Sunday, 11 November 2007


It is a universal truth that for every action there will be a reaction. You throw a ball and it will hit the ground, or a window or a person’s head. You stick up for something and you will get a law changed, be ridiculed, shamed or totally ignored. Pretty soon we work out which person we will be. The person who acts, the person who reacts or the person who lives under the radar, dog paddling in increasingly smaller circles determined to never make a ripple in the pond of life.
Louise Nicholas acted. She put herself out there in an attempt to stop some policemen raping more women. Her case against police officers Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton, and Bob Schollum was one of the 94 per cent of rape case reported to the police that failed to achieve a conviction. The police reacted by protecting each other and portraying Louise as a slut. Meanwhile the rest of us dog paddled around our lives and read the court case reports eagerly
I’m not sure whether Tame Iti acted out there in the Urerweras or why he acted, but I know the police reacted and hauled out anti-terror legislation to do so. Meanwhile the rest of us dog paddled and tut tutted about terror in the bush.
And that’s about it for this country, because we’re no longer a great nation of activists. Somewhere along the way we have forgotten the watersider's strikes, the Springbok tour, the Vietnam War, the nuclear disarmament, the bra-burning. We have lost the will to act when we see systems failing us, children dying from abuse, a government taxing us into a groaning surplus, heritage buildings being razed to make way for shonky developments you wouldn’t let your dog live in, that sort of thing. Did we become too frightened to stick our head above the precipice and save the beautiful old building down the road? Did we discover that life is just so much easier dog paddling around in circles putting up with it all?
I think we did. And in doing so we gave way to the reactors in our society, or,
as I like to call them, bullies. These people call talkback from the safety of their homes and pull out the oft-used tools of hatred: racism, sexism and class. Much easier to fire off anonymous letters, create whispering campaigns, shut doors and glower at the world. And as Louis Nicholas has proved, even some of our boys in blue are bullies.
No wonder we are now battling a bullying epidemic in our schools. For years we have wrung our hands and sighed at the way our teenagers binge drink, without once looking at ourselves as the role models for that behaviour. Now we send our kids off to school with the instructions to “stick up for yourself” against the bully, without once looking at our supposed community leaders, the police and our politicians, thanks to Tau and Trevor, for the examples our children are being given.
I’ve had a bully for 25 years now and I know how hard it can be to “stick up for yourself.’ I’m an unusual person to bully, having a tendency to be a bit of a tough nut, but my bully likes a challenge and at times he’s been so successful I’ve wanted to crawl under the floorboards of my house and never come out. I’ve craved the anonymity and the soothing waters of the ripple-less pond, but you just can’t do the dog paddle when hostility and hatred towards you are brewing out there in various whispering campaigns. When you realise that in the village where you live, the bully will always be around the corner waiting for you and even your children, you have to stand up and make it go away.
Louise Nicholas did it. After many years of rape and abuse by police she took them to court. She lost the case, but she gained Dame Margaret Bazley and the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, and former cop John Dewar is in jail guilty of attempting to obstruct or defeat the course of justice.
And it is not lost on me that Louise is a woman, because Kiwi women have always been good at leading the way.
We should be grateful that she acted. That despite the reactors and the dog paddlers, this woman has shown us that a life led free of the bully, even if it takes 20 years and putting your face on every newspaper in the country, is because, in the words of that cosmetic campaign. You’re worth it.

Image by Anthony Ellison

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