New Zealand

‘National shame’: TV interview with ringleader of gang accused of sexually assaulting girls sparks outrage in New Zealand

  • Joseph Parker boasted of having sex with underage, drunk girls several years ago
  • His interview comes at a time when he is trying to raise money for his music career
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 4:04am

A TV interview with the ringleader of a gang that bragged about having sex with underage, intoxicated girls in New Zealand has copped backlash from women’s advocacy groups.

Years after Joseph Parker, who together with a core group of four other young Auckland men, came to attention for boasting about having group sex with young, drunk girls, he told broadcaster Newshub he was sorry and not a “monster”.

“We weren’t the monsters everyone thought we were,” Parker, now 23, said.

He said he considered the experience a blessing which helped him mentally and spiritually grow as a person. “I understand I put them through a lot of hurt and pain; I can only try to understand the hurt they have been put through but I don’t think I will fully understand because I am not them.”

Parker told Newshub he was sorry for his actions and wanted to “make amends” for the harm he caused. He also said he had contacted women who were targeted by the group via social media to apologise.

The interview comes at the same time Parker has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for his music career – in which he sings songs about the saga.

It was criticised as disturbing and cynical by women’s advocacy groups.

In one song, Parker raps: “Just knowin’ I’m entertaining so many people, the praises had me in a frenzy to maintain it so I’m humiliating females just for the fame, flying the Roast Busters flag higher than a plane.”

Fiona McNamara, general manager of the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, said the interview could re-traumatise victims and other survivors of sexual violence, and perpetuated rape culture.

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“It did not appear to be motivated by genuine empathy for the people that experienced harm … there were no charges laid and now this person is trying to promote a career and leverage off his notoriety to gain fame and success, is really giving a message that he can get away with anything.”

This person is trying to promote a career and leverage off his notoriety to gain fame and success
Fiona McNamara, general manager of the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network

In the scandal that provoked national outrage in New Zealand, five official complaints of sexual assault were lodged with police between 2011 and 2013, but the teenagers were never charged due to a lack of evidence.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority found a year-long investigation made significant policing errors, failed to follow up leads and did not adhere to best practice for investigating alleged sexual assault.

At the time, thousands of people staged mass protests in New Zealand, calling for an end to rape culture and justice for the victims, and then-prime minister John Key called the group “extremely disturbing and disgusting”.

“We don’t choose the roast, the roast chooses us … They know what we’re like; they know what they’re in for,” Parker said in one of the videos, which also “slut-shamed” the girls by naming and picturing them in videos online.

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“I just kept blacking out ’cause I had drunk too much,” one underage girl told Newshub in 2013.

Two of the women targeted by the Roast Busters reportedly later considered suicide. The youngest alleged victim was 13. The age of consent in New Zealand is 16, and sex with an underage, intoxicated person is frequently regarded as non-consensual and therefore illegal.

Amid the furore on Tuesday, “Roast Busters” became New Zealand’s top Twitter trend.

Lizzie Marvelly, the author of The F Word: Growing up Feminist in Aotearoa, tweeted that she was “heartbroken” about the Parker interview, and the Roast Busters case was a “national shame”.

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A spokesperson for Mediaworks, the company which owns Newshub, said it had received “lots of feedback” following the interview, but no official complaints.

“Reporting does not mean condoning – a key attribute to successful journalism requires interviewing many sources, including those we regard as wrongdoers, and it is newsworthy when one of the central figures of a story breaks their silence for the first time.”