13 December 2018

We have a long way to go before women can feel safe in NZ – Unfortunately

In the USA I can clearly see the correlation between mass shootings and the easy access to assault rifles. It seems very obvious to outsiders how to fix this scourge, but it’s part of the American culture and even written into their constitution – the right to bear arms. So, in reality it’s not that easy to fix, but it is easy to identify.

Meanwhile, in our own beautiful country we have a different scourge – one that is not that easy to fix either, and also very hard to identify. That’s the scary bit.

Violence toward women is alive and well in our wee paradise. Has been for a long time.

When I was a kid, homicide was a very rare occurrence. The first homicide that I became aware of was that of a tourist Jennifer Beard in 1969, which was in the media for months. The Mona Blades mystery followed in 1975, neither were solved. Both are etched into my mind as sexually violent offences which were hard to fathom for my young brain.

This past week we have had the terrible news of Grace Millane going missing, and then found murdered. All three women were doing nothing to deserve this fate.

But this is just the very tip of a very large iceberg – as 80% of women murdered, are carried out by their partners – the people they loved and trusted. Not as newsworthy, but just as tragic.

Let’s go back to the American mass murders – we can see that correlation easily. So, what are we missing in our own backyard? Why do women feel unsafe in Aotearoa? Why do professional women need to take steps to protect themselves at work? Why do women need to plan their walk to and from work to stay safe? Why do young women need to remain vigilant when out socialising so their drinks aren’t spiked?

I have given this a lot of thought and discussed it often with my wife Kate. It’s real and disturbing.

Here’s where I have got to with my musing.

Kate introduced me to the diagram below, and a few lights started to come on for me. The bottom level looks rather harmless, the next a little more uncomfortable, the third is getting seriously out of control, and the top level is what we see in the media.

The thing is, I have seen lots of examples of the bottom-tier behaviour over the years. And not just from men.

One of the most disturbing was the behaviour from a mother of two boys in their late teens/early twenties. She actually seemed proud that her so-called handsome sons were sexual predators, and treated young women like targets. And while I was surprised, I didn’t call her out at the time, and that’s the second issue right there. We need to call out this behaviour on the bottom level, and say it’s not cool. I’m going to take that on from now on – I haven’t in the past.

Personally, I have been sexually harassed by a woman on a regular basis when she had been drinking. It felt disgusting and embarrassing, and hard to deal with. God knows what it’s like for women.

The third example is even more disturbing because it happened right under my nose for some years.

I employed a chap some years ago while I was farming. He was reasonably good at his job, and very reliable. And he took a shine to our daughter Gabby. He was very attentive, and sometimes a little too attentive. I am not going to go into detail here. The upshot is that I put my daughter into an unsafe environment, which she called home, by employing him, and accepting his behaviour as innocent enough. While Gabby was not directly harmed, she was definitely in danger.

I have apologised for this lack of care and love some months ago, and I am grateful Gabby accepted it. The guts is, I should have once again called him out, and dealt with the situation head on.

Why am I not calling people out for this sort of behaviour? As many would know, I prefer women’s company to men’s, and would not call myself sexist. Yet I have failed to act numerous times to protect women.

I believe it’s because it has been the norm, and I have just got used to it as I grew up. So, I am a big part of the problem, and need to sort my shit out when it comes to calling out others – both men and women. I encourage others to do the same, so we can have a country where women can feel safe.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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