Roast Busters Rethink

I have been thinking a lot about the issues around sex and teenagers and have decided that, rather than blame our youth for their dysfunctional and highly worrying behaviour, we (as in the wider community) should be taking greater responsibility. I am actually appalled at the whole media flurry around the Roast Busters issue and how our society is managing the issue of teenage sex.

Being a parent of teenagers (a boy and a girl) and having a background in teaching young adolescents I have some idea about the developmental stages young people have to work through. Sadly, as a society, we probably make the transition to adulthood more difficult for our young people than we need to and expect them to be more responsible than is biologically possible. Recent research shows that it is not until the age of 25 that the brain is fully developed and impulsive decision making is common until then.

Before I say anything more I would like to celebrate our youth for what they actually add to our society. New Zealand Statistics has revealed that the level of volunteering amongst 12-24 year olds has increased by 5% over the past 11 years and this group now makes up almost a quarter of all those doing unpaid work. The Student Army surprised many when students came out in force during the Christchurch Earthquakes and were a hugely important part of the recovery. 2500 students were mobilised and they collectively shifted 65,000 tonnes of liquefaction. The Rugby World Cup show cased our youth during the opening and closing ceremonies and our young people compete well on the international stage in academic, cultural and sporting events. Our youth are a taonga we should value and cherish.

While we can celebrate the achievements of our youth we also have some statistics that are a concern. We have the 2nd worst rate of youth suicide in the world, the 2nd highest level of teenage pregnancy and 12.5% of our youth are not in employment, education or training (NEET), which is higher than the OECD average (for Maori it is 22.2% and Pasifika 17.6%). We have a culture of binge drinking amongst our young people, with females now competing with males as regards alcohol consumption. Around 25% of our youth live in families experiencing poverty and 50% of all children will experience poverty at some stage. Around a quarter of our young people come from one parent families. There is an expectation that all parents should be in employment, so for many youth it is increasingly common  to come home from school to an empty house (no adult).

Young people often have access to hardcore internet pornography and they are bombarded on a daily basis by commercial interests promoting junk food, alcohol and other consumables with dubious benefits (including legal highs). Cyber bulling has accompanied greater access to technology and youth obesity statistics continue to rise.

It is in this context where we have young men who have high levels of testosterone coursing through their bodies, possibly fueled by alcohol and recreational drugs, who are biologically geared for behaving impulsively and operate egocentrically. We have young women who are also over indulging in recreational drugs and throwing themselves in situations where they also are not able to think rationally. There is a lot of peer pressure to be sexually active and despite many worthwhile education programmes and parental efforts to promote caring relationships and safe sex, stuff happens. When you consider the pressures and opportunities that young people are now exposed to, one would actually have to wonder why more stuff doesn't happen.

From what I can glean through what has been published on the Roast Busters, we have a group of young men glorifying in their sexual activities, and supposed prowess, and engaging in premeditated behaviour that involves taking advantage of younger girls. I think the behaviour of the Roast Busters cannot be condoned at any level but I think their behaviour has been allowed to develop without any checks and balances despite an awareness of its existence. These young men have made some really bad choices (which some have openly recognized) that have caused serious harm to a number of young girls, and some earlier intervention would have made an enormous difference. I don't believe that these are essentially bad young men but they have been allowed to continue their behaviour under the terrible misconception that it is acceptable.

I am also aware that our legal system is highly flawed in the way it manages sexual offenses amongst youth. There is the arbitrary line of legal sexual consent (16 years) that doesn't recognize that there can be a wide range of sexual and emotional maturity between the ages of 13 to 18. Biologically girls mature faster than boys so that a 14 year old girl can appear both physically and emotionally more mature than a 17 year old boy and, within the normal range of development, the opposite can be true.

If there is evidence of a sexual offense I have personally found that the police take this very seriously, but the law and the system are geared up for the possibility of rape and all that that involves. It is generally up to the girls to decide whether they wish to lay a complaint and that leads to an intensive interview and a traumatic medical examination. Girls are instructed that it is in their interests to go through both processes just in case, because even if they initially do not wish to lay a complaint, if they change their minds at a later date they will need the evidence to support a prosecution.

When alcohol and drugs are involved it is a hard call for young women to lay full blame on the male if an incident occurs where she feels sexual activity occurred against her will. There is also dysfunctional thinking going on with both boys and girls regarding what is considered reasonable in a sexual sense and it is interesting to note that young women are more sexually active than young men (10% more girls have experienced intercourse by 18 years) and many young women now initiate sexual activity.

At the moment there is no middle ground in terms of intervention when sexual activity goes wrong, it is either the full weight of the law or shut up and put up. I am aware of situations where a lower level of approach would be far more useful, where skilled people would sit down with those involved (when they are sober and rational) and talk through an incident and attempt to establish some safe parameters for future engagements. As a society we cannot ignore poor behaviour just because it doesn't reach the threshold for prosecution. We are also expecting a high level of responsibility from young people when they do not have the developmental maturity to operate consistently and yet we often punish them severely when they stumble.

It is unreasonable to expect the police to operate as parents and parents can't be police, we need to rethink how we can support our amazing young people through the difficult journey of becoming an adult in an increasingly challenging world. We can start by recognizing that what we are currently doing isn't working!

It appears that this post has offended and upset some people who felt that I lacked sensitivity around the issue and that I implied that the young men were not responsible for their behaviour and that the victims are also somehow responsible themselves. This concerns me as this couldn't be further from my intention. What I should have made clearer is that I was not talking just about rape but on the enormity of issues that surrounds teenage sexual behaviour. What we probably don't recognise is that there is a lot of sexual activity occurring with young people between friends and acquaintances and when a girl is assaulted (from unwelcomed attention through to rape) it is extremely difficult for them to lay a complaint when they will still have to move in the same social circles as the perpetrator. Even with the Roast Busters Group there were girls prepared to go on TV in defense of them. For any victim who stands up they will also have to confront their wider peer group. I have actually talked about this problem with young people who have experienced assaults and there seems to be widespread support for having a way of managing many situations outside of the police. We have to keep remembering that over 90% of sexual assaults probably go unreported for some of the reasons I have outlined.

It is important for me to say that I still think that rape should be regarded as a serious criminal offense but the current justice system is still not able to manage most cases in a manner that is sensitive to the victim and has the outcome that we would wish.

Post Postscript:
Here is a link to a post on Hand Mirror that explains well why educating boys to be properly functioning men should start before they can walk.


Ray said…
I agree with your nuanced thoughts on this matter
I do worry that we could go down the Mazengar report road, which took place when I was pre school
Pity some of the more rabid commentators don't have a look at this as it proves there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to young people and sex, just that it can become more public thanks to todays technology
I might add that that does not in anyway suggest that I think this behaviour is normal or ok
bsprout said…
I agree Ray, the biggest concern i have is that no one stepped up and told those young guys that their behaviour was unacceptable earlier on. There was obviously a disconnect between the fathers of those boys and their sons if they weren't aware what they were up to and I would be even more worried if they knew but said nothing.

Armchair Critic said…
You've offended me, bsprout, and when the opportunity presents itself I will explain how.
Ray said…
That was the Mezengarb Report, there was a quite a bit of hysteria at the time and I believe the Report was sent to every household
I don't remember it ever being mentioned at the time possibly to save my tender ears as I had just started school
bsprout said…
Thanks for that mention, Ray, I hadn't heard of the Mezengarb Report and after reading about it there does appear to be parallels with the current situation. However in that case the idea of young people having consensual sex was considered shocking and today we are talking about rape which is a whole different matter.

AC, I seem to have offended a number of people, I will wait for your explanation with growing concern :-(

Armchair Critic said…
You've equivocated, bs, and that's the problem.
There are plenty of subjects where equivocation is OK. Rape is not one of them. There are no excuses or explanations, no extenuating circumstances, no saying "but if things had been different", no blaming others or abstract concepts like "society", no worrying about the enormity of the issues or how the justice system is not able to manage. None of that is acceptable.
This particular subject is one where we all need to stand up and say "No, that is undoubtedly and unequivocally wrong. It must stop, now". Anything less, even the tiniest hint of "it might be kind of OK", is failure.
For goodness sake, even KS and Ele could do it, bs. There's been very few posts on any subject I've ever seen anywhere that I thought should be removed. This is one of them; you are better than this.
bsprout said…
AC, I agree that my timing may be a little off considering the amount of emotion that is hurling around, but in no way was it my intention to justify or defend rape. However, we have currently have a trial by media, people offering money to beat others up and film it, and police being accused of bias and insensitivity. The 18 year olds have been involved in sexually abusing girls since since they were 16 years old. To me the fact there was no intervention over that time when many people were aware of it is a huge concern.

My questions are:
1) What kind of society have we got that allowed it to carry on for over two years and many girls interviewed claimed that this behaviour is wide spread? (This could be the tip of an iceberg).
2) What kind of society have we got that allows young men to think that rape is alright ? (my references to the availability of pornography that supports that thinking and the availability of alcohol and other recreational drugs that blur rational thought creates a false reality for some)
3) What is stopping girls and young women from making complaints? (I hear that over 90% of serious sexual assaults go unreported).

To deal with this huge problem we need to have a low tolerance of any sexual misconduct and instead of only having interventions when rape is involved we need to have interventions and possibly counseling available anytime girls feel that they have been taken advantage of sexually. (People seem to think I was only referring to rape when I said this).

We actually also have a large problem with consensual sex occurring while under the influence that is regretted later (by both girls and boys). Our teenage pregnancy rate the second highest in the world and growing numbers of children born with fetal alcohol syndrome is a huge concern.

My post was an attempt to suggest that there are issues around teenage sex that need a broader approach. Teenagers themselves are not naturally bad but the way they are mentored and influenced by our society has a huge impact on their behaviour. (There are shocking stories in the US regarding victims of rape and their families being run out of town because the perpetrators were sons of significant families).

I may need a rewrite if this didn't come across clearly.
Unknown said…
This problem is rife in New Zealand. Authorities go to extraordinary lengths to cover up under age sex crimes committed by child sex gangs. Our 14-year old daughter was also victim of a gang like this in Auckland. NZ authorities gagged us (parents) and our two sons in order to keep us quiet. The NZ Head of State gave the men medals.
bsprout said…
Frank, this is one of the most shocking stories I've read. What upsets me most is the lengths that you and your wife have gone to to seek justice and, despite widespread agreement that you have been treated horrendously, you are no further ahead.

With the revelations around Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris there seems to be a growing awareness and disgust regarding this issue, obviously it is too late for your daughter. I hope that this Roast Busters issue actually sparks a proper nationwide debate that will enable all the flaws in our system to be exposed.
Shane Pleasance said…
Your tendency to collectivise actions and responsibilities is EXACTLY the reason these values develop and actions occur.

Your 'we' damns me too. How dare you?
And I want no part of your abhorrent apologist agenda.

Witness the socialist race to the bottom.
bsprout said…
Shane, you need to read Celia Lashlie's books to get an understanding that unless we deal with social dysfunction collectively it is a form of cancer that will only get worse.

Bad things continue to happen because good people don't act. The best functioning societies are those that recognise the importance of collective responsibility, not individualism. Obviously you reject the concept of "it takes a village to raise a child" or Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory.

It is interesting how many people I have offended with this post.
Shane Pleasance said…
" need to read..."

Yes, I will read Celia Lashlie. Casting aside that I am a registered psychiatric nurse with post graduate qualifications in addictions and over 20 years experience. Forget that masters degree I have, and lets look at some feel-good, emotive flunkies book that EVERYBODY has read (including me).

You understand that the ecological systems theory is a theory?

"Deal with social dysfunction collectively?" "Fail to act." Again, you damn me, personally, somehow making me responsible for the reprehensible actions of others.

While you continue to do that, you revictimise the victims, and make excuses for the perpetrators.
Armchair Critic said…
Shane gets it too, bs. Rape is a uniquely individual and personal crime; concepts of collectivism and group responsibility are almost never applicable.
It's also one of those crimes where if you are not absolutely and forthrightly against it, you are for it.
Before you tell yourself, and your readers, that of course you are against it, let me tell you how your comments sound. They are like comments on KB, for example, that start with "I'm not racist, in fact some of my best friends are [pick any group], but...."
You've said above "bad things continue to happen because good people refuse to act..."
When you link issues like teen pregnancy and collective responsibility to unrelated issue like a growing of young men drugging and raping minors, not only are you not acting, you are drawing attention and responsibility way, and making others think "it wasn't so bad". Please be assured, it was so bad. Pretending otherwise, creating diversions on such a personal and individual crime, which is exactly what you've done, is reprehensible.
It's quite clear to me that you have no understanding of how little you know on this subject. Please make a serious effort to work it out, for everyone's sake. Start with what Shane said. His two comments indicate he knows what he's talking about.
Armchair Critic said…
Or try this. You are part of the problem, unconsciously, and before you try to write with authority on the matter you need to first become aware of how you are part of the problem, before moving on to being part of the solution.
bsprout said…
Armchair, I'm sad that you think this way. Young guys behave badly because they haven't been taught what is right or haven't had good male mentors or role models. The point of my article was that collectively we have a hands off approach to bringing up our youth. The ready availability of hard core pornography, the availability of alcohol, the mass promotion of unhealthy behaviour through the media occurs because Governments and us allow it to. While I tried to protect my own kids from much of this and teach them to treat others with respect, I cannot protect them from much of the stuff that happens when they first explore social independence.

Shane supports the Libertarian philosophy of individual responsibility but in reality this approach generally leads to a few exploiting the majority. Of course we should all be responsible for our own behaviour but New Zealand was actually founded on egalitarian ideas. Civil responsibility meant libraries and schools were built to ensure even the poor had access knowledge and improve themselves.

At no stage have I said that these young men shouldn't face up to what they have done, but these young guys started behaving badly at 15 or 16 and at that age they are not deemed capable of living independently. Many people also feel that this age is too young to drive a car and they are not considered mature enough to vote.

What you also forget is that this gang is not an isolated one, similar things are happening around the country and I also suggest you read Frank's link above to see how society failed his family. Try and take the same stand after reading that!

To say that I have no knowledge of what I am talking about is also a huge assumption as I have spent many hours at a police station supporting a young person going through the process after a suspected sexual assault. I have first hand knowledge of how the police manage such things now and how it effects the young people concerned. I have not been raped myself but I don't think that precludes me from expressing my views.

I also have first hand knowledge of a house in Invercargill that 14 year old girls go to to have sex with 20 something year olds, what would you do if you had that knowledge?

From what I have heard on National Radio and in parliament, my views are pretty well aligned to what those involved with rape victim support are saying. I also suggest you read the Hand Mirror link that explains how the best cure for rape is prevention:

"Let's start telling little boys about what great caring men they can be, and about what great women there are, and about the many and fabulous ways they can express their gender. The less oppositional this is, the better. There are no boys and girls toys, just toys. There are no boys and girls colours, just colours. There are no boys and girls games, just games. Pointing out the rules some people have around these things is part of teaching gender literacy, part of making gender norms visible, but it shouldn't be a bible our beautiful children should have to follow."
robertguyton said…
Dave. Stop digging.
bsprout said…
Not digging, Robert, generating discussion. Even if I didn't quite get it right for some eyes it has got people engaging with the issues.
Shane Pleasance said…
Most enlightening.

Feel like I need a shower after reading this.
bsprout said…
Shane, I find it interesting that you often seem to stand in judgment of others but rarely explain what you think should occur.
Armchair Critic said…
I'm still too angry at Dave to say anything further, Shane.
bsprout said…
Apart from the fact that it appears that Shane does not agree that our New Zealand society must shoulder some responsibility for the terrible behaviour of some of our young men, I'm genuinely at a loss to know what specific views I expressed caused such anger.

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