Rosemary McLeod: Playing rape for laughs undermines the crime

Steven Joyce was addressing media at Waitangi when a sex toy was hurled at him by a protester.

Steven Joyce was addressing media at Waitangi when a sex toy was hurled at him by a protester.

OPINION: Rape is never funny, but issues around it can confuse you. I'd like to ask Josie Butler more about her sex toy protest at Waitangi, for example, and what that really had to do with actual rape.

Fans used to throw their knickers onstage when Elvis sang, and older fans still hurl their knickers at elderly Tom Jones when he croons to them. It's the unspeakable pursuing the uneatable, as Oscar Wilde didn't put it, but to fling a sex toy at someone you don't like is a novel twist.

Yet Butler didn't fancy Steven Joyce. She flung the dildo at him, "For raping our sovereignty." And I still don't get it. I never get it when people use the word rape loosely, to cover any insult or transgression, when the reality is by no means imprecise, is often violent, and is always intensely, revoltingly invasive.

Butler got the violent bit right, in the abstract sense, because colonialism is a violent process on many levels, but failing to consult iwi over the Trans-Pacific Partnership is more an arrogant lapse than a physical outrage.

There is a difference, and it's important. We shouldn't undermine the serious criminality of rape by accusing people of it every time they annoy us. And another thing: if you're going to protest, make your message clear. That way the Minister of Economic Development, who always looks a bit pleased with himself, wouldn't seem to have taken it as a compliment, and look almost delighted.

Did the message get through? Well, Butler got a lot of attention. She even made international news in a week when this country also featured for the bizarre defecating habits and unpleasant sexual overtures of a Malaysian military attache.

Mohammad Rizalman has begun serving nine months' home detention for admitting he indecently assaulted Tania Billingsley in her Brooklyn home in 2014. Billingsley chose to waive the usual name suppression for victims of sex crimes in order to speak out about her experience.

In this case there was not only the actual incident to be angry about, but also the outrageous mishandling of the matter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with Rizalman and his reprsentatives initially claiming diplomatic immunity.

Mfat's correspondence on this point gave that signal, and the culprit there fell on her sword. But you'd think a huge error of judgment like this would implicate more than one person. It raised the question of whether, in the excitement of restructuring the department along business lines, the importance of diplomatic protocols was quite overlooked.

Billingsley was effectively sinned against twice, first by Rizalman, and then by procedural slackness. She pointed out that Mfat's initial approach had minimised sexual offending, and had denied her justice.

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She was criticised for speaking out in advance of a trial. She was accused of endangering Rizalman's right to a fair trial, too, which was somewhat ironic considering his timely disappearance. But he returned, with additional charges of assault with intent to commit sexual violation, and burglary by remaining in a building, presumably dropped in view of a guilty plea.

And so a nasty event was resolved, only it never will be. The details, thanks to Rizalman, were too weird.

One expert said his actions in following a strange woman home, defecating on her property, stripping from the waist down, entering her home and approaching her in her bedroom, could be linked to synthetic cannabis use and anxiety.

Psychiatry professor Graham Mellsop said Rizalman rated high on tests for lying and faking. And the world was left to wonder about what TV3 news called Rizalman's "emergency defecation situation," which at one point was suggested in the trial as a kind of magic trick to make women fancy you.

Those three words reduced TV3 morning news anchor Hilary Barry to helpless laughter, and she struggled to regain her composure reading the next news item last week. To be fair, who could blame her?

Billingsley's experience would have been shocking and traumatising, no doubt about it, but Rizalman's account of himself, and his actions turned ugliness into farce. The expression "emergency defecation situation" could linger as a Kiwi-ism long after Rizalman returns to Malaysia without a job, publicly shamed, with a wife and kids to explain himself to.

I'd love to know what he tells them.

 - The Dominion Post

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