Craig Young reflects on recent attacks on gay men in Christchurch using the hook-up app Grindr.

In Christchurch, a recent trial disclosed that a group of Christchurch teenagers have been using the gay/bi/MSM hookup app Grindr to target gay men. The teenagers used the app to lure local gay male users of the app to remote locations, where they assaulted the victims, and destroyed their mobiles, but foolishly recorded their violent behaviour on their own devices, rendering it easy to apprehend the youths once police witnessed the violent incidents, had victim impact statements to work on from the assaulted men, and used them to track down the offenders.
All have been sentenced to supervision and community service sentences. The youths apparently took inspiration from US social media video images of similar acts of homophobic violence in the United States. Inevitably, this incident leads LGBTQI+ communities back to questions about whether social media is effectively regulated in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
While LGBTQIA+ communities use social media as a means of communication with one another, it can also be abused, as was the case with the Christchurch/Otautahi mosque massacre in March 2019, which was aired on social media before public pressure led to it being removed, so as not to glorify the act of terrorism and mass murder.
Dame Jacinda Ardern and others have proposed that the Christchurch Call for tighter social media regulation to curtail such violent and antisocial behaviour should include anti-LGBTQ+ behaviour, which has led to predictable outbursts from the likes of Right to Life New Zealand and Family First. One is left to wonder what other violent role models played their role in these incidents. Media effects are a common scapegoat, but were violent and dysfunctional family backgrounds also involved? As yet, there is little further information about the perpetrators in this context, unlike the victims.
Three gay men came forward in Sam Sherwood’s New Zealand Herald (28 February) article on the Christchurch case, reporting traumatic aftermath such as fear of public places, fear of individuals dressed like the offenders, insomnia, depression and self-isolation, as well as the aforementioned damage to property. They are to be commended for doing so. LGBTQ+ New Zealanders have the right to walk the streets in safety and engage in confidential, safe and private consenting sexual relationships, without fear of abuse.
While some might think that the youths should have faced incarceration for their crime, it can be argued that this could expose young offenders to violent adult counterparts, who might further involve them in criminal networks and conduct. This solution encourages diversion from further criminal activity and behavioural reform. At least one of the offenders has recognised the error of his ways, which is a good start for a safer society.