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.