Chiefs ‘in-house’ investigation imitates society-wide power imbalances

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network is disappointed at Rugby New Zealand’s decision to conduct only an in-house investigation of the recent alleged sexual assault at an end of season Chief’s function.

The investigation came at the same time as a similar complaint from a woman working an end of season function the previous year, and Chiefs player Michael Allardice was witnessed making homophobic slurs at the same function as was subject to the current investigation. Sexual Abuse Prevention Network General Manager, Fiona McNamara, says “That all three of these incidents have been raised at once shows clearly that the Chiefs have a culture problem.”

“It was inappropriate for the investigation to be carried out by the General Legal Counsel for New Zealand Rugby. Scarlette was the final person interviewed as part of the investigation. This meant her full account could not inform the questions put to the 11 purportedly ‘independent’ witnesses.”

“The imbalanced power structures in this case imitate the larger, society-wide responses we see to sexual violence. Teams like the Chiefs, and other groups holding powerful positions in New Zealand, have the privilege of closing ranks around each other. They have access to powerful lawyers, public relations managers, and enjoy the ‘hero status’ of sports-people in New Zealand public. These privileges are not shared by Scarlette, or other victim-survivors of sexual violence.”

“That the team members received a ‘collective’ warning, rather than individual repercussions for their behaviour on the night of the function, illustrates perfectly how team culture – in sport particularly – can act to diminish personal accountability for gendered violence such as this. Further, the warning was regarding hiring a stripper for the event, rather than any abusive behaviour on the night. This takes the focus off promoting respectful treatment of women, and promotes the idea that people engaged in sex work are the source of the problem.”

“The actions of the team on the night have been variously called ‘a little slip up’, ‘boys being boys’ and ‘inevitable’, with blame being levelled at Scarlette as frequently as it has been at the players. What is most disheartening is that the Chiefs failed to take up an enormous opportunity to begin transforming toxic masculine culture in sports and rugby.”

A woman who was hired for the Chief’s end of season function as a stripper came out in days following stating that she had been subject to various incidents of abuse during the rugby team’s end-of-season function on 1 August at the Ōkoroire Hot Pools. The woman, who asked to be known as Scarlette, said some players indecently assaulted, threw gravel and chanted lewdly at her.

New Zealand Rugby Council investigated the incident, and decided to take no disciplinary action against the team, bar issuing a collective warning to the players.

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