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March 20, 2017 | by  | in News |
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Protests against rape culture draw hundreds

Hundreds of protesters turned out at Parliament last Monday in response to predatory and offensive comments made by Wellington College students on a private Wellington College Facebook page.

One of the comments claimed: “If you don’t take advantage of a drunk girl, you’re not a true WC boy.” It received over 70 likes.

The comments came days after four year nine students from St Patrick’s College in Silverstream were suspended for sexual harassment of staff.

The protest was aimed at addressing rape culture within high schools, as well as being a wider call for the inclusion of consent education within the New Zealand high school curriculum.

In a statement released prior to the protest, Wellington East Girls’ College students Sorcha Ashworth, Selome Teklezgi, Narjis Al-Zaidi, and Mia Fiumu said they felt that the comments “were a tipping point that required action” and that they “highlighted the existence of rape culture and disrespectful attitudes towards women.”

The protest was attended by around 500 people, many of whom were high school students. The speakers included Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, Green MP Jan Logie, and Wellington Labour MP Grant Robertson. Bennett described the protest as “incredibly powerful,” however was heckled repeatedly by people calling for governmental action and better funding for organisations like Rape Crisis.

The location of the protest was changed from outside of Wellington College to the Parliament lawn due to legal and safety reasons, as well as a desire to stress the wider issue outside of the original comments.

Students on the private Wellington College Facebook page had called on people to “bring your cars and run them all over.” The comment attracted several likes, and a reply which suggested — “livestream it.”

Fake Facebook accounts were also created with the purpose of messaging Wellington East Girls’ College students, and publically condemning the backlash against the comments.

Wellington College Principal Roger Moses condemned the comments made by his students, saying those who made the comments were “normally good lads” and were “shattered” by what had happened. In an interview with John Campbell, Moses cited pornography and social media as factors leading to the students’ behaviour.

New Zealand Association of Counsellors spokesperson Sarah Maindonald questioned Moses’ message: “Because they’re usually ‘good lads’, we can excuse this behaviour? That’s a really mixed message, you know, that ‘lads make a mistake’.”

In an interview with RadioNZ, a Wellington College student, when asked about the comments, said, “I think it’s just a joke that’s been blown out of proportion really. Obviously it’s not a nice thing to say, but obviously there’s no intent in it — he obviously didn’t mean it.”

Wellington College declined to comment to the matter, referring Salient to a “PR Consultant” who also declined to comment.

The school went through a disciplinary hearing the day after the protest, where the two students who made the original comments were suspended for five days, stripped of their leadership positions, and barred from future sporting and cultural competitions. The school was working with Wellington East Girls’ College, the police, and Rape Crisis.

At the protest, Wellington student Norma McLean said that “for generations our grandmothers, our mothers, have put up with this, and we stand up here today for them and ourselves. I don’t want to stand here in front of you here today and say I hope to see a better future for my daughter. No, I want to see change now, for my generation.”

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