In March 2007, the jury in the second rape trial of Clint Rickards, Bob Schollum, and Brad Shipton came back with a not guilty verdict. I had been following the case - well obsessively is probably an understatement (I wrote about it a lot). Less than a week after the verdict, Russel Norman wrote a post about the cases on frogblog. The whole post is trivialising, and completely misses the important issues involved (power, consent and abuse). But what angered me most is his claim that Louise Nicholas had consensual sex with Clint Rickards:
I don’t see that being involved in consenting group sex is any reason for him not to go back to work. And people use sex aids so using a police baton in a consenting situation doesn’t seem grounds for refusing him his job back.Now I understand that Russel Norman would have faced consequences if he'd said "Clint Rickards is a rapist." Although, for the record, Clint Rickards is a rapist. But just because you can't call Clint Rickards a rapist, is no reason to describe sex as consensual, when the women involved have stated repeatedly and clearly that it was not.
Most people that I've talked to about this acknowledge that the post was stupid, and wrong, but many don't understand why I care so much. I've been told "wow it doesn't take much to lose your vote" when I explain my decision not to vote for the Greens. Partly I think this is because rape is not seen as political, I don't think the people who saw this is a small thing would have taken the same position of Russel Norman had, say, criticised striking workers.
The kindest interpretation of what Russel Norman said was that he believes that the police rape cases were a relatively trivial matter, so the implications of his words don't matter. The alternative is that he believes that Louise Nicholas is lying when she says that Clint Rickards raped her. Either show that he doesn't take rape seriously as a political issue.
I do take rape seriously as a political issue, and I don't think that's a trivial difference.
I have reposted my original response to Russel Norman's post below the cut. It was written less than a week after the verdict. You can see that at the time I was overwhelmed by the trial. But two years later I stand by everything I said. I stand by the weight and importance I gave, and continue to give, to his dismissal of women's experiences.
I don't expect much of the Green party. I appreciate Sue Bradford's private members' bills, and Keith Locke's questions in parliament. I make it a habit not to read or listen to anything Sue Kedgeley says and not engage with anything the Greens say about food, fiscal policy and saving the world through consumption taxes, because it's not worth it. I ignore them, they don't say anything too horrible, and it works for both of us.
Not today. Today Russel Norman wrote about the police rape trials on frogblog.
I don’t see that being involved in consenting group sex is any reason for him not to go back to work. And people use sex aids so using a police baton in a consenting situation doesn’t seem grounds for refusing him his job back.What the fuck is anyone who has ever heard of the existance of feminist analysis doing suggesting that these incidents involved consenting sex?
I understand that most people have more to lose than I do, and would face consequences if they said "Clint Rickards is a rapist piece of scum" at every opportunity. But just because the jury believed that the case hadn't been proved beyond reasonable doubt, that doesn't make the sex consenting. Two women have come forward and said that they were raped by these three men. Anyone who states categorically that Clint Rickards' had consenting group sex is saying that they don't believe those women.
Usually that's what you'd expect, but all the women in Russel's caucus are feminist and one has talked bravely and publicly of her experience of being raped. I would have expected him to pay attention to these women, and their experiences, and not choose the words of rapists over the words of rape survivors.
Russel Norman did acknowledge that there might have been a power imbalance in an addendum, but says:
My original comment above about group sex was in response to my perception that a lot of the reaction to the case was of a conservative moralistic nature about group sex rather than about an abuse of powerI've paid obsessive attention to all the media, and any reading which saw a lot of the reaction to the case to be conservative and moralistic is ridiculously inaccurate. I can't imagine what sort of priorities you have if your response to everything that's happened is to worry that people are condemning group sex.
Those paragraphs are offensive, the rest of the article just focuses on side-issues. Russel Norman believes that the two issues that come out of this case are:
1. Should the jury have been told that Schollum and Shipton were previously convicted of rape?
2. Should Rickards be allowed to be Auckland police chief?
Here are some of the questions that I think come out of this trial:
How many women's testimony equals one man's in the NZ legal system?
Is Brad Shipton the most vile man in New Zealand? (I'm really hoping the answer to this one is yes)
Why was Clint Rickards promoted within the police rapidly, even after a report stated he abused his power?
Why did no-one do something to stop these men?
I've talked to half a dozen women who have been raped by police over the last year, how many more are out there?
What alternatives ways are there that we can get justice for rape survivors where they don't have to go through abusive cross-examination?
Are there actually any 'reasonable doubts' here aren't they all just 'misogynist doubts' or is that considered the same thing?
Why is the past of the woman involved fair game in rape trials?
How many times do I have to yell "it's not a 'sex trial' at Sean Plunkett before he hears me?
Why are the police allowed to investigate their own?
Why did these women have to go through this?
How can we make this stop?
Generally his post made it clear that he didn't think this issue was particularly important. He'd read some of the media it wasn't something he was focusing on (given he didn't know a lot of rather basic facts about the cases), but he thought he'd chime in.
To me, and to so many other women and men throughout New Zealand, this case is important. It's important because we put ourselves in those women's shoes, because we think about the pain and horror that those women went through, because we can imagine how it's affected the rest of their lives, and the lives of the people around them. The way Russel Norman wrote trivialises all that.
I'm not saying that everyone must obsess about this case the way I have. I'm not bedgrudging people sleeping fine, and having time and energy for other things. Even I want to think and write about other things (the Air NZ redundancies are first on the list). But I do believe that anyone who considers themselves politically progressive should give this topic weight and reverence, and realise that they're writing on women's lives and women's pain.