First published on The Spinoff on 15 September 2016, part of its week-long coverage of the Mervyn Thompson Affair – the strange, powerful 1984 incident when six women abducted an Auckland university lecturer, chained him to a tree in Western Springs, and labelled him a rapist.
I think the six women who abducted Mervyn Thompson had a grand plan. As well as enacting vigilante justice on him for his alleged crime, I think they hoped to shock the country out of complacency about rape and sexism, and force a culture change. In light of a police and court system that responded inadequately to victims of sexual violence, and deeply ingrained sexism in New Zealand society, perhaps they convinced themselves that violence was the only rational response.
Thompson became a symbol, chosen because of his high-profile and respected status as a playwright and lecturer, to stand in for all men – or at least all rapists. It was a brutal invitation to see things from a victim’s perspective: men, imagine if this happened to you. It’s how many women feel, all the time.