We got work to do.

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When Ani Zhou Black came forward on Saturday, with her live testimony on Facebook regarding her husband’s pedophilia – Te Ao Māori was rocked.

They were huge revelations. Not just of his own personal deeds, but implicating him in the leadership of pedophile rings, both local and national. Not often you see a totara fall twice, and there are many still struggling to make sense of it all.

When Ani Zhou Black came forward on Saturday – she did so to present victims far and wide, many who may be outside of her immediate contact, with an opportunity to speak about the abuse they experienced, with the support of Ani and her family. That, in itself, is an incredibly selfless, and courageous act.

When Ani Zhou Black came forward on Saturday – she presented all of US with an opportunity, and it’s that opportunity that I think we should all be talking about now. Because as much as I support Ani’s stand – for the vast majority, this is not about her, or Awa, it’s about us all.

This is an opportunity for us to talk about sexual abuse in our communities – because it’s been happening for a long time now and it’s quite literally killing us.

First and foremost – as communities, we need to be carefully considering, right now, what we can do to create a safe space for our people to discuss sexual abuse. I don’t mean flinging names because you heard about something that someone heard about. The last thing we need this to amount to is a climate of further fear, and unnecessarily feeding people into a “justice” system that offers all of us anything but justice, is certainly not restorative, and is administered by perpetrators as well. The entire system itself needs to be assessed and investigated for its ability to respond to these cases.

We need to be creating safe spaces in our communities to talk about sexual abuse, because this is how we claim power back. I can speak plainly about my abuse, and my abuser, because he no longer has power over me, and has not done so for a very long time. The fear they leave with their victims is a part of their toolkit, and allows not only for them to continue, but for all pedophiles to continue. For as long as a community is NOT talking openly about sexual abuse and sexual boundaries – all pedophiles feel safe, and will continue to carry out their acts.

We need to be creating safe spaces in our communities to have conversations about sexual abuse that include the dimensions of historical trauma and colonialism, of toxic masculinity and power abuse, of mamae and tapu. I’m not talking about anyone escaping accountability – what I am talking about is the need for us to fully understand the drivers of this behaviour if we truly intend to break cycles.

This is an opportunity for us to reassess our ideas of leadership, and mana, and power structures. Because I’ve seen, myself, instances where power has been abused to psychologically bully communities into submission. I know that there are pedophiles on paepae, and on runanga, and very probably in every other leadership space you can imagine. Pedophiles are power abusers, and roles of authority are very attractive to them. Sexually deviant behavior is also entertained through the misogynistic “boys club”, and this prevails in the police, in law, the military, in governance, and sports. It’s high time we started reframing the jokes, language, and behavior associated with toxic masculinity, from “just being lads”, towards an understanding that these are serious markers of harmful behavior that fall short of the leadership we need and deserve.

In fact, these questions are ones that we can all challenge ourselves with, as well, because this is an opportunity for us to talk, as a community, about what we can all be doing better, to put an end to these cycles. How are we unwittingly enabling this culture of silence, how are we maintaining barriers to open discussion? How do we respond when someone comes forward? Particularly when it relates to someone we all know and care about? Does your personal closeness with them count as evidence in their favour? Take it from me on that last question – no. Pedophiles are masters of deception. You can be the best of friends with them for many years and they will walk straight into your house and sexually abuse your child then walk out like it never happened. In fact they count on the skill of deception to acquire such opportunities. I’m not saying every allegation is true… but that statements like “But I’ve known him so many years and there was never any hint…” are completely irrelevant – because they are THAT good at hiding. Whatever other evidence there may be to support them – your personal knowledge of them does not count.

This is an opportunity for us to once again look at the narratives of sexuality that surround our children and youth. From our virtually non-existent sexual health education in schools to the complete lack of support for sexual health discussions in homes, to hyper-sexualised media and native costuming. The fetishizing of native bodies has been documented over. And over. And over again. It’s happening in the Pacific, it’s happening in Aotearoa, it makes targets out of native children and we need to knock it on the head.

There’s a lot we can do, and it will take us moving past being passive commentators to being active agents in our communities. We need to move beyond talking about what others should be doing, accept what others simply can’t (and won’t) do and start talking about what WE can do. We also need to move beyond the individual to talk about what we can do better as a community.  Of course I support Ani – but I don’t agree with a hashtag campaign that centers this issue on Ani. Not least because these kinds of hashtags can have the unintended consequence of creating a target. This is not just about Ani, and it’s not just about Awa – it’s about all of us as a community. If we make it about individuals, spotlight them, and heroicize them (admirable as they are) – we are creating a context for other people to come forward for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t help genuine victims (in fact false cases make it much worse for genuine victims to be believed and supported). That doesn’t help us as a community, and it certainly doesn’t help the many whānau that are impacted.

I hope this is the time for us to start having some real conversations about what we can do, and what we must do, as well as what the government can’t currently do. I’m generally a cynical tart – but I really do believe in our communities to deal with this, and start some proper conversations. I was chatting with an Uncle about what has happened, just today… and he asked me, straight up:  “Well girl, has this happened to you?”
So I answered, straight up: “Yep”
And matter of factly he responded: “Well same here…”
And then we both went on to chat about what it all meant for our lives, and I gotta say – it was so. damn. refreshing. No shame, no awkwardness, just two people who want better for our community, reflecting on our truth. I wish more people could talk from our truth that way, without the awkwardness. I hope more of these kinds of conversations happen in our communities, and I pray for healing, for all of us.

Nau mai te ao. Ko tēnei te wā.

Tīhei, mauri ora.

(ps adding this FB post because, well, read it.)

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2 thoughts on “We got work to do.”

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