• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Bill Ralston: We care for Grace Millane – we should care for the others too

Grace Millane.

The death of young tourist Grace Millane touches us all and is a call to action.

In the middle of a recent meeting in Wellington, I checked my phone messages and found one from a New Zealand Herald reporter seeking comment on the killing of British tourist Grace Millane. Apparently, said the reporter, there was huge media interest in the case at home and abroad. She wondered why.

Millane, it seems, was killed on or around the eve of her 22nd birthday, allegedly by a 26-year-old man who has interim name suppression, and her body dumped just off a road in bush in Auckland’s Waitākere Ranges. When I got the Herald message, she had only just been found and it was far too soon to leap into print about the media frenzy occurring over her death, so I dodged the reporter’s call.

In this digital-media world, online analytics were driving the sad story on news sites. Thousands of people were logging on to read any story about the case, and in response, editors were dredging for any fact, opinion or comment they could find to feed the thirst for copy.

Now that a respectable amount of time has passed, I can attempt to answer the Herald question. Last year, 13 women were murdered in New Zealand and another four died as a result of manslaughter. A sizeable number of the victims knew their killers; they were in some kind of relationship with them. More than twice as many men, 31, were also killed.

Millane stands out because she was a tourist, young, white, middle class and too recently in the country to have had any serious form of relationship with the man accused of killing her. She had come halfway around the world on her OE, only to be killed. Many of us have our own children travelling the world in the opposite direction and can empathise with her and her stricken family.

The police officer heading the case choked up when talking to the media. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, offered Millane’s family an emotional apology for the fact that, somehow, New Zealand had failed to keep Grace safe. Candlelight vigils in her name were held around the country and flowers laid near where her body was found. People hung a banner at a roundabout in Titirangi, gateway to the Waitākeres, with a big heart on it and the words “Rest in Peace, Grace”.

I understand that occasionally the country will break into this sort of mass mourning, but in reality, little serious consideration is given or action taken to stop extreme violence against others.

Social media appears to have turned into a lynch mob of angry women and liberal men hunting anyone who makes a comment about the killing that can be twisted against them.

Can I call for a little less hysteria and that people open both eyes when talking about such violent acts?

In an opinion piece about Millane’s death, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Karanina Sumeo wrote that it “reminds us of the very real dangers so many women face in New Zealand”, listing figures on domestic violence. Yet Millane was not a domestic violence victim, but was killed a short time after she set foot in New Zealand, and the accused is a man she had only just met.

The commissioner makes the valuable point when talking about the deaths of women that, “We can do better, and we must.” I would extend that to include those 31 dead men as well.

This article was first published in the December 22, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.