Hey, saw you grab her breast at Rhythm & Vines. Come on bro, it’s time to apologise.

Hey bro.

I saw you blowing up on Facebook wearing some kind of ridiculous toga. I bet you’re shit scared now; I wonder if your Mum knows it was you? She would lose her rag.

I bet you’ve rolled through every excuse in your head and your mates have told you it’s all bullshit and it will go away soon. They’re probably right, knowing New Zealand.

But here’s the thing: inside you know you were wrong. You can feel it and you’re trying to have enough beer to kill that guilt.

The reason I know is because I was you, bro.

I could probably make a lot of excuses: early domestic violence; early introduction to pornography; hyper masculine institutions including college and rugby; alcohol abuse. And all of them contributed a bit.

But in the end, the uncomfortable truth is that I was that guy who ran up and grabbed Madeline Anell-Kitzmiller’s breast. The details and context are different, but the toxic combination of wild aggressive entitlement, lust and support of my peers is the same.

I hurt some young women when I was your age. Sometimes it was a mistake and sometimes I was egged on by mates and sometimes I made a choice.

So bro, it’s time to apologise.

You see Madeline hasn’t been able to hide like you and I were able to.

You might have expected most of the coverage has been about the police hunt for you and that you might face charges for sexual assault.

But you and I both know that never happens.

Most of the focus has been on Madeline. Did she ask for it by being topless? Was it acceptable that she hit her abuser four times?

Firstly, let’s talk about whether Madeline was doing something so provocative, so outrageous that your action is understandable.

Rhythm and Vines was an R18 event which incentivised removing your clothes. There was money on offer for doing activities naked. The very stall at which Madeline was painted offered glitter painting on every part of your body, male or female.

The above means that Madeline, you and every other person at the event should have arrived with a reasonable expectation that they would be safe and accepted whether they were clothed or not.

In addition, Rhythm and Vines markets itself as part of the international circuit of summer festivals, so international visitors would arrive with some expectation that nudity is acceptable and even unremarkable.

So no, there’s no way that you can honestly think that her choice of un-clothing was so out of left field that your response was understandable.

What about the idea that both of you did something wrong, so you both should share the blame?

Bro, it’s important to be clear that there is no specific law against nudity in New Zealand. There are laws against obscene or indecent exposure and offensive and disorderly behaviour.

Some writers in the NZ Herald clearly regard walking around topless as a woman to be indecent. But that’s some 1950s thinking right there.

You see, the implication is that breasts on women are inherently sexual, so Madeline was making a sexual offer by being topless.

If we were to accept that then the debate would be whether Madeline is naive or a harlot; was she trying to get a rise out of the males at the event or was she a silly overseas visitor who doesn’t understand what decent people find acceptable?

We can’t accept that.

You and I know that if either of us were naked somewhere no-one would dare run up and touch our balls, even though their only purpose is procreation.

You might like breasts. You might be turned on by breasts. But unless you bought a latex pair (which is totally cool if that’s what you’re into), they are not objects; they’re part of a person.

That you might struggle with that idea as I once I did, is because of New Zealand’s rape culture. The victim (Madeline) is scrutinised. Each incident is portrayed as specific, unrelated to any other incident and not reflective of our culture as a society. Where the conclusion that the male is guilty is unavoidable, he is portrayed as an aberration. He is cut off from ‘normal’ men.

Inside you know you’re a normal guy, so you can’t be an abuser. Your mates will tell you that. Your Dad will tell you that. Men on social media will tell you that. The New Zealand Herald will tell you that.

Bro, they’re wrong. You’re an abuser.

It’s a horrible feeling. But the first thing you can do is apologise.

Not for the show. Not through the media. Ring the Police in Gisborne, explain who you are and that you would like to apologise. They’ll be more than happy to make it happen in a way that is safe for Madeline.

Whatever it takes, apologise. No excuses, no minimising. Something like this: “I am so sorry for my actions. I was wrong. I would like to learn to be a different person. What actions can I take to repair the damage I’ve done.”

I got to say sorry to some of the women I hurt but not all of them.  Some of my apologies were rubbish: I’m sorry if you felt hurt by what I did. Some of my apologies were sincere and redeeming.

I’ve spent my whole life since trying to make something good out of who I was. And I’ve done some good. But I wish I hadn’t started out as such an unsafe person for women.

I know how you’re feeling bro.

You can make this better than it currently is.

40 thoughts on “Hey, saw you grab her breast at Rhythm & Vines. Come on bro, it’s time to apologise.

  1. Well written and from a perspective not often heard. We as women get sick of fighting against sexual harassment which is disturbing common on so many levels so it’s great and refreshing to hear a make voice speaking out to shift unhealthy attitudes that allow this harassment to occur. Thanks and keep raising awareness, your voice is needed!

  2. It’s writing like this – sound values, well and eloquently expressed – that occasionally gives me hope for the future of humankind. Graham, you should be writing for the Herald instead of old Bar O’Soap and the rest of them.

  3. A very good article.I think this is something that could be used in a classroom with discussion encourage : in a family home as a discussion even better !

  4. Awesome Graham…i read this and had no idea you wrote it. You nailed it. Much love and respect to you

  5. Hi Graham, thank you for writing this, an thank you SO MUCH for pointing out that “I’m sorry if you felt hurt by what I did” is a really shitty sorry/not sorry apology. That we hear all the time from abusing men. It’s heartening to read your story, which is the most genuinely credible male point of view on sexual abuse I think I’ve ever read. It’s great to see so many educators wanting to use it in their work.

  6. Oh FFS. Yes it was stupid and he should apologise but the rest? Come on.
    No wonder men are committing suicide when everything they do in their lives is painted as overly masculine. Nothing wrong with rugby. He’s not an abuser nor is it even sane to link this to rape culture.
    He’s an idiot – but get off the juice.

    1. Kia ora Kellie, I agree with you there is nothing inherently insidious in sports nor in the idea of masculinity. My son just played his first season of tackle rugby and loved it.

      However, I know for myself that in this same masculine culture I learnt to expect women to be available objects. And that’s not safe for any of us.

      Saying this young man is an abuser does seem rough, eh? But it acknowledges what that woman went through, it doesn’t sugar coat it.

      But anyway, we agree on this: he should apologise.

  7. Thank you for an outstanding article which I have shared. We need men like you on board to make a safer society for everyone. Really appreciate it.

  8. Well written thanks. Been in quite a few all-male environments myself over the years and this article resonated with me.

  9. You are inspirational. You have stood up and spoken out against abuse Our NZ culture has disgusting rates of Domestic Violence, bullying and child abuse. This is because most of us stand back in silence, stick our heads in the sand or even worse minimise the actions, make excuses and condone actions. Attitudes to Domestic abuse, bullying and child abuse are perpetuated by our culture through silence and willful blindness. We all know what is going on but NOBODY steps up and speaks out. So thank you for your letter. Thank you for standing up and speaking out. You are doing what other New Zealanders should do if we want to stop domestic abuse, bullying and child abuse.

    1. This is very kind feedback Adriana. If we all speak out on this then maybe change is possible. I appreciate your engagement.

  10. The personal discussions that I’ve been involved with after reading from blog have shown me how deep rape culture extends in NZ. Even women are saying “what did she expect” “she was kinda asking for it!”
    It’s disappointing that so many people feel that what we wear, where we walk, or how we act is in someway related to sexual invitations.
    We need more honest discussions around sexual abuse, especially with our youngsters if we hope for a safe and protective place for everyone. Like you said, letting young men feel that this is okay erodes their character and leads them astray, it is our role as mothers, fathers, grandparents to teach our children not to take anything without consent. It is not our role to excuse it our blame the victim.
    Thank you for your words, this discussion is far from over.

    1. Thanks for reading Mandy, and thank you for having these discussions. This blog is but a drop in the ocean, and people speaking about this like you are far more important for real change.

  11. Brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your past. It’s up to men to speak up. Whether we like it or not, we are the perpretrators. That can be confronting for most of us who see ourselves as ‘good’ guys and abusers as abnormal, other, the exception, etc.

    Having said that, you and others like you have given me hope; hope that people can change; hope for the future.

    Kia kaha.

    1. Kia ora Andrew. Yep, let’s have hope that we can change for the better by being honest about who we were and who we are now.

  12. Hey Graeham, he did apologise, she didn’t think it was sincere as he was smiling (most likely from being nervous)

    1. Kia ora Jon, I was unaware of that. And to be fair clearly Madeline didn’t consider it an apology. Still work to do on his behalf.

  13. Typical man despite the sentiments which reek of the reformed. Graham, you actually don’t need to respond to every post! And why do you think it is OK to criticise the toga the man was wearing. It was no more ridiculous than walking about with glitter painted breasts. Less so IMO.

    1. Kia ora John, it seems rude to not say thanks to people for commenting, agreement or not; after all, no-one has to engage.

  14. You bloody legend! You should start writing for the NZ herald 90% of their stuff is utter crap. Love how open minded, honest and humble this piece is.

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