The death of a young tourist touches us all and is a call to ac­tion.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS -

Bill Ral­ston

In the mid­dle of a re­cent meet­ing in Welling­ton, I checked my phone mes­sages and found one from a New Zea­land Her­ald re­porter seek­ing com­ment on the killing of Bri­tish tourist Grace Mil­lane. Ap­par­ently, said the re­porter, there was huge me­dia in­ter­est in the case at home and abroad. She won­dered why.

Mil­lane, it seems, was killed on or around the eve of her 22nd birth­day, al­legedly by a 26-year-old man who has in­terim name sup­pres­sion, and her body dumped just off a road in bush in Auck­land’s Waitākere Ranges. When I got the Her­ald mes­sage, she had only just been found and it was far too soon to leap into print about the me­dia frenzy oc­cur­ring over her death, so I dodged the re­porter’s call.

In this dig­i­tal-me­dia world, on­line an­a­lyt­ics were driv­ing the sad story on news sites. Thou­sands of peo­ple were log­ging on to read any story about the case, and in re­sponse, ed­i­tors were dredg­ing for any fact, opin­ion or com­ment they could find to feed the thirst for copy.

Now that a re­spectable amount of time has passed, I can at­tempt to an­swer the Her­ald ques­tion. Last year, 13 women were mur­dered in New Zea­land and an­other four died as a re­sult of man­slaugh­ter. A size­able num­ber of the vic­tims knew their killers; they were in some kind of re­la­tion­ship with them. More than twice as many men, 31, were also killed.

Mil­lane stands out be­cause she was a tourist, young, white, mid­dle class and too re­cently in the coun­try to have had any se­ri­ous form of re­la­tion­ship with the man ac­cused of killing her. She had come half­way around the world on her OE, only to be killed. Many of us have our own chil­dren trav­el­ling the world in the op­po­site di­rec­tion and can em­pathise with her and her stricken fam­ily.

The po­lice of­fi­cer head­ing the case choked up when talk­ing to the me­dia. The Prime Min­is­ter, Jacinda Ardern, of­fered Mil­lane’s fam­ily an emo­tional apol­ogy for the fact that, some­how, New Zea­land had failed to keep Grace safe. Can­dle­light vig­ils in her name were held around the coun­try and flow­ers laid near where her body was found. Peo­ple hung a ban­ner at a round­about in Ti­ti­rangi, gate­way to the Waitāk­eres, with a big heart on it and the words “Rest in Peace, Grace”.

Iun­der­stand that oc­ca­sion­ally the coun­try will break into this sort of mass mourn­ing, but in re­al­ity, lit­tle se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion is given or ac­tion taken to stop ex­treme vi­o­lence against oth­ers.

So­cial me­dia ap­pears to have turned into a lynch mob of an­gry women and lib­eral men hunt­ing any­one who makes a com­ment about the killing that can be twisted against them.

Can I call for a lit­tle less hys­te­ria and that peo­ple open both eyes when talk­ing about such vi­o­lent acts?

In an opin­ion piece about Mil­lane’s death, Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sioner Karan­ina Sumeo wrote that it “re­minds us of the very real dan­gers so many women face in New Zea­land”, list­ing fig­ures on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Yet Mil­lane was not a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tim, but was killed a short time af­ter she set foot in New Zea­land, and the ac­cused is a man she had only just met.

The com­mis­sioner makes the valu­able point when talk­ing about the deaths of women that, “We can do bet­ter, and we must.” I would ex­tend that to in­clude those 31 dead men as well.

So­cial me­dia ap­pears to have turned into a lynch mob of an­gry women and lib­eral men.

“I don’t care how many food miles went into the lunch.It’s the emis­sions af­ter­wards I worry about.”


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