No disrespect here, but if I had a dollar for every time I was groped by some creep when I was 15 I wouldn't have to work for a living.
That doesn't make it right, so I sympathise with the 15-year-old girl who was harassed in that way by former All Black Robin Brooke while she was on holiday in Fiji. Brooke made a prat of himself, has now publicly apologised, and the girl's mother declares that her daughter is "feeling empowered".
I am beginning to dislike that fashionable word intensely. Life is life: sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don't. You can't be "empowered" against bad experiences, unless what is meant here is revenge, and this the girl has had in spades.
Brooke will now make an effort to find out if he has a drinking problem, says he'll deal with it if he has, and we all know about it. That's a good outcome and what justice ought to achieve, but so often does not.
I can't help contrasting Brooke's very public humiliation and acts of contrition with the good fortune of a pillar of the Manawatu community who will never be publicly named and shamed for hoarding illegal pornography. I'd say what that man is guilty of is infinitely worse than what Brooke did, and I remain baffled as to why pornographers are treated with such leniency by the courts.
It's one thing to be a boring nuisance when drunk – every gathering where people are drinking throws up one of these tedious men – but quite another to store 300,000 pornographic images, many of children, for your gratification. The way I see it, that's heading towards half a million assaults in sinister intention, if not in literal fact.
I'm not distracted by the virtual-ness of this kind of offending. Brooke was an idiot in a public place, the Fiji Hilton Spa and Resort no less, where there were witnesses and he could be stopped. Of course the girl was scared and affronted, but essentially she was safe.
That's not the case with the hapless Third World women and children who feature in pornography traded on the internet, and viewed by men who live outwardly respectable lives while savouring the degradation of others in private.
The Crown won't be appealing against Judge Grant Fraser's decision to give permanent name suppression to the Manawatu man. The man was charged with 25 counts of possessing objectionable material, and one of distributing pornographic images on the internet, following an FBI investigation. He got four months' home detention, which I expect you could easily serve without anyone noticing.
Judge Fraser said he granted suppression to protect the man's family, his mental state, his wife's job, and his ability to rehabilitate. If I were in his social orbit, and had vulnerable young girls to care for, I think I might feel rather differently about that. I'd want to know he posed a risk, and be able to avoid him.
But there's more to this, as an editorial in the Dominion Post newspaper pointed out last week. The same judge showed less understanding to a 25-year-old man who appeared in his court last December on charges of possessing objectionable images and film of naked children, some of them babies, in sexual acts.
Judge Fraser told that offender that possession of the material "invites the abuse and exploitation of children, who are defenseless, for the gratification of you and other like-minded people". That particular offender suffers from Asperger's and Kallmann syndromes, which in general terms might mean a lack of empathy coupled with potential sexual peculiarities. He did not get name suppression.
The Manawatu man, by contrast, did not submit that he suffered from any impairment, and the judge's observations surely applied to him equally. But it's another comment by the judge that I find troubling: that publicity was not required in his case because none of the offensive images were of New Zealanders.
Setting aside how he could possibly know that for sure, isn't it enough that vile images were spread of any women and young children, whatever their ethnicity, and wherever they might be? They were images of real people; that is their charm for people who enjoy such cruelty.
I don't buy any argument that looking is so different from acting, or that geography waters down a crime. It's in our minds that we first become evil, before we act, and in our minds that we give ourselves permission to be brutal by proxy, as both these men have been.
Nobody can be sure of the point when thought will become action, and nobody deserves any credit for "only" amusing themselves with the idea of inflicting harm that is, in the final analysis, all too real.
- Sunday Star Times