Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Defining Violence

Meet James Robertson Parker.

James was a deputy principal at Pamapuria School near the Northland town of Kaitaia. He ran the kapa haka group.  He'd have been a role model, a hard-working member of the education machine.

He's also a convicted paedophile, pleading guilty on 74 charges of indecent assault, 25 of which he pled guilty to today. The charges included indecent assault, performing indecent acts and sexual violation on young boys (source).

During the trial details about how he had got away with it for so long seeped out, including his close relationship with the principal, how sharing a bed with the boys in his care was passed off as "sleeping marae style", and his having an adult girlfriend which was seen as putting him above suspicion. In his fifteen year tenure at the school concerns were raised several times, but allegations were retracted or never taken further than a "strongly-worded letter" sent by Kaiaia police to Parker telling him to stop the sleepovers (source)

If you're a sane, decent human being you'll be reading the details of this case with the bile rising at the back of the throat and a feeling of horrified familiarity. The position of trust. The close links with the families of the abused. The casual attitude of the police. One would assume that, now his brutality and deception had been uncovered, a long jail term would be a certainty, where he could sit and consider all the lives he had destroyed at his leisure. Surely no-one, not even a defence lawyer, could argue otherwise?

I was sitting getting some work done and watching the news when I heard one of the most despicable utterances ever said on TV (and the bar is pretty damn high, let's face it). Parker's counsel, Alex Witten-Hannah, stood on the court steps after the verdict today and made this pronouncement:

"It has to be borne in mind that the charges James Parker has pleaded guilty to are not charges that involve violence or brutality. He is not a Beast of Blenheim. He breached the trust of the boys, but it didn't involve intimidation or violence," (source)

Uh, what? Sexual violation is not brutal or violent? The legal definition of sexual violation in New Zealand is:

“Person A has unlawful sexual connection with person B if person A has sexual connection with person B –(a) without person B’s consent to the connection ;and(b) without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.”This means that unlawful sexual connection covers any sexual contact that happens without consent: ie. Male to female, female to male, male to male, and female to female.  Sexual connection includes anal and genital penetration of one person by any part of another or by an object held or manipulated.  It also includes oral sex, which is the touching of the lips to the genitals (either giving or receiving). (source)

I'm not reading anything in that definition that is neither brutal nor violent. Penetration without consent is never, will never, be anything other than a brutal, violent act. Breaching the trust between an adult and a child in there care is an act of deep emotional brutality, let alone the violence of the act itself. 

One expects very little in terms of empathy from defence lawyers, but this deeply disturbed me. Could he truly, really believe this? And if he does, do others? Just how widespread is this notion that sexual violence is somehow "less bad" than causing non-sexual physical harm? 

Judge Greg Davis obviously doesn't agree, having passed sentencing from the District to the High Court as they have the ability to pass a sentence of preventative detention, which could keep him locked up indefinitely. Whilst I am not of the Sensible Sentencing Trust in their "Jail for everyone!" campaign, but for someone who had orchestrated a horrendous, prolonged campaign of violence and brutality against vulnerable young people whose stories were unheard because he was seen as beyond reproach, it seems only right that he spends a long time away from society. It won't make everything better, but some closure if better than no closure at all. 

I'm optimistic that the High Court will do the right thing on May 2nd and locks him up, with one would hope the chance at counselling and the opportunity to understand just how deeply his crimes will have affected his victims and their families. However, that a member of the bar is willing to espouse this view of sexual assault leaves me with less to feel optimistic about. I just hope he's the only one.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Speaking Ill of the Dead

“For 3 million you could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we could dig a hole so deep we could hand her over to Satan in person” 
― Frankie Boyle

Unless you were hiding under the duvet in case of missiles from Pyongyang today you'll have caught the news that infamous Tory and hater of all humanity (at least, all humanity that lacked a vast fortune and a standing army) Margaret Thatcher has regrettably died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87. I found out when I turned facebook on this morning to find a newsfeed of popped champagne corks, photos of street parties in Brixton and Glasgow, and various quotes like the ones above. It was the first Good Thing to happen on a day of Many Good Things (the others being personal victories, and worthy of a street party of one).

I confess to feeling slightly uneasy about the celebrations, despite joining in online and in person. There's a deep cultural idea of not speaking "ill of the dead", as though we've historically been terrified of a zombie attack where walking corpses are not out for brains but a desire to give you a ticking off for making some joke about the miner's strike.

One fantastic little response to the merriment popped up on an online dating website of all places, which crystallised this argument perfectly for me. After chucking up a really quite neutral status update there ("Margaret Thatcher is dead! What a way to start the day!") came this tremendous response from a young lady who shall remain nameless.
You know her family more so her grandchildren will be more affected over people rejoicing her death. Hate her sure rejoice a death she was not a monster 
It was then that my internal moral-o-meter ticked into "Nah, fuck it". Glenn Greenwald in this brilliant piece for the Guardian makes the case that public figures are exempt from the traditional respect that would be awarded to friends and family members, and makes it better than me. But it got me thinking about the very idea of "speaking ill".

If you had come through abuse by a family member, famous or no, why should you hang back on fist-pumping the air when news of their demise reached your ears? If there was an individual who had caused you hurt, treated you without humanity, then why should you afford them any kind of respect once they'd died? I can think of one person (happily only one) who, upon discovering they have passed away, I intend on buying a bottle of something delicious and toasting him on his way to whatever hell my atheistic sensibilities will allow him. And I won't feel any shame about that. Why should I? My feelings of relief and joy will be just as valid as the feelings of grief others may feel. 

As for "Oh noes, the children", surely in that case there should be absolutely no opinion when someone famous dies? Say a famous man who secretly committed domestic violence, who terrorised his children and made their life hell, dies peacefully. The plaudits about what a wonderful man he is are plastered all over the media. Nothing but love for the man who caused them hurt. Sounds pretty horrendous for those who knew him personally, no? 

The woman committed abuses both at home and abroad. Almost everyone I know in Scotland was affected negatively by her actions and policies. She came to power before I was born but I grew up in a landscape shaped by her notions of fucking over the poor, greed being the only thing that mattered, and that community wasn't worth a damn. I'm still living in that landscape as those ideas are hard to shift.

So I'm going to feel good about the fact she's gone, and I'll do it without guilt. I'm going to sit around a table with friends and eat home-made food and raise a glass with a smile on my face that someone who stood for everything I don't is no longer with us.

"A culture of fairness"

So I'm sitting in my living room watching one of my favourite TV presenters from my childhood piss me off. Even worse, I'm watching Tony Robinson present a documentary series and I'm still pissed off. 

Tony Robinson Down Under follows Not-Baldrick-Any-More around the history of the UK's former social experiment. Whilst I admit to not watching the whole series, after several episodes, I finally felt like my TMJ-inducing jaw-clench throughout has been justified. They've missed something rather fundamental out. 

Where are all the Aborigines? 

Like, really. Where are they all? A history of Australia that promises "From the search to identify the Great Southern Land, through the Colonial trials and tribulations, right up to the establishment of a dynamic modern Australia, Tony Robinson uncovers the key events and major influences that define Australia and Australians today" which seems to extend only to white Australians. In episode five, which focuses on immigration, in particularly the massive waves of Eastern European and Asian immigration after World War 2, there is not one mention of the impact of that immigration on the native population. Not one. The episode I'm watching now, on the development of modern Australia, there's still no mention of the people who called Australia home for millennia. Not the stolen generations. Nothing. 

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on Aboriginal history or culture. At all. Or Australia, really. I've been there a total of two days and one flight transfer. But that's why I'm watching a documentary! I'm watching to learn about a country. A country that was not uninhabited when my people decided to go subjugate somewhere new with lots of lovely natural resources to thief. It makes me angry. Angry and embarrassed that an entire nation can be so cheerfully rubbed out of a history documentary that was made in 2011.

Oh, actually, I tell a lie. With five minutes to go until the ads, Tony looks sad while an Aboriginal historian tells him that it took until the late 60s before Aboriginal people were recognised in the census. They play Kevin Rudd's apology from 2008. There's minor key piano and footage of protesters hugging. Applause, cut to commercial. Let's all feel better about how we apologised.

I remember seeing that apology at the time, and feeling a lovely warmth from it. We were sorry! That's good, right? 

We're back from commercial. Footage of white people at a cafe, shopping, at the beach. His series conclusion takes place on a sailing ship. Apparently transportation worked out well for Australia in the long run. Stirring string music, photos of early white settlers. Kevin Rudd talks about Australia's "culture of fairness".

If you didn't know any better you'd feel all warm inside.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


So, here we are then. It's midnight and after much thought, discussion and a frantic late-night pissing about session on google, Glitter and Spite is now a blog.

I'm nearly 30. I work in the public sector in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm a lesbian, and take my feminism seriously. I'm going to use this space as an opportunity to discuss news, politics, media, and whatever else comes my way that I think's worthy of comment. Feel free to disagree.

I'll also be on twitter as @glitterandspite so if you exist in a state of tl;dr then go there.