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Groping is not Kiwi for "You look nice."

Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

Today, I read the CFO of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission groped an intern that was working there. She left. He didn’t. He did send out an email asking employees to come and talk to him about his account of events.

Which, always, always seems to be explicitly or implicitly framed as the whole truth. Nothing but the truth.

On their website, it recommends you seek advice from the Human Rights Commission if you happen to be suffering from workplace sexual harassment.

Again, this is not particularly surprising news.

We are fantastic at pretending there is a solution to the problem of sexual harrassment. We are fantastic at providing “anti-harassment” workshops, and “reflection” camps and “PR campaigns.”

It’s not working.

One in five New Zealand women. One in five. If one in five of us had polio we would be calling it an epidemic. A tsunami. Viral. A disaster.

There are 164,750 women in New Zealand aged 20-24 alone - one in five of this group is 32,950 women. That amount alone would fill 65% of Eden Park.

If this was a movie, and 65% of Eden Park suddenly turned into zombies, you can bet your ass that there would be a lot more frantic action than we’re seeing now.

One in five women. That is showing up to a roomful of the people I’m closest to in the world, and knowing that at least three of them have suffered immeasurably, through no fault of her own.

It’s showing up to the Macbeth preview I attended last week, and the cast having no one on the entire ground level of the Pop-up Globe to cheer them on – one hundred and eighty people out of nine hundred.

It’s going to a bar, and talking to someone that you immediately don’t feel comfortable with.

 It’s trying to think of excuses to leave without making him upset. It’s chatting about a concert you both went to, and failing to laugh at his off-colour joke, and feeling intimidated when he berates you for that failure. It’s declining to say, when you have been asked, inside of two minutes, where you are staying and what your plans are for the night. And, it’s someone running their hand down your back and squeezing your ass, so hard it hurts, all the while saying how nice you look, as the clock just ticks over at minute three of knowing this person.

It’s saying, loudly “don’t you ever touch me again,” to a roomful of crowded strangers who just stare, while the man in question just holds up his hands and looks amused, while your heart beats crazily and you try to think of what you should do next, because you hadn’t anticipated being groped tonight.

It’s looking around at the men your friends are talking to, who stare back at you, and at the rest of the room, and realising no one is going to help you.

It’s choking, through a rage-closed throat, something about “consent and permission and completely inappropriate”, while your friends are hustling you away, to find a safer space, a better bar.

It’s realising that it could have been far, far worse. It’s one of your friends confessing, in a small, eyes-on-the-ground voice, that for her, it was.

I’d really like to live in a country, in a place, where it is surprising news that someone has been sexually assaulted. I’d really like to live in a country where “well, what did she expect” is not the norm.

We need to do better. We need to stop seeing women as commodities, as something that men can just touch when they feel like it.

I am tired, for me. And I am tired for my sisters who deal with this shit every day.

So, no rousing ending, no call to action, no declaration of war.

Just, if you’re someone that likes women, loves women, or has a modicum of respect for women – next time you see something going down, maybe just see if she’s alright, aye?



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