I want to talk about this Hell Pizza and Rape Crisis Wellington situation from a different angle here.
1) What Hell did was shitty and wrong and contributed to normalising sexual assault and rape culture in the world.
2) Their initial apology was a load of crap. Apologising ‘to those offended’ is a backhanded apology and implies that people should not have been offended in the first place. Also sexual assault is sexual assault and interpreting it “in the spirit of a prank among mates” is unacceptable. In the words of Melissa McEwan, “I’m not offended, I’m contemptuous.”
3) Publicly stating that they would fund Rape Crisis Wellington without first speaking to them was also a shitty thing to do.
4) Rape crisis Wellington should not have to be in a position where they have to accept donations from people who help to reinforce the cultural forces that rape crisis aims to circumvent.
The second unreserved apology was in my opinion a step up:
“We unreservedly apologise for this comment and have taken steps to stop it from reoccurring. Sexual assault is no joke and we would like to use the massive level of discussion on this to highlight the need of Wellington Rape Crisis.”
In the end Hell Pizza has agreed to donate $10000 to rape crisis and match any donations that rape crisis manages to secure on its own. A condition of this donation was that hell pizza had to pay for their executives and managers to attend sexual violence
awareness and ethical bystander training provided by the Wellington sexual abuse network, of which rape crisis is a member. This was a good way of turning what is probably an empty PR gesture into something that may have a positive impact on the community at large.
Leaving Hell Pizza out of it for a moment I would like to consider the value of apology and reparation. I believe that as we are human beings we are all bound to fuck up in both small and large ways over time. It is how respond to being called out rather than the fucking up itself that to me signals the moral fibre of the person (or organsation) at hand. A real apology, and an attempt to redress the harm that has been done are are valuable in my mind. They are things that we should encourage in society.
This obviously different from an empty gesture made for damage control, which most formal public apologies along the veins of “I am sorry for the offense I have caused but not for the words or actions that caused them” usually are.
I suppose it is nearly impossible to determine when an apology is sincere. At the very least however, acknowledging that harm has been caused and that this harm is real contributes to the public good. Making a concrete reparation in addition to an apology is also a requirement of decency when your actions cause harm. I don’t believe that people or organisations should be given cookies for these acts, as they are simply doing the decent thing, but I think we should acknowledge that it has been done.
As a society we have a real problem with moving forward after a wrong has been committed. This is not to say that on an individual level one should be obligated to forgive people who have wronged them. I am talking about on a structural level. For example we have no real way of socialising people who have committed crimes back into the community/wider society after they have served their time for the crime they have committed. Instead people who have been convicted of crimes are forever marginalised (unless they had masses of privilege to begin with) and never fully accepted as contributing members of society, which some schools of thought argue relates to recidivism of offending.
I am not claiming the Hell Pizza issue is analogous, it has simply made me think about apologies and reparations more generally. At the end of the day, the situation resolved itself with the best possible outcome. I have a strong hope that due to this incident, Hell Pizza will no longer celebrate rape culture using its public fora.