Tinder, toxic masculinity and sexual consent: The fallout from Grace Millane’s murder

New Zealand needs to unpack the “macho” male psyche to challenge a rhetoric that dehumanises women, a sex educator in Gisborne says.

In 17 years of teaching sex education in schools, Meredith Akuhata-Brown has witnessed a shift in attitude where women in particular are more objectified. She believes this aligns with greater accessibility of porn.

Add mobile phones and dating apps to the mix, further detaching young people from “human contact and physical touch”, and the result was an attitude towards relationships which lacked respect and connection, she said.

“Over the years that was one of the key things I noticed. There was a real lack of understanding of what a core, intimate relationship means.”

So when the Gisborne district councillor was shown what a 23-year-old man in Gisborne had to say on the dating app Tinder, she was saddened but seemed unsurprised.

“Duct tape fixes everything”, the man’s profile said. “Turns no no no to mmm mmm”.

Tinder encourages users to upload photos and write a few lines about themselves in what is known as a “bio”. Some say they are “looking for the one”, others are “just here to have fun”.

Another man in Gisborne, this one a 22-year-old university student pictured with a friend and triumphantly holding a trophy, described his view of consent.

“No means yes …” – Local Democracy Reporting has redacted the end of the bio because of the graphic content.

Akuhata Brown said this was “hugely typical” of men trying to be seen as “some cool macho type”.

“I think we have to unpack the psyche of New Zealand males to ask, are we still thinking this behaviour is okay?

“You’ve got to challenge that rhetoric and say you’re talking about taking away someone’s human rights. You’re talking about a female person as an object.”

She described it as sad, demoralising and dehumanising.

It comes as British backpacker Grace Millane’s killer Jesse Kempson was named this week, after he murdered the 22-year-old during a Tinder date in December 2018.

Auckland police have issued a pre-Christmas statement warning those looking for summer romance to be vigilant, after receiving at least one complaint a week about sexual offending involving dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and Badoo.

Tinder bios show ‘lack of respect’ for potential female partners

University of Otago associate professor in sociology Dr Melanie Beres, who specialises in sexual violence prevention and consent, said the Tinder bios appeared to be men trying to gain “cred” with other men.

But it was “unclear” how Tinder was a good platform for these views, she said.

“Their bios say very little about their understanding of sexual consent. They say more about their attitudes towards women, and present a sense of entitlement and lack of respect for potential female partners,” Beres said.

The bios come after the tidal force #MeToo movement swept around the world, where women came forward to report sexual abuse and harassment.

“This is part of the backlash to the rise in awareness of sexual violence including the #MeToo movement. It is reactionary and trying to get attention and reinforce harmful attitudes,” she said.

The 23-year-old who wrote about duct tape told Local Democracy Reporting it was a “joke”, and the idea came from one of his mates.

“It is quite funny to me,” he said, but admitted it was “hit and miss” with potential partners on Tinder.

“Some girls like it, some don’t.”

Police say they deal with more reports of sexual offending during the warmer months when people are out socialising.

They said while sexual assault was never the victim’s fault, tips to keep safe during festivals, parties and gigs included eating something substantial before drinking, sticking together with friends and not leaving drinks unattended.

As thousands of young people flock to Gisborne for the Rhythm and Vines festival from December 28-31, the question arises of who is tasked with educating young people about sexual consent.

Do local authorities and councils have a role to play?

Gisborne deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga believes conversations about sexual consent need to happen at home.

“And I know that’s easier said than done,” he said. “It’s about having honest conversations with ourselves as parents.”

Wharehinga has raised six children, now aged between 15 and 20, largely on his own. Five of them are girls.

“I had to get over myself as a dad, as a male,” he said, and in part, that looked like regular conversations about sex and consent.

“Even if it’s a conversation and I’m just talking into the wind, I still need to keep talking into the wind on a regular basis.

“If I make the space permissive for us to be able to have a conversation about anything, then eventually the sexual health conversation, the consent conversation, the interpersonal relationship conversation should fall out of that.”

But he acknowledged society couldn’t rely on those conversations happening in all families.

“I wouldn’t expect the council or the health board to lead this kind of thing. I would expect them to get in behind and support this kind of thing because those conversations about consent as a community need to come from the community.”

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz agreed, saying parents were responsible for educating children about consent, and to respect it.

“Not all children will get that education at home, and that is where schools also play a role,” she said.

“As a community, we should not be embarrassed to discuss this with our youth. It takes a village to raise a child, and everyone can contribute to that journey.”

Positive messaging from organisations like the council and health board could definitely help everyone to be more informed, she said.

“Advocacy should come from parents and teachers, but it is our collective responsibility to keep our children safe.”

At Rhythm and Vines in 2017, 20-year-old American woman Madeline Anello-Kitzmiller was groped by a man as she wore glitter art painted on her breasts.

Anello-Kitzmiller followed the man and slapped him, in an incident caught on video that made national headlines.

It prompted a conversation about sexual harassment and Anello-Kitzmiller followed it up with a “march for consent” in Auckland in January 2018.

“Nobody has the right to touch you without your consent – it does not matter what the circumstance may be, your body is yours, and nobody has the right to take that away from you,” a Facebook group for the consent march said.

“It does not matter what you are wearing. It does not matter if you changed your mind. No means no.”

Akuhata Brown has worked in a “wellness” space at Rhythm and Vines for the past four years and this year, that space will be called “the Haven”.

It was about “aunties and uncles checking in”, offering care, wellness, and “making sure [festival-goers] feel safe”, she said.

She had dealt with concerns from young people about sexual harassment and consent at Rhythm and Vines over the years, which was one of the negative impacts of alcohol, she said.

“We were actively seeing some of the uncomfortable spaces people were in as far as sexual behaviours are concerned, and unfortunately having to report, or getting them to report non-consensual or sexual misconducts or rapes,” she said.

Gisborne Police area prevention manager Inspector Lincoln Sycamore said police were involved in the messaging put out to keep people safe during the three-day music festival.

“We’re very much in a space of trying to prevent things from occurring,” he said.

There was strong messaging about festival-goers looking after each other, knowing what they’re drinking, not accepting drinks from other people, challenging inappropriate comments or behaviours, and if concerned calling police.

Police had “younger staff” on the ground at Rhythm and Vines whose job was to talk to festival-goers and pass on “the right messages”, Sycamore said.

To date, the best explanation of consent he had seen was a viral video which likened sexual consent to a cup of tea.

“If they don’t want a cup of tea, don’t make them have one. If they’re unconscious, don’t try to pour hot water down their throat.”

He warned that police took sexual assault extremely seriously.

“If we receive information about non-consensual actions, we will investigate and prosecute,” Sycamore said.

“At the heart of these offences is the victim and how we, as a police service, care for that person and their family.

“Any assault is traumatic. When police receive complaints of assault, we ensure the safety of the complainant, and we investigate allegations, holding perpetrators to account.

“We work hard to help victims restore their mana and reassure their family that we care.”

ACC ‘sensitive claims’ cost Govt $156m in 2020

To the end of October, from January, 9132 people nationwide had made new claims to Accident Compensation Corporation after experiencing sexual abuse or violence.

ACC calls these “sensitive claims” and said more than 33,000 “active” claims of this nature were running in 2020.

Sensitive claims cost the Government $156 million in 2020.

In Gisborne, there were 70 sensitive claims in 2018 and 80 in 2019.

This is far higher than the number of sexual assaults reported to Gisborne police – 20 in both years.

Young people in Gisborne told the Gisborne Herald they lacked proper sex education through schooling.

One business owner in his late 20s, who went to Gisborne Boys’ High School, said they were taught how to put a condom on a banana, but that was it.

Another Gisborne man of a similar age, this one schooled in Christchurch, said they were supposed to receive two sex education classes, but it was canned after they teased their teacher about his accent.

A Gisborne woman in her early 30s said she was the anomaly among her group of friends. She was the only one in the group who had not experienced sexual abuse.

Family Planning deputy chief executive Kirsty Walsh said the organisation had health promoters working in schools around the country supporting teachers to understand and implement a “holistic and comprehensive” education programme about relationships and sexuality.

“Consent is one of the core components,” she said.

“Consent has been a long-standing issue for many people, but not necessarily because of a lack of education in schools.”

It had been a “required topic” in the Ministry of Education for many years, “albeit not as focal as it could have been”.

This had been rectified with new guidelines which prioritised aspects of consent across learning levels from Years 1 to 13, Walsh said.

“The real problem with understanding consent occurs through a combination of toxic masculinity, a lack of understanding power imbalances in the consent discussion, and unhelpful stereotypes.

“If you were to ask someone on the street ‘what is consent?’, the vast majority of people would be able to give you the textbook definition of consent.

“However, what many will not understand is how consent actually works when faced with adversity.

“When someone is pressured to do something and agrees – that is not consent, it is compliance.”

A spokeswoman for Hauora Tairāwhiti said it played a role in educating young people about consent, but there was “always room for improvement”.

The DHB was involved in supporting and co-ordinating the work undertaken by Family Planning and ACC’s healthy relationship initiative called Mates and Dates.

But the spokeswoman said “everyone” had a role in educating young people about consent, “starting with the whānau”.

Akuhata Brown said a “consent campaign” was needed in which faces of the community fronted up to this conversation to say “it is not going to happen on my watch”; a campaign which looked at and asked, “Where are we failing?”

Beres said we were all tasked with creating a world where respect for others was valued over “bravado or reputation”.

“We can improve by emphasising respect in all our relating and not tolerating these types of statements,” she said.

Rhythm and Vines was approached for comment.

Where to get help:

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Mosaic – Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94

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