Friday, 18 July 2014

What are the odds? Quite good actually

Content note: rape, rape culture, sexualized victim-shaming
Since a lot of you aren’t New Zealanders, you likely won’t have heard of the things this blog post is about. So a bit of quick background. Back in May, Muhammad Rizalman was arrested in Wellington on charges of burglary and sexual assault. His home country of Malaysia, which he had been serving here as a foreign diplomat, recalled him and refused to waive diplomatic immunity. There followed the political buck-passing match that always fills up the news media around things like this. Then last week the woman Rizalman had allegedly followed home and attempted to rape, Tania Billingsley, had her name suppression lifted and spoke to a TV station about what had happened. Being a feminist, Billingsley used feminist terminology such as “rape culture” in her statements to the media. She called out Foreign Minister Murray McCully for his Ministry’s “incompetent handling of the diplomatic immunity aspect”. Jan Logie, Green Party spokesperson for women’s issues, agreed.
Someone who didn’t agree was a right-wing New Zealand blogger name of Cameron Slater, who goes by “Whale Oil” online. His blog is “Whale Oil Beef Hooked”, you see. You have to pronounce it in a New Zealand accent but listen in an Irish accent, I guess. Shamefully for my country, he’s become a major media figure here. Slater of course supports McCully’s party in Parliament and opposes Logie’s, so it’s hardly surprising he would take a critical view. He wrongly believes that he understands what’s meant by “rape culture” – and that it’s something patently absurd – but that hardly sets him apart from most people at his end of the political spectrum. All that considered, however, his response to the incident is still appalling.
I don’t read Whale Oil Beef Hooked myself, I should add. I don’t want to give him the traffic; I’ve yet to see any insight worth reading attributed to him; and I myself have a propensity for getting into complicated online arguments with people who are never going to listen to what I have to say, which would make Slater’s blog a major time-sink for me. So, when he spouts details about the case that haven’t been published anywhere else, he may have genuine sources that he credits in some previous post that I just haven’t seen, rather than (as strongly appears to be the case) be simply blowing them out of a hole in his head.
Slater’s theory appears to be that Billingsley and Logie cooked up the rape incident in order to generate dirt to throw at the Government. Oh, he’s not claiming that the whole thing was made up out of whole cloth, no, never fear. Rizalman’s arrest is on public record, after all. As near as I can make out, Slater is insinuating that Billingsley and Rizalman had consensual sex that evening, or at least that Billingsley led Rizalman to believe that was going to happen, and then she rang the police on him, her intention being to later speak out on the event and so generate an anti-rape campaign.
Only it gets more implausible still, because Slater makes a big thing of the fact that Billingsley and Logie both know the leader of Wellington Rape Crisis, Tabby Besley, and both were photographed with her – separately, you understand – at queer advocacy events back in February 2013. For someone who so desperately fancies himself an investigative journalist, Slater is vague about the details. First he puts the two photographs “two days” apart; in the very next paragraph, they were taken “within the same 24 hours”. The point is, this was an event over a year before Rizalman’s arrest. The only way this could be relevant is if he’s claiming that Logie was in on the plan from back then. And since he’s claiming Logie’s part of it was to discredit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that would have to mean that Logie and Billingsley confidently and correctly guessed, back then, that the Ministry was bound to drop the ball if there were to be a rape case involving a foreign diplomat. One wonders why the Ministry needed discrediting if its incompetence was as obvious as all that.
Slater posted a list of 22 questions for Billingsley. Here are ten of them:
  • How long have you known the Diplomat?
  • How frequently have you met before the day he followed you home?
  • What was his perception of the relationship?
  • Did he actually manage to enter your home?
  • Did he touch you? At all?
  • Did he undress himself?
  • At what point did he undress?
  • Were any clothes left on? If so, which?
  • What caused him to get dressed again?
  • How much time passed between the undressing and the dressing
You can see what he’s insinuating there. It’s the age-old idea that women lead men on, seduce them, and then “cry rape”, accompanied by a really rather slimy demand for prurient details. Slater, if you’re reading this, that is what rape culture is. But Logie has already called you out on this, and if you aren’t listening to her you aren’t going to listen to me.
No, my purpose in writing this is to help Slater with his maths homework. He asks:
Now, dear readers, what are the odds of a Malasian [sic] diplomat deciding to follow Tania home from a bus stop, apparently at random? What are the odds of him picking a woman that is befriended with and herself involved in women’s issues going back many years?... What are the odds of Green MP Jan Logie getting involved, erm, randomly?...
(The ellipses cover details which I haven’t seen in any other source, and a bizarre remark about the incident not having “hallmarks” of rape, whatever those are in Slater’s head.) Well, I can give a ballpark estimate. Let’s not be too finicky about details, though. Suppose everything had been the same except that it was an American diplomat instead of Malaysian, for instance. Or that he’d assaulted her in a nightclub instead of following her home. Either way the same political issues would have arisen, and Slater would still be complaining about it. So we’ll scrub those things out. They’re irrelevant.
According to police statistics, there were 362 sexual assaults recorded in Wellington in 2013 – and that’s just the recorded ones, mind you. At the most recent Census, there were 171,580 males over 15 living in Wellington; I’m only counting males not just because it’s far rarer for females than males to commit sexual assault, but because a female assailant wouldn’t have given Slater anywhere to hang his “Feminists hate men” whinge. And according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there are 282 male foreign diplomats resident in Wellington, if I counted correctly from their list. So roughly one in 600 men in Wellington is a diplomat. Multiply that fraction by the 362 per year figure, and we should expect a foreign diplomat to commit a sexual assault in Wellington, and for it to be recorded by the police, once every year and eight months.
No government department keeps an official record of the number of feminists, so the second part of the equation is harder to estimate. The easiest indicator to find is participation in public protests. About 500 people attended the Wellington Slutwalk in 2011, of whom about half were women. After the “Roast Busters” incident last year 1000–2000 people marched in protest. Now with any protest march, there will be many people who couldn’t get off work or weren’t well or for one reason or another couldn’t attend, but who sympathized with the cause. Can we estimate how many people are represented by each protester in a given action?
14,990 Central Wellington people voted against the Government’s asset sales last year. Unfortunately for our purposes, the rally in Wellington on the issue was joined by people from all over the North Island, and so will give far too large a reading. Here in Dunedin the biggest march was about 1000–2000 strong, and the combined No vote from both electorates was 34,751. So, very roughly indeed, each protester on a given march stands for 17–35 people in their region. If we estimate 20,000 feminists and feminist sympathizers in Wellington, our figures will at least be in the right order of magnitude. That’s one-twentieth of Wellington’s population. We’re looking at something you’d expect to happen every few decades. Improbable enough to get in the news, as indeed it did, but not so improbable as to make Slater’s false-accusation story look like a more sensible explanation.
As for the conspiracy bit, it’s well known that any two people in the world are only six degrees of separation apart. And in New Zealand it’s two degrees – we even have a cell-phone company named after it, for Pete’s sake. This means that everyone in the country knows at least one person who knows Jan Logie. The photos prove nothing whatever.

1 comment:

  1. A fairly good representation of the issue I thought. Of course Slater's disgraceful online behaviour is nothing new. In fact, I think it was during 2010 that he utlised photoshop to paste the face of a 16 year old Labour Party activist on to the body of a gay porn model who was engaged in an auto-erotic act. He displayed the picture on his blog for quite some time, as a punishment for the boy saying something to him he didn't like. The man has no sense of decency - and you're right to point out that it is astounding that he's used by the mainstream media in this country as some sort of authority on politics. The mind boggles.