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The Bystander Effect and Photojournalism

Trigger warning for violence on this post, including domestic violence.

Just before my nineteenth birthday, I got jumped by gang members.

This is simultaneously more and less thrilling than it sounds. I lived next door to a few of them; my only issue with them was the constant loud and late parties. But one Sunday afternoon they were itching for a fight, and I was the one with the shit luck of answering the door. I got dragged outside by my hair and as the kicking and punching sounded, my survival instincts kicked in, and I screamed my head off. I kept screaming as loudly and continuously as my lungs would let me; well aware that I was in a somewhat secluded courtyard and no one would be able to see me, but they might be able to hear me. My flatmates came to my rescue and got me back inside, although not before I’d lost most of my hair, and sustained two black eyes, a scratched cornea, a fractured cheekbone, and bruised ribs. I was lucky. It could have easily been so, so much worse.

The thing that still haunts me about the experience is not the beating itself. Those wounds heal, and the only real reminder I have of that now is the way I still tense up if someone touches my head. The thing I still think about is that there were two other flats on my property, with about fifteen residents between them. We were surrounded by houses. And not one person who didn’t live with me came over, or rang the police. If I’d been home alone, I could have been killed.

Just before Christmas my partner and I went outside around 11pm on a Saturday night for some fresh air, just because it was stifling hot in our apartment. We live in an apartment building in the middle of the Wellington CBD; what we gain in convenience, we lose in the noise of buses and drunk partygoers hollering outside our window in the wee small hours. Across the street, there were two men and a woman, and a lot of shouting. At first we thought it was probably just drunken loudness; it wasn’t until one of the guys began slamming the other into the window behind him that we realised it was nothing of the sort. I rang 111 while my partner grabbed a supermarket security guard, who went over to try and defuse the situation. Plenty of people walked past us both without even glancing over the road.

The Bystander Effect has been widely studied. In a nutshell, the more people who witness something, the less likely it is that any one of them will take action.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, because of a link that came up on my Facebook feed. There is a serious trigger warning for domestic violence on this, but if you have the spoons, this series, “Shane and Maggie”, is a series of images by photojournalist Sara Naomi Lewkowicz that depict an incident of domestic violence. In the photographer’s own words:

I had been photographing a couple, Shane and Maggie, since September. I had originally intended the story to center on their struggles trying to make ends meet, as Shane has a lengthy criminal record that has prevented him from obtaining steady employment. One night, Shane and Maggie got into a fight, and Shane began to physically abuse Maggie, slamming her up against walls and choking her in front of her two-year-old daughter, Memphis. He had taken our cellular phones, so I reached into his pocket and steal my phone back when he was distracted. I handed my phone to another adult who was in the house,and instructed them to call the police. I then continued to document the abuse. In that moment, my instincts as a photojournalist kicked in. I knew I had to stay with the story and document it in all of its ugly truth. I have continued to follow Maggie since the abuse, and am producing a multimedia piece as well as a still series.

There has long been discussion about photojournalists in war zones and areas of abject famine; photojournalists who have ended up taking their own lives, due in at least some part to the intense criticism levelled at them for taking images rather than helping. These criticisms are valid, but at the same time, I think I can understand why you would need to learn how to switch off your emotions somewhat if you were constantly faced with the worst of human suffering. I can empathise with that, even if I don’t agree with it.

Sara Naomi Lewkowicz is not in a war zone. She is not facing horrors most of us could hardly imagine and will never experience, day in and day out. She is a photographer who, when faced with a young woman being choked and beaten in front of her two-year-old daughter, did not freeze in fear. She had the presence of mind to steal back her cell phone—and then hand it to someone else to call the police so that she could continue to take photos of the event.

That is a conscious decision.

Can I say how I would have acted or reacted in the same situation? Probably not. Can I sympathise with a woman who is not prepared to throw herself into the middle of a violent situation? Fuck yes, I can. But the concept of someone standing there taking photos while a woman is choked and beaten, of letting a child stand there and watch this take place, makes me sick to my stomach.

If it was anyone but a photojournalist, there would be an uproar. If I witnessed an assault on the street and, instead of intervening or calling the police, whipped out my iPhone and got snap-happy, I would (rightly) be castigated for it. But because these pictures were taken by a photojournalist, instead, it is seen as perfectly acceptable to make a project out of it.

That shit just doesn’t fly with me, sorry.

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Posted by on January 12, 2013 in Domestic violence, Media, Personal

 

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Man’s disbelief that his brother would sexually assault a minor (alternative title: let me do that journalism thing for you, Stuff)

“Justice has been done,” said the brother of a Nelson man who was yesterday found guilty of indecently assaulting his stepdaughter after a second trial.

The Nelson District Court heard how the man stroked her right breast while watching television in the lounge of their Nelson home, and later in her bedroom indecently touched her and kissed her back on December 30, 2009.

The perpetrator has steadfastly denied the charges, saying the indecent assaults did not happen.

After a three-day retrial, a jury of six men and women yesterday reached a unanimous guilty verdict on the charge relating to stroking the girl’s breast and majority verdicts on the two other charges of indecently touching her and kissing her back.

A long-time friend said: “I just can’t believe it. It shows no matter how well or how long you know someone, you can never really know what they might be capable of.”

The perpetrator’s brother said: “This young woman was incredibly brave, not only to report the incident but to go through with not one, but two trials. What an incredibly difficult thing to do after being sexually assaulted by her stepfather, a man who was in a position of trust over her.”

The perpetrator had been found guilty of the same charges after the first trial in May last year.

He was then sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment but did not go to jail as he was released on bail when an appeal was lodged.

At the second trial this week the jury was told it was a retrial, but not why.

It can now be revealed that the Appeal Court quashed his convictions in the first trial and ordered the retrial.

His previous lawyer Jonathan Eaton made the successful appeal but the Appeal Court in its judgment last December suppressed publication of the proceedings and the result until the outcome of the retrial.

The man has been remanded on bail for sentencing on November 13.

Or if you hate yourself, read the actual article on Stuff: Accused’s brother ‘in disbelief’ at verdict. I’ve cut out the twelve lines that were dedicated to the perpetrator’s sob story.

Oh, and special props to Laura Bisham for not once, not twice, not thrice, but four fucking times referring to a man who has now been found guilty twice of sexually assaulting a minor as “the accused”. Thanks so much for that not-at-all-biased-or-victim-blaming language you used, there.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Rape/Sexual Assault

 

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Yet Another “Opinion” On Same-Sex Marriage

On the Rotorua Daily Post website (which is clearly the pinnacle of journalism) today, Garth George cannot figure out why homosexuals and lesbians (because everyone is either gay or straight) want to be allowed to “marry”.

And no, I’m not putting those scare quotes there. Garth George is.

Garth George can’t seem to comprehend that adopting as an individual, rather than as a couple, is not actually the best option for the rights of the adoptive parents or the rights of the child being adopted.

Garth George states that “by their very nature, homosexuals and lesbians cannot reproduce, except through IVF treatments or by the use of surrogate fathers or mothers”. He conveniently ignores that, once again, there are people who are neither gay, lesbian, or straight who are in committed long-term relationships. He also ignores the fact that there are plenty of opposite-sex* couples who also cannot reproduce except through IVF treatments or by the use of surrogate mothers or sperm donors (who, FFS, are not “surrogate fathers”), and yet we allow them to get married willy-nilly.

Garth George seems to be under the impression that the reason the nice, normal straighties get hitched—sorry, “cleave to one another”— is to “among other things, have children and to bring them up in a traditional family environment”.

Excuse me while I vomit.

Garth George apparently does not know the meaning of “two freely consenting adults”, considering his now overly-tired slippery slope argument—there is clearly no need to acknowledge that Louisa Wall’s Member’s Bill has specifically updated the schedule that contains the list of forbidden relations to cover non-gender-specific incestuous relations. Apparently, we as a nation are incapable of separating same-sex marriage from incest from polygamy. Apparently all these things are directly comparable.

Garth George would like us all to know that “it is disingenuous to complain about rights being taken away when they have never existed in the first place.” I think Garth George should have explained that to the suffragettes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, or to those involved in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. Because, you see, no one can complain about a lack of rights if we’ve never had them in the first place!

Garth George feels that this “is another step in a decades-long campaign to convince everyone that homosexuals and lesbians are no different from the rest of us and deserve all the rights and privileges known to mankind”, which is actually the first correct thing he’s said in the entire article. The difference is, of course, that Garth George doesn’t believe that “homosexuals and lesbians” actually are no different from the rest of us. Garth George doesn’t believe that the queer community deserve all the rights and privileges that we give to heterosexuals.

Garth George has also apparently never met a homosexual who is light-hearted and carefree. I think I can safely say that I would not be particularly light-hearted or carefree if I were forced to have a conversation with Garth George, as it’s surprisingly difficult to remain light-hearted and carefree when talking with someone who sees you as a lesser human being for no other reason than the fact that you sometimes like to sleep with women.

Garth George refuses to wear the appellation of ‘homophobe’ as he has “no phobias about homosexuality, male or female”. And I agree with him; I don’t like the word homophobe, as I have genuine phobias that are not comparable. Garth George is not a homophobe. He is a bigot with poisonous and vile views, who has far too much investment in denying human rights to strangers and far too much interest in relationships that have nothing to do with him whatsoever.

Garth George doesn’t understand male homosexuality. He understands, though, that “it makes homosexuals different from [him] and the rest of heterosexual humanity”.

If the rest of heterosexual humanity is like Garth George, then I want nothing to do with them.

*I hate this term, but I haven’t yet found a better one. If anyone has any suggestions I’d appreciate them.

ETA: New Zealand statistics for the woefully uninformed.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in LGBTIQQA

 

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An open letter to Cosmo magazine

Dear Cosmopolitan magazine:

It was with some trepidation that I read an article on your website, A New Kind of Date Rape. My wariness, prior to reading, was based on the byline of the article: Casual hookups, mixed signals, and alcohol play a part in a confusing form of sexual assault. Here, everything you need to know about what some people call gray rape.

The idea of a ‘gray area’ when it comes to rape and sexual assault is a dangerous one. There is no undefined area between consensual and non-consensual sexual activity, and for you to publish that idea in such a widespread magazine is, amongst other things, grossly irresponsible. In a society that still has such widespread misogyny, on the back of a worldwide movement of SlutWalks that has brought the message “Yes means yes, no means no” to the forefront of the general public, to publish an article perpetuating the myth that there are ‘degrees’ of consent is, frankly, disturbing.

What especially horrified me, though, is that in the first story in this article, Alicia* clearly says “no” twice. The idea that someone who says no to sex—more than once—and is ignored could fall into a ‘gray area’ is indicative of the types of misconceptions around rape and sexual assault.

A magazine with such a wide readership as yours does have a responsibility to its readers. Perhaps instead of perpetuating some of the more dangerous parts of rape culture, you could try debunking a few? Write an article about active consent. Write an article about how police treat victims of sexual assault—quizzing them on their dress, their drink, their sexuality and sexual history; and how they only bother doing that much if it’s a woman assaulted by a man. Write an article, for once, on what sexual assault really is.

But please, please, no more articles about the ‘gray area’ between consensual sex and rape. That’s victim blaming. That’s rape culture. That’s damaging.

Kind regards,
MJ (Kiwiana)
Founder and coordinator of SlutWalk Aotearoa

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Media, Rape/Sexual Assault

 

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Fuck your scare quotes, Stuff

Trigger warning for domestic violence

As an Angry Queer Feminist Blogger, there are a lot of things that make me ranty-pants. My poor flatmates put up with a lot of shouting and rage from me over various things—and one of my surefire buttons is the use of scare quotes in the media. To that end, the flatmates (well, the awake one, who is currently baking me cookies, bless his soul) have just been treated to a lot of flailing about an article on Stuff today: Family violence ‘victim’ breaks policewoman’s jaw. My rage hasn’t really dissipated upon actually reading the article—first of all, because it’s quite clear from the first three paragraphs that the police officers were not dealing with a ‘victim’, but a victim. And yes, that distinction—the use of scare quotes, versus not—is bloody important.

The female victim tried to physically intervene as the two male officers attempted to arrest the male, Taupo police area commander, inspector Steve Bullock said.

“The female officer was verbally and physically assaulted as she attempted to hold her back, receiving a kick to her face in the process.”

And of course, rounding out the article is a healthy dose of solid victim blaming:

“Unfortunately this is a sad example of a case where police are called to help a victim and end up becoming a victim instead.”

Police attend a number of family violence callouts each night, usually where alcohol is a factor, Bullock said.

“Sadly, despite being a victim in a violent situation, many choose not to take further action or attempt to prevent Police from doing their job, as happened in this case.”

Oh, just… I’m sorry that not every victim of domestic violence reacts the way that would make your job easiest. Am I the only one that is getting really sick of reading police whining in the news about how victims are reluctant to press charges against their husbands, their boyfriends, the father of their children, as though this is somehow goddamn shocking. I get that you want to help*. Trust me, I understand that it must be really bloody frustrating to see a situation where someone is clearly suffering and have that person refuse to let you help them. But by failing to understand the very complicated relationships that victims of domestic violence have with their abusers, by refusing to acknowledge the emotional manipulations that many abusers use against their victims to keep them emotionally separated from their family and friends or convince them that they’re not worth anything better or no one will believe them if they come forward, or by flat-out ignoring the fact that many people have very solid reasons to believe that they cannot trust the police, you cannot hope to gain even the slightest headway on a systematic problem.

At least the police aren’t using scare quotes, I suppose. Once again: fuck your scare quotes, Stuff.

*Except when the abuser is white, upper-middle class, and/or an all-round Good GuyTM. Then it’s far more likely that the victim will be encouraged to not press charges at all.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Domestic violence, Media

 

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Alasdair Thompson tells it like it is

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief Alasdair Thompson has answered a question feminists have been struggling with for years – why is it that in this day and age, women still earn less than men?

Well, gee. Could it be that employers always assume that women are in it for a job, not a career, and that job will be dropped the second they fill their womb? Is it that women are consistently undermined in the office and often have to work much harder than their male counterparts to gain the same acceptance and respect? Could it be that many large corporations are still, in many ways, an old boys’ club? Is it that women are always assumed to be the primary caregiver, at all times, and therefore employers automatically assume that the mother will be the one to take the time off when their child is sick/has an important event at school/etc?

Nope.

Alasdair Thompson is sticking by his claim the gender pay gap is due to women having monthly “sick problems”, babies and needing to take extra leave.

…oh. Right.

Leaving aside the blatant cissexism of that statement for just a moment (not everyone who has a uterus is a woman and not all women menstruate, kthx): say it with me, Alasdair Thompson: period. We get our periods once a month. We menstruate. If you have to use ridiculous euphemisms to describe it, then as far as I’m concerned, you forfeit your right to discuss it.

Not to mention, the majority of people who menstruate don’t have to take time off once a month. Most, even if they do experience some cramps, can pop a Panadol and make it to work anyway.*

And babies? REALLY? This may come as a shock to you, Mr. Thompson, but some parents SHARE the responsibilities of their children. Also, solo fathers exist. Should we pay them less, too? And if there are still a shockingly disproportionate amount of working mothers who are still expected to take full- or almost-full responsibility for childcare, rather than sharing that equally with their partner — then blaming and underpaying women will not fucking help that, goddamn.

The issue of working mothers and pay rates for women is a vicious cycle. Women are paid less than men because their dedication to their career is seen as lesser, because ladies, your first priority is and must always be babies — but because they’re paid less, they are often the ones to give up working if their family situation calls for it (because them giving up work, or cutting back their hours, will make less of an impact due to the lower pay rate) — which just convinces employers that women are less dedicated to their careers than men… and over and over again.

So Alasdair Thompson, it would seem that you are woefully misinformed about the realities of the pay gap between men and women. And why shouldn’t you be? After all, it’s not like in your position, you would ever have to think about these things. Or be expected to make public statements on this very issue. Am I right?

No, wait. I don’t think I am.

*I am not one of those people. I have severe PCOS and am absolutely crippled by pain at least one day a month – usually two or three. I take a TON of sick days, comparative to my colleagues — who are mostly (over 90%) female. And yet, it doesn’t make a damn iota of difference to my pay rate — if I use up my allocated sick days, I can either take annual leave or have an unpaid day (I tend to take the annual leave). While realising this is in no way an option for everyone, taking a few days of unpaid sick leave each year will NOT drastically affect your salary in the way that, you know, discrimination will. Just saying.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Reproductive/sexual health

 

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SlutWalk Aotearoa

On June 25th from 2pm, people from all walks of life will be banding together in Wellington and Auckland for one simple reason – we have had enough. Enough of being angry. Enough of wanting better education, awareness and treatment around sexual assault and seeing nothing. Enough of being accused of ‘oversensitivity’ and ‘political correctness gone mad’ when we object to rape jokes. Enough of the pervasive and continuing myths and stereotypes about who is sexually assaulted and why.

For those who don’t know the origins of SlutWalk, it started in Toronto, Canada when a police officer stood up at a safety talk at York University and stated, “I’ve been told not to say this… but women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don’t want to be victimised.” SlutWalk Toronto was held on April 3rd and attracted over 4,000 participants after just six weeks of organisation. Women and men of all ages marched together – most carrying placards, ranging from the humorous: “Sluts say yes!” to the heartbreaking: “I was 10 years old and he was my father. Does it really matter what I was wearing?” Some were dressed in stereotypical ‘slutty’ clothing, while others dressed for a, still fairly cold, Canadian spring afternoon.

SlutWalk is about unity. We are fighting the myths around the types of people who are sexually assaulted, who is responsible, and why they occur. We are rallying to place the blame for sexual assault where it belongs: on the perpetrators. We are promoting the idea that women should be able to dress however they like without having to wonder if they will be blamed if they are attacked – and that ‘slut’ should not be seen as an inherently bad thing. We aim to put an end to victims’ sexual history being brought up at trial as a weapon for the defence, and we wish to get the message out there: no means no, yes means yes, and only our words can consent for us – not our bodies or our clothes. We also firmly stand behind the truth that sexual assault is not only something done by men to women, and that not all sexual assault is rape.

Sluts and allies of Aotearoa, please consider joining us on June 25th for the simultaneous marches in our two largest cities. Full details, including event pages for both events, can be found on our website, on our Facebook page, and updates can also be found on Twitter: @SlutWalkNZ. You can also email the organisers at slutwalkaotearoa@gmail.com with any questions or concerns.

And of course, we are constantly on the lookout for volunteers in both cities, so if you think you can help out, please send an email our way with your contact details!

Slutwalk Aotearoa protest, Auckland Chapter: More info.

Slutwalk Aotearoa protest, Wellington Chapter: More info.

This was originally a guest post at The Stroppery, a short-lived but awesome-while-it-lasted NZ feminist collective blog. As they’re now shutting up shop, I’ll repost this here to make sure the blog is preserved!

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2011 in SlutWalk

 

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