On Monday there was good news for rape survivors and this blog was supposed to be about the success of our advocacy, and it is about that success, but today’s events have brought into stark focus the real-world importance of this issue as yet another girl battles for justice in court after her rape is filmed and posted on Facebook. While in court the defence counsel ask if she considers herself a “slut”. It’s enough to turn the stomach.
I was going to tell you how profoundly happy and grateful I am that one of our key requests from our petitions, our marches and our activism has been honoured. I am still happy and grateful but the seriousness of this issue must never be forgotten. There is a dire urgency by which these changes to our justice system are required, and we have a duty to each other to ensure changes are made when the time comes.
It is no joke the work we have done.
This weekend I helped organise a rally demanding changes that allow justice to be upheld. The key point of our demonstration was to draw attention to the fact that out of 100 rapes that occur in this country only 1 ever results in a conviction, leaving 99 people with no justice. Rape is illegal on paper but effectively legal by virtue of the fact that barely any rapes result in conviction. This sends a dangerous message to the community about rape. Our primary request was that the Law Commission review that was shut down prematurely by Judith Collins was been reopened again by Minister Amy Adams. I am personally overjoyed that Ms Adams has responded to what we asked for and I thank her greatly for recognition of our request.
After hearing this great news it should be time to rest and take stock, to feel proud of what we have achieved together. However, the review has been reopened, but that doesn’t mean that the changes recommended by the Commission will indeed be implemented, only that there is now a chance that they will.
I want to ask our government for more and two days ago I thought I would be resting on my haunches feeling happy about success but now I know I will be vigilant about holding the government accountable, and that is because of a girl who I don’t know, who is currently enduring what could be considered nothing but a living hell in New Plymouth.
I had thought it wasn’t possible for me to be angrier than I was about the Roast Busters debacle but defence counsel, Susan Hughes from New Plymouth has proven me wrong. Susan has shown just how urgently these changes are needed while another local girl suffers the shame and humiliation provided by the inept adversarial system we currently have.
Defence counsel, Susan Hughes QC asked the girl whether she described herself as a “slut”, to which she replied “yes”.
Ms Hughes also asked the girl if this complaint was about preserving her reputation.
The girl replied, “No it’s about fighting for what’s right.”
She told the court her reputation was already in tatters after the incident was filmed and placed on Facebook.
The girl also told the court during an exchange with the defence: “Now I know why people don’t come forward for this because it’s f**kin’ traumatic.”
To which Ms Hughes pointed to the accused and replied, “It’s not that fun sitting over there either.”
It’s bile inducing stuff. The fact that her rape was filmed and shared on Facebook and Hughes is suggesting that the hardship suffered by males being held accountable for their actions in the legal system is equal to the rape and “roasting” of this girl is more than I can stomach. You can read more about that here:
But Susan Hughes is just doing her job, and this is normal behaviour by people who do her job.
Personally I feel she is being dishonourable. However her role exists in an adversarial system. This is the system that asks rape survivors questions like “Would you describe yourself as a slut” and considers this a relevant question in a rape case. It is not relevant. A sexually promiscuous person still has full authority to decide exactly what happens with their own body. In my mind, a sexually promiscuous person is more likely to be comfortable with their choices and not feel there is any particular sense of shame to inspire a mythological “regret claim”.
Questions like that are part of the process of demoralising and undermining the testimony of rape survivors to get the accused off without charge; anything goes. This is one of many, many reasons why 90% of people who get raped do not bother to endure legal processes, because, it is deeply traumatic being treated like this. Remember this girl is only 18 and being asked if she’s a slut in an open court and having it published in the newspaper. That has to be one of the most revolting and humiliating things a person could expect to endure in life. That is the sort of thing that could drive a person to suicide. That’s the truth of it. Bearing in mind, cases can take up to three years to make it to court. That’s three years of this awful treatment. Those of us who “regret” having sex don’t put themselves through court. I’ve regretted sex before. Have you? You didn’t make a court case out of it, did you? And that’s because generally speaking people don’t, it’s just a myth made up by people who want to believe their friends – everyday people – would not rape.
One of the key changes that would be different in an inquisitorial system is that specially trained judges – who understand how to be mindful and sensitive of the trauma of rape – and the horrible social consequences of rape reporting, can conduct interviews, rather than pitting rape survivor against rapist in a public forum. This is still a fair and just system and so anyone fair and just should support these changes wholeheartedly. All of the requirements to determine if a person has or has not committed a crime are in place. It’s simply a different system and one we desperately need. Survivors would not be asked if they consider themselves to be “sluts”. They would know that being sexually promiscuous in no way impacts upon their right to decide exactly what happens with their own bodies and this would be honoured by new processes. They would have all of the support that they need every step of the way to talk about something that – if statistics are to be believed – nobody wants to talk about.
Right now, our country is in crisis.
Rape happens heaps, but the thing is it can be stopped. It’s something that happens at the community level and so restorative processes have to be at the community level, as do public awareness campaigns on consent, which is another thing we have asked for.
We want these campaigns carried out, to protect everyone in the community including people who have never had the clear communication that this kind of violation of others in social situations is not OK. That doesn’t just require changes in court, it means that justice processes have to be able to be operating at the community level just as domestic violence initiatives do. It’s about having counselling processes, restorative justice sessions, family, friends and community on board and involved in communicating to everyday rapists and to survivors. It means we have to stop thinking of rape as a fantastical thing that happens in dark alleyways and recognise that it’s something that happens in our homes and at normal social events and in workplaces. It’s something our friends have done and it needs to stop. When we are prepared to face the reality of rape that survivors have to face every day – that rape is usually carried out by someone known to the survivor – we can do something about it.
The reopening of the review is the result of our hard work, our advocacy and our participation on this issue backing up champion organisations like Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, Rape Prevention Education, TOAH-NNEST, and other anti-violence groups, such as White Ribbon. This has been community driven and together we motivated one particular key step toward stopping rape. I want you to know that your involvement and support matters, that being active, signing online petitions, sending emails, organising protests and rallies, writing letters to editors and also talking with those you know, all of this helps to bring about change through the force of people power.
I very much hope changes like this will be the start of reforms that mean the stories of the past stay in the past and that not another survivor has to endure a roasting by a rapist, nor a roasting in a court room. It’s just one step but we want to stop history from repeating and carve out better solutions and improve community safety for real. But I know that while we wait for these initiatives to come into place, there will be more people traumatised by the current system. Because of this it’s an issue of the sooner the better. We need changes made under urgency.
I wanted to relax and be happy about this gain – this vital step – but we cannot relax on this issue. We have an obligation to the 33% of New Zealand women and 15% of men who have experienced sexual violence and been mostly silent. We have an obligation to those who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, such as sex workers and transgender people, or on behalf of those who are voiceless, such as children, migrants and the elderly. We have to be vigilant in getting the government to uphold the law and honour the duty that they have to us. Sexual violence has to end and so does the archaic system that fails to make court anything any reasonable person could be expected to endure.
On behalf of this 18 year old girl and of every rape survivor, irrespective of gender we need to be hyper vigilant and we will; in solidarity.