Victims deserve better

The traditional image of a sexual predator, the one our parents warned us about, is usually that of a strange old man with a sweet, trying to lure a child into a car.

The reality is quite different. Sexual offenders are most often known to the victim. Offenders can be family members, friends, teachers, group leaders. Even in an adult relationship, unwanted sexual contact can occur. Such offending is often about power, control and humiliation.

For young people experiencing puberty and growing into adulthood, the situation is hugely complicated. Desire, intrigue and peer pressure are compelling factors, but many do not have the emotional maturity to match.

Many pressures today further confuse the situation for youngsters in terms of sexual experiences. In the media, advertising, retail and entertainment, youngsters are bombarded with images to do with sex.

The messages are clear: sex sells, sex is everywhere, everyone is doing it, and everyone appears to be enjoying it.

Provocative clothing is targeted to tweens, who try to emulate the sexual moves of pop stars, they have more spending power than ever before, alcohol is cheaper and more accessible, and traditional restrictions are harder to enforce.

Then there is the raft of content available online that was previously largely out of harm's way. Nowadays, young children can readily access graphic pornographic images on hand-held devices in their bedrooms, living rooms or school playgrounds.

Without parental guidance, it is almost impossible for them to differentiate loving sexual interaction from images that have nothing to with love, trust, respect, responsibility or empowerment. They can easily access disturbing images of sexual and physical violence, that reinforce negative and destructive attitudes and behaviour.

The physical act itself is graphically displayed, but there is nothing about the emotional, mental and psychological complexities involved, let alone many of the physical risks. The issue of consent in this context is non-existent.

The sad and sobering reality is these images and experiences are likely to be the greatest part of the modern child's sexual education. Parents are often reluctant, uneasy or unsure about approaching the situation with children and teens.

It is perhaps with this lens that one must view the Roast Busters case, the group of Auckland schoolboys who bragged online about having sex with drunk underage girls. Police last week said they did not have enough evidence to take a case to court, despite several of the girls involved coming forward with their stories.

It is understandable emotions are high, and there is the feeling the boys involved have got away with rape. The message that sends to men is concerning, and the message it gives to victims equally so. The evidential proof is vital, however.

If police did not have that and knew the case would not result in conviction, they have saved the victims from possibly harrowing court appearances.

And the case is not closed: if more evidence comes to light, charges could still proceed. But it has raised, yet again, the enormous difficulties involved with prosecutions of sexual crimes and the fact victims are doubly traumatised. They deserve better. Certainly, it shows the vital need for support services.

The case also shows the vital need for better sexual education. It appears the boys and girls involved had no real understanding of the issue of consent, and the role of alcohol in impairing that.

The entire episode is a tragedy. At the very least, it is to be hoped the boys involved have learnt something. If they have not, it is a real cause for concern.

As it is, the young women involved will sadly live with the appalling legacy shared by many sexual violence victims: the shame, blame and guilt, the horror, the fear and the memories.

For them to move on with their lives will take great courage and determination and will require much support and understanding. We must all work harder to provide better support for our children as they grow up trying to negotiate the modern minefield we have created for them.


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