Not the Po­lice’s finest mo­ment

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

By the end of last week, the so- called Roast Busters fi­asco had reached the point where Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Peter Mar­shall was plead­ing on Ra­dio NZ for the pub­lic to keep in mind who the bad guys re­ally were in this in­stance. No such luck. Ev­ery time the pub­lic did think about the guys who ply young and un­der­age girls with liquor, have sex with their stu­pe­fied vic­tims and then slut-shame them af­ter­wards on Face­book, the fail­ings of the po­lice force that is sup­posed to catch and pros­e­cute such peo­ple only be­came more ob­vi­ous.

The op­er­a­tional fail­ings of the po­lice have been as­ton­ish­ing.

Ask­ing trau­ma­tised vic­tims to be ‘‘ brave enough’’ to lay a com­plaint proved only the be­gin­ning of a litany of er­rors. It quickly tran­spired that sev­eral girls had al­ready come for­ward, only to be told noth­ing could be done, be­cause a prose­cu­tion was un­likely to suc­ceed. In essence, the po­lice were invit­ing vic­tims to be ‘‘brave enough’’ to com­plain pub­licly, in the knowl­edge their com­plaints would prob­a­bly be fu­tile. Some in­vi­ta­tion.

Given the Face­book ev­i­dence and the ex­is­tence of mul­ti­ple com­plainants, the re­luc­tance of the po­lice to pros­e­cute was ex­tra­or­di­nary. As one com­men­ta­tor put it: ‘‘They’ve got 72 cops and a chop­per for copy­right in­fringe­ment, search war­rants on the me­dia and seizure of legally priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ca­tions for an au­dio record­ing of a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion, and sweet f*** all for mul­ti­ple, on­go­ing gang rapes.’’

This was not to be the po­lice’s only op­er­a­tional mal­func­tion.

Another young woman told Ra­dio NZ the po­lice had also erred in the op­po­site di­rec­tion by urg­ing her to con­tinue past the point where she, on re­flec­tion, had de­cided to with­draw her com­plaint and put the or­deal be­hind her. She had reached that con­clu­sion for rea­sons of self­p­reser­va­tion: namely, that a court case would be likely to re­sult in her as­sailants walk­ing away scot­free.

It is in the na­ture of sex­ual as­sault that in­de­pen­dent wit­nesses are rare. At that point, the ad­ver­sar­ial na­ture of our jus­tice sys­tem kicks in, and ex­poses the com­plainant to what can some­times be bru­tal in­ter­ro­ga­tion about her be­hav­iour and de­meanour. Reg­u­larly, com­plainants are left feel­ing re- trau­ma­tised through be­ing ac­cused, in ef­fect, of be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the crime com­mit­ted against them.

The Roast Busters episode has now ex­posed a cul­ture of in­sen­si­tiv­ity about date rape among po­lice and sec­tions of the me­dia alike.

Even when a prose­cu­tion for sex­ual as­sault is mounted, com­plainants are still vul­ner­a­ble to the ad­ver­sar­ial na­ture of the le­gal sys­tem.

The chal­lenge, there­fore, goes be­yond ed­u­cat­ing the po­lice – yet again – about how to deal prop­erly with rape com­plainants.

It in­volves mak­ing the process of cross-ex­am­i­na­tion in such cases more sen­si­tive to com­plainants, but some­how with­out abridg­ing the right of de­fen­dants to a fair trial.

In 2010, Jus­tice Min­is­ter Si­mon Power asked the Law Com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate whether an in­quisi­to­rial sys­tem should be used in sex­ual of­fend­ing and child abuse cases. The com­mis­sion was also asked to clar­ify just what should con­sti­tute pos­i­tive con­sent, and whether ev­i­dence about sex­ual his­tory should re­quire the judge’s ex­plicit agree­ment be­fore be­ing ad­mis­si­ble. Lit­tle in the way of change has tran­spired.

The need re­mains for the courts, and po­lice, to get the rel­e­vant bal­ances right.

Mean­while, the Roast Busters crew and their ilk are still out there.

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