On Saturday, the widow of the late Tauranga Moana leader Awanui Black posted a video to Facebook about child sexual abuse and her husband. Their whanaunga Graham Cameron says her brave stand is a chance to break the cycle of silence and shame.
Content warning: sexual abuse of children.
If you’ve had the opportunity to live at home in your own iwi community, then you know one of the constants is an undercurrent of rumour and gossip. You hear a lot of things: don’t let your kids near that one; he hits his partner; she ripped off the hauora. After a while it can become hard to sort out the gossip from the truth.
Which is what made Ani Black’s Facebook Live post on Saturday such a bombshell.
Sometimes it’s hard to communicate a direct truth in a direct way. We merely suggest or indicate or postulate because we want to be careful not to be the person who is responsible for the kōrero. To risk your own mana and the mana of your whānau and your community by speaking plainly and directly takes courage, mana and certainty.
Anihera Zhou Black directly and plainly outing her husband of 26 years, Tauranga Moana leader Awanui Black, as a paedophile, was a shattering experience.
Since his death 20 months ago, like all of our tūpuna, we’ve built Awanui’s myth here in Tauranga Moana. We’ve sung his waiata and his mōteatea and prayed his karakia. We’ve taught our tamariki about this rangatira taken too early, named buildings for him, scholarships in his memory.
This hurts because Awanui is not the conceptual bogeyman we read about in international news stories. He was a good friend to my friends. He was a teacher to some of our great educators. He was central to the revival of mau rākau. He was a gifted orator; I would sit in anticipation of hearing him speak from the paepae tapu. I could ring him and ask questions about tikanga and kawa and history.
I believe Ani and I support her call to others affected by Awanui’s actions to come forward and get help and support to tell their story.
Only 9% of sexual offending is reported to the New Zealand Police. That figure is considered a conservative estimate; it could be much higher. Of the reports made, international studies consistently show only 4% to 10% are false accusations; that is to say, when people make accusations about sexual offending, they are usually telling the truth. Most reported offending in New Zealand never leads to a prosecution and only one in nine will be convicted.
Paedophilia and paedophilia sex rings exist in our New Zealand communities. I have a friend who reposted Ani’s post with the revelation that she had been abused in a sex ring as a child. Another friend’s father ran a paedophile ring in Wellington in the 1970s and 1980s. I have personally made reports to the Police and then Child Youth and Family about abuse of children here in Tauranga Moana. Those went no further because the victims would not agree to talk to the agencies. I have had whānau shrug when I revealed abuse to them and say they already knew.
Shame and a desire to keep the peace often mean it is not talked about or acted upon. So the damage ripples out, generation after generation.
Ani’s call to survivors of Awanui’s abuse is a chance to break the cycle.
Since Ani made her post, there have been very few public statements from men here in Tauranga Moana (with a couple of exceptions). Graham Hoete, known as Mr G, made an emphatic and clear response in painting over his mural of Awanui in support of Ani and her whānau. But our wāhine here and around the country have been discussing it on social media, on the phone, and face to face since the post was put up.
Time and again, we Māori men seem daunted by the horror before us and sit mute. We really do need to start talking to each other, to our wāhine and to our whānau. We need to show leadership in overcoming this scourge in our communities. We need to be brave enough to admit that Awanui’s strengths do not discount what has been said by his wife.
This is equally true for our iwi leadership throughout the country. All of us who have been entrusted a leadership role have been imbued with the mana given us by our marae, our hapū, our iwi. Our whānau expect us to represent and lead. Hoping to avoid controversy by saying nothing is commensurate to condoning the ongoing cycle of violence and abuse. Publicly starting from an assumption that the accusations are wrong merely confirms to other victims that they will not be believed.
Our leaders and our men need to have the courage to say: I hear you. I am shocked, saddened, and horrified that this occurred. If you were a victim, you can come to us and you will be believed, we will help you find support and we will help you tell your story if that is what you want.
Let’s break the silence and let victims know that we are with them. Let’s break the silence and have a hard and courageous conversation about sexual abuse in our communities. To paraphrase Ani, let’s break the silence with a cry or a scream; it is this silence that is a violence to our soul.
If you have suffered abuse and you want to come forward, you will be believed. There is help for you. If you are in the Bay of Plenty, there are helplines that operate 24/7:
The Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Support Service 0800 227 233
The National Collective of Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
Safe To Talk 0800 044 334
Ani and her whānau are bringing Rob Mokaraka’s show Shot Bro – Confessions of a Depressed Bullet to Tauranga Moana. This black comedy deals with depression, suicide and loss and includes an open forum. The hope is it will give a chance for Tauranga Moana people to talk about the issues that have now been raised for all of us.