Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

The Anti-Police Hysteria


It's an undeniable fact that some men are irresistible to women. Never having been so myself, I recall with fascination reading a poll of American women soon after charismatic Bill Clinton became president in early 1993. Nearly fifty percent said they wouldn't mind going to bed with him, and - amazingly - 7% said they thought they had. Sexual fantasies are an important part of human nature. The promiscuity barometer ranges over a wide zone. Power has always been an aphrodisiac for some women. Uniforms, medals, police batons, war talk and gymnasia appeal. Camp followers have hung around the military since the beginning of warfare, and tales of women chasing rock stars and sportsmen, volunteering services, are as old as competition itself. A few lasting liaisons even resulted. Every evolutionary biologist knows that throughout the animal world the dominant male attracts the most females. In small, boring towns from which the brightest have flown in search of bigger smoke, the local cop shop is about as exciting as it gets. Their watering holes, their rumbles, their fast cars and paraphernalia often lure vulnerable, impressionable teenage women into situations they later regret.

What is equally clear is that police cultures will exploit such availability unless someone keeps a watchful eye on the scene. But more remote parts of the country have always found it difficult to recruit top police officers. Like doctors and other professionals, their family needs often predispose them towards urban jobs. As I recall, Rotorua went through several periods in the 1970s and 1980s with acting police chiefs, and I doubt there's a queue for the job right now. So big beefy blokes in the local force gradually exploited their positions as the top symbols of virility, taking advantage of their power. Consensual acts turned into rape and gross indecency that sickened the women when they thought about incidents two decades later. Such a long time later, in fact, that memories and witnesses turned blurry. Is what happened surprising? Not really. A cause for mass hysteria when the police culture that was allowed to develop is revealed in a series of court cases? No. Instead, it's time to think carefully through the issues, to improve police education and management, and to tighten internal disciplinary procedures. We may have to face paying substantial bonuses to top cops willing to do a stint in secondary centres like Rotorua where too often crime seems out of control on all fronts.

There's also a danger confronting young women that must be faced: deliberately seeking out authority figures for social encounters and eventually consensual sex is playing with fire. That has been true since the beginning of time. Throughout history the parenting of teenagers has been a challenge; it has grown in complexity with earlier pubescence. The temptations of the modern world are more plentiful. Internet chat rooms, thank heavens, didn't exist when many of today's responsible parents were growing up. Keeping eyes on daughters' clothing, on their entanglements, and their access to booze is a parental duty as old as time. A modern sole parent household finds control very difficult. And with two parents working, supervision is much harder to organise than it used to be.

What really worries me about the hysteria following the recent police trials is the absurdity of some reactions. Don't get me wrong. I find rape abhorrent. But a few seem to have become obsessed with it. A strident Wellington group that gains media attention pre-judges everything, and views all men as rapists. Several have been rude about jury verdicts, and believe that jurors should be tainted with information not relevant to the charges in question. The Prime Minister who heads a party that contains more than its fair share of such extremists these days, unwisely entered the fray with a confusing message.

There are many problems with the police. Second-rate leadership, low-level management skills and poor prioritising are obvious parts of a force that isn't delivering what we should be able to expect. Tarring them all as potential rapists with runaway batons is not only unfair; it's one of the most self-defeating activities female extremists can engage in. We need more, better-trained police. Already we know they are finding recruiting difficult. Such has been the media over-reaction since the trials that it will soon be impossible. Then we'll be into vigilante territory. Extremism begets extremism, as women found out to their cost at the Salem witch trials in the 17th century when the loudest complainants became the victims.