Over this past weekend, thousands of people in New Zealand took to the streets to protest a culture that doesn’t take rape seriously. The public backlash has intensified over the past several weeks, ever since an investigation exposed a group of teens who call themselves the “Roast Busters.”
The members of the Roast Busters target teenage girls, ply them with alcohol until they’re often close to unconsciousness, gang-rape them, and then upload the evidence to social media sites in an attempt to shame their victims. After the news of the Roast Busters began to spread, many New Zealanders were horrified that their society allowed this type of “rape club” to flourish.
At first, the police force claimed that their hands were tied, and they were unable to prosecute the members of the Roast Busters because none of the victims had ever come forward to file a formal complaint. But it turns out that’s not exactly true. At least one victim did attempt to report the crime, but she was essentially told that she didn’t have a case because of what she was wearing at the time of the assault. “They said that I didn’t have enough evidence to show, because I went out in clothes that was pretty much asking for it,” that victim told 3 News. “I was asked a lot of questions about what I was wearing, and I went out in a skirt.” She pointed out that the lack of police action made her feel like the sexual assault was her fault.
There’s been some speculation that the members of the Roast Busters haven’t been prosecuted because of their relatively prominent roles in the community. One is reportedly a local police officer’s son. Another is the son of a Hollywood actor who appeared in The Matrix.
Now, more than 100,000 people have signed an online petition asking New Zealand’s prime minister to “bust the Roast Busters.”
Jessie Hume spearheaded the petition, and she also participated in the weekend’s protests. She told 3 News that she hopes this public backlash ultimately spurs New Zealand’s Parliament to action. In addition to demanding justice for the victims of the Roast Busters, Hume wants to pressure the country to implement broader policies that support victims.
“There have been a lot of cutbacks to the crisis services. They’re desperately underfunded, and when we’re talking about one in four women being affected by sexual violence, and one in eight men, we’re talking about something that is nothing less than a national health crisis,” Hume pointed out. “It’s a public health crisis and it needs to be addressed.”
This type of public health crisis isn’t limited to New Zealand. On a global scale, sexual violence has reached epidemic levels, affecting an estimated one in three women around the world. The most recent international study on the topic estimated that as many as one in four men in some parts of the world have committed rape.
Here in the United States, a similar victim-blaming culture dissuades rape survivors from coming forward, and sexual assault remains extremely under-reported. College activists across the U.S. have been working to shift this culture and fight for policies that take rape seriously. But it’s been a slow process, and most academic institutions still haven’t taken the right steps to help prevent sexual assault. One preventative measure that most activists agree on is very simple: Comprehensive sexual health education. Teaching kids about sexual boundaries from a young age can help reinforce the concept of consent.