honourable. Police officers who go prowling for sex using the power of their uniforms are not honourable. Even if they are not rapists, even if the sex is consensual, the broken promises, the cheating, the use of power to get what they want – these are not things that honourable men do. These men’s names are mud, not because of what people have said about them, but because of their own contemptible behaviour. And to add to that, they are deploying all their might to shut other women up too, to protect their own “honour”. How despicable.
Update – Tuesday 5 Feb: Ropati has backed off. I wonder who suggested to him that it might be wiser to just STFU.