It’s still not OK

The reported abusive behaviour of members of the Chiefs rugby team towards the lone woman who they invited to their year-end party as an entertainer, and the knee-jerk follow up reaction by New Zealand Rugby, highlights the importance of the “It’s Not OK!” and other campaigns against harm in families. Violence at home was described by retired Governor-General the Hon Dame Silvia Cartwright as New Zealand’s dark secrets, and treating the behavior that created this incident in a perfunctory manner suggests that as a society we still have far to go.

We knew the name of the complainant from day one, but not that of the players or the lawyer who has decided to clear the players, and very little about the process that was followed behind closed doors. In what seems a haze of denial, no-one is to be held to account for this incident which, by implication, leaves doubts about what is or is not OK for New Zealand Rugby. Given the weight of public opinion, the complainant has sought to step back, and ironically the only genuine apology about this incident came from someone whose work involves the wreckage left by violent and abusive behavior towards women and their children.

The top rugby players of today have well earned a huge amount of public respect and admiration, which is no doubt reflected in the enthusiasm of so many primary school children to be guards of honour at big games. It is why we have so many women players these days, and why there are so many times when the diplomatic skills of our top players exceed those of our politicians and even our diplomats. Those in retirement homes and hospitals get a real buzz when super rugby players visit. New Zealanders are defined by our rugby players – their standards have become our standards. These standards include a code of conduct that all players are required to sign up to from the earliest age that they begin to play rugby.

With such public respect and admiration comes an accountability, and as Families Commissioner I would have expected that to bring about a proper explanation and dissociation when behaviour deviates from such standards. We remain unclear how the code of conduct set for our rugby players applied to this and other recent incidents. Leadership in our national sport is required not only on the field, and it is needed now so that all of us have a clear sense of where New Zealand Rugby draws the line.

Way back in 1972 the New Zealand Rugby Union took a stand against player violence when it sent home from Wales the All Black Keith Murdoch, after a fracas in which he reportedly punched a hotel security guard. Four decades later, perhaps it is time for rugby to make very clear its principles about behaviour towards women. Ironically, what both incidents have in common is a residual deep unease about whether it is justice or expediency that has been served up. New Zealand Rugby has missed a very public opportunity to reinforce its commitment to the high standards we have taken for granted, and its special place in New Zealand leaves no room for any repeat appearance of double standards. Yet they seem to happen.

The level of harm and abuse of women reported in New Zealand justifies the deep concern that many have about what influences such harm within families today, including of children. In November the annual white ribbon campaign takes place. Perhaps a small sign of commitment will be to see a white ribbon alongside the sponsors logos at NZRU headquarters for the duration of the campaign.

New Zealand Rugby is one of our country’s biggest membership organisations – its members have a lot to contribute to breaking the cycle of domestic violence in our country but it needs the relationships they have with their whānau, families, communities and country to be genuinely founded on respect.

The young men who play rugby come out of the same homes and backgrounds as recruits to another organisation that contains many young men, but which has owned at the highest level a need and responsibility to make its standards about respect for women clear – the New Zealand Defence Force. Some six months ago the New Zealand Defence Force launched Operation RESPECT, the culmination of two years of work to tackle inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviours.

How do we take more collective responsibility for the behaviour of young men and their respect for women?

4 Responses

  1. Rhiannon

    Challenging toxic masculinity wherever it’s seen would be a good start. Call out guys being sexist or homophobic. Don’t accept douchebag behaviour from your mates and your family. Think about what comes out of your mouth before you say “bitch” or “C**t”. Women are not insults. Women are every bit as human as you are.

    Like

    1. Like the author (the commissioner) you seem to have a bias that only men do not have respect for others. It is simply not true. As for your use of “bitch” and “c**t” just stop for a minute and think of the prevalence of “dick” as an insult. Men are not insults either they too are human. I would bet dollars to donuts that “dick” is far more frequently used than “c**t” and yet they are both vulgar terms for genitalia.

      Like

  2. This is what I wrote elsewhere about this article:

    “Another thinly disguised attack on men and boys by the New Zealand government.

    “The reported abusive behaviour of members of the Chiefs rugby team towards the lone woman who they invited to their year-end party as an entertainer, and the knee-jerk follow up reaction by New Zealand Rugby, highlights the importance of the “It’s Not OK!” and other campaigns against harm in families.”

    The “abusive behaviour” has not been established as such it was not “reported”. An allegation was made that has not been substantiated. The most recent reports have suggested that the bus driver who had the strippers legs wrapped around his head has admitted to touching the stripper. He also says he did not realise it was improper. Just maybe the stripper who had a contract with an agency that included no extras did not make the boundaries clear when she was paid to touch up the bus driver. The bus driver also states that he did not see any untoward behaviour by the Chief’s players as did eight other independent witnesses.

    Len Cook is being disingenuous when he writes “reported abusive behaviour”. He is presuming that behaviour occurred. When there simply has been an allegation that has so far not stood up to scrutiny. No one “reported” any “abusive behaviour”. What was “reported” was an “allegation of abusive behaviour”. These are completely different things. Mr Cook’s reasoning is fallacious. It is a circular argument – claim there was a report of abusive behaviour as if it was fact then use that to argue that the culture that we live in that brings about that abusive behaviour is flawed. Before you can make that argument you need proof not merely an unsubstantiated allegation.

    Cook goes on to extrapolate from this situation where a stripper was paid to do certain acts for and on men and a man to family violence. He is right in one sense. If our families operate on a scheme where women are paid for sexual favours then there is something wrong. However there is no clear link from what one pays for from a sex worker to what happens in a family situation. This is wild speculation at best. The link is tenuous.

    “We knew the name of the complainant from day one, but not that of the players”

    This is simply not true as I understand it. The stripper went by a pseudonym, Scarlette. That is a false name. She essentially has anonymity based on her false name – that she herself released into the media. Whereas the players we know and as a result of her accusation and the emotional reaction from others like the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and Dr Jackie Blue in particular, they are all tarred with the same brush whether or not any of them did anything untoward.

    “New Zealand Rugby has missed a very public opportunity to reinforce its commitment to the high standards we have taken for granted, and its special place in New Zealand leaves no room for any repeat appearance of double standards. Yet they seem to happen.”

    Cook compares the Chiefs with All Black Keith Murdoch. I suspect the major difference in these two situations is that Murdoch did throw a punch whereas the Chiefs were only the subject of a complaint, an allegation, that we have so far seen no evidence substantiating the allegation. What was alleged may well have not occurred. We need to keep an open mind. These players are innocent until proven guilty. What does Mr Cook want? For the Rugby Union to castigate the players when there is no corroborating evidence of wrong doing. That really is absurd.

    There is much more I could write about this substandard blog. It really defies logic. I will finish with one statement.

    “How do we take more collective responsibility for the behaviour of young men and their respect for women?”

    How do we take more collective responsibility for the behaviour of young women and their respect for men?

    While the issue of abuse is treated as a one-sided anti-male gendered issue I believe we will get nowhere.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s