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Prostitution, Sexual Violence and the Police: Breaking My Silence (Trigger warning: Sexual assault & rape)

By   /  April 30, 2015  /  29 Comments

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I know there will be some who will stoop low enough to attack me for writing this, but I won’t let fear prevent me from speaking out anymore. I am fortunate enough to have a voice, and I need to use it, because I know that aspects of my experience with the police have also happened to many other sex workers and sexual assault survivors.

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(Trigger warning: Sexual assault & rape)

 

People who follow my work know that I focus on humanising sex workers, supporting survivors of sexual violence and fighting rape culture. I often blog on these issues, and have hinted at why. But while Louise Nicholas, the Roast Busters, Tania Billingsley and (too many) other cases went public, I sat here feeling more and more like a hypocrite. I wasn’t silent – I did voice support – but I didn’t have the guts to explain why I care about this so deeply. Today, I do. Enough is enough. I can’t bear to continue hiding my own past on an issue that matters so much to me, to sex workers, and all survivors of sexual violence. Too many of us have already been denied justice.

When we go to the NZ Police to lay a complaint, we do and should expect it to be taken seriously. We should expect that we would have some control over what happens next. Police information for victims tells us we do. But sadly, for too many of us, we lose our rights, our power, our faith and our autonomy the minute we walk in the door. I’m one of those statistics.

I know there will be some who will stoop low enough to attack me for writing this, but I won’t let fear prevent me from speaking out anymore. I am fortunate enough to have a voice, and I need to use it, because I know that aspects of my experience with the police have also happened to many other sex workers and sexual assault survivors. It is too important that you know you are not alone – and that you deserved justice, like I did.

At 5am on December 16th 2007 – a Sunday morning, I was raped. I was a sex worker, and he was my client.

I had worked for a parlour/escort service for 3 months. I was briefly a sex worker when I was younger, but in the years between I lived a normal life. I was educated and travelled, a mum, a community volunteer and events manager. But my partner had suddenly lost his job, we had a lot of debt we suddenly couldn’t repay, and it was a way to make a lot of money, quickly. I felt safer this time – some of my political heroines’ work on the Prostitution Reform Act gave sex workers legitimacy, legal status and human rights.

Oh if only the NZ Police upheld those rights.

My rapist was drunk after a night on the town. He had spotted me in the hall, was abusive to the other girls and demanded me, but I had been busy. I didn’t want a bar of him, but there was a culture of fear and intimidation at the parlour and I felt I could not say no. Besides, he was pretty wasted. Odds were he’d fall asleep and I could turf him out.

It was not to be. Instead he turned violent, and I was raped repeatedly. Why didn’t I scream, or run out, some of you will ask? Rock music was turned up loud, and getting away is hard to do with a 6ft4 guy pinning you down and smothering you.

When I could get away, I did. I collected all the evidence and put it in a rubbish bag in my storage area. I told my boss – who didn’t take me seriously – ordering me back into the room with him. Shaking like a leaf, I managed to kick him out, and went home.

I don’t remember Sunday day – I was an automaton. Apparently we went to a friends’ house. Apparently I was behaving bizarrely enough for those friends to mention their concerns to my partner, who was also worried. That night I swallowed a bottle of pills and wrote notes to my family and friends.

When I woke up on Monday morning, everything was crystal clear, and I was distraught and hysterical. I told my partner what had happened. He was furious and went to call my boss and the police. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet but I wasn’t ready for that. I flew at him to grab his phone out of his hand. He grabbed me by the arm to restrain me. That just triggered me more. A complete mess and totally lost, I left the house.

I turned up at work eventually, distressed, and talked with my boss. They encouraged me to go to the police. So later that day, I did, with 2 friends for support. I had a bag of all the evidence the police would need stashed at the parlour, I had a witness to my rapist’s abusive behaviour before and after the rape, and to the state I was in afterwards. I hadn’t had a shower, I had injuries. I had his name, nationality, workplace and contact details.

An open and shut case, yes? Sadly, no.

When I got to the police station, they called down a female police officer. This is good, we said to each other. I told her how it happened. She immediately lost interest. I told her I had injuries. She didn’t care. I asked her for a rape kit. She said there was no point. I asked her to please take me to the hospital. She refused. Despite my history in advocacy I was so traumatised that I believed her. She kept repeating that she could do nothing, that I was a hooker so there was ‘no point’.

She then noticed a bruise on my arm from my partner restraining me (My genetic disorder causes easy bruising) and asked me what happened. I told her about our fight. The worst mistake I’ve ever made. She took a complaint about that, saying that she would arrest him with or without my help – because it was Christmas and they had a zero-tolerance policy for family violence. I couldn’t believe this was happening. This was not why I came to the police, and my partner did not intend to hurt me.

If only they had a universal zero tolerance policy for rape.

I kept asking why they wouldn’t take my rape complaint. She went out and spoke to a detective, who came in and asked a few questions. He took down scanty details, and patronisingly explained to me that he did not investigate rape complaints by prostitutes as there was no point due to the ‘he said she said’ nature of them and the fact that money was involved. He asked me (sobbing hysterically) if I was happy if he just ‘gave the guy a warning’. The police complaint reads ‘victim has said she is happy with this’. I certainly wasn’t. When we were finished at the station, they would only take me back to the parlour – where I was raped only 36 hours earlier.

I rang my partner to tell him what happened. He completely broke down and made threats to the police and his own life. The detective repeatedly rang me, trying to find him. The last phone call was at 1am, and I could hear men talking about guns and the sound of guns being put together. I asked him what they were doing, and he told me the AOS were heading out to arrest him. I collapsed in a heap on the floor, pleading with him not to shoot my partner. All I wanted was my rape complaint investigated, for god’s sake – why wouldn’t they listen?

He cooperated fully with the AOS at 2am, and was charged with male assaults female. Repeated calls to the police begging them to drop that charge and arrest my rapist were fruitless.

When his court case came up, I was asked to write a victim impact statement. Against the advice of the victim advisor – who admired my guts but expected the judge to react badly – I wrote the judge a letter explaining what really happened and asking why this was the result. Why did my rape mean nothing to the police? Why wouldn’t they organise a rape kit and make sure I saw a doctor? I felt too ashamed to go on my own. Why is the guy who actually hurt me getting away with a warning (which I later found out the detective never did) and my partner facing a conviction that could ruin his reputation instead? I wanted to lay a rape complaint. Not have my partner arrested.

The judge called a recess to investigate my statement. Half an hour later, he was back. He asked me to swear in open court that this was correct. I did. He then turned and ordered the police to open a rape investigation, lambasted them and discharged my partner without conviction. Victory. One of the most empowering moments of my life – but one that never, EVER needed to happen.

The police did open a case, and the detective who was assigned to my case was beyond marvellous. He was kind, gentle, sincere – everything I wanted and expected when I arrived at the police station – but now it was 4 months too late. The parlour boss had realised what this could do to their business and freaked out. They stole and destroyed the bag of evidence. They told everyone that I made the whole thing up. My witness dropped off the radar due to being mistreated herself. Of course there was no rape kit, because they wouldn’t take me to do one. And the rapist denied it all.

It had indeed turned into he said she said. After running the evidence past his superiors, I was called into the police station and told that while he believed me, the opportunity to gather evidence was long gone and there wasn’t enough to proceed. And that he was very sorry that the police had not acted immediately. But that at least my rapists DNA was on record from when he was interviewed so if he attacked again, it was in the system.

That small comfort didn’t last long. A year later my rapist moved to Australia. Unfortunately the DNA of unsolved sex crime suspects in NZ is not shared with the Australian police, and he could have potentially gone on to rape other women there with a clean history.

Gutted.

The anger generated by this news galvanised me into action. In June 2009, after remaking contact with the witness – who remembered many things about that night and that man – including details I had forgotten, I decided to go to the NZ Prostitutes Collective for help. I gathered all the evidence I had, wrote everything up, and went to their local outreach worker. She was amazing. She got on the phone to NZPC head Catherine Healy – who rang me back – half way to Africa, and helped me find a lawyer to take an IPCA complaint against the police. Their support was incredible. I chose a staunch, female lawyer who agreed that I had a strong case, we got everything we could from the police and lodged a complaint. It was an exhausting but empowering experience. I did not want to see another woman go through this, period.

But the wheels of justice against injustice turn slowly. Very slowly. The IPCA rang me periodically, checking details and asking for reports the police should have supplied them with that I didn’t have. And this is the point where I came to a crossroads and made a decision that still causes me moments of sobbing guilt when cases hit the news. In these moments, I feel like I have let other survivors down by not carrying on with it and exposing the police – because it is still happening, and maybe I could have helped change their ways.

But I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to end feeling like a victim, and become a survivor and advocate. 3 years had gone by since the rape. I graduated with a journalism degree after 2 years of analysing media coverage of the Louise Nicholas trial and other high profile cases. I realised that my IPCA complaint, even if upheld, may make little to no difference.

I joined the Greens, had the opportunity to create positive social change, and be a spokesperson and candidate unafraid to tackle the issues of sex work and sexual violence. I became involved in advocacy groups. I had a job I loved, and amazing friends. I had grown my wings, gained my voice and was heard – and the random calls and updates from the IPCA pushed me back into the past and a PTSD state for days.

This process wasn’t helping me heal anymore, it was holding me back. So after much consideration, I decided to drop my complaint. In the ensuing years many IPCA reports have come out on police management of sexual violence complaints. None of them have been glowing towards the police. I have no doubt mine wouldn’t have been either.

I don’t carry an unhealthy grudge against the police. After this happened, I spent a couple of years happily working alongside the police as a security guard. I don’t go around disrespecting the police to anyone who will listen, and I always encourage survivors to report to the police if that’s what they want to do. I applaud Louise Nicholas’s outstanding work with police recruits to change the way survivors are treated. If I were her, I don’t know that I would have the forgiveness and composure.

To the women I cry for when they go public, and to the women who have kept their stories private, I am sorry that I did not continue with my complaint and expose certain police officers for their mismanagement and attitude towards women, and in particular sex workers. I was disillusioned by the lack of independence the IPCA really has from the police, and the lack of meaningful change their reports influenced. I felt that I could make a bigger difference by focusing on advocacy, policy and activism.

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The NZ Police now promise that every person who contacts them to talk about a sexual violence incident will be taken seriously. I want to believe that, but first I need to see it. My experience happened as the Bazley Report came out, with a list of recommendations which gave me hope that experiences like mine would become regretted history. Yet poor treatment of victims is still happening 8 years on, to woman  after woman after woman  – and no doubt men too.

The IPCA reports and police apologies still keep coming. There has been a rise in reports of sexual violence, but no corresponding rise in conviction rates. Cases of ineptitude hit the news with sickening regularity – which I know are the tip of the iceberg, as I often talk to other activists and survivors who still see or are victims of poor police work. While progress may be occurring in certain areas and with newer recruits, some of the old school officers seem to be irreparably misogynistic with little motivation to help victims of sexual violence and assaults when they come from certain sectors of society. That’s not ok. They need to provide every survivor of sexual violence with the support and justice they deserve.

It shouldn’t matter if you are a sex worker, a homeless person, struggling with mental illness, got drunk at a party, flirted with the guy, posted sexy pics online, wore a short skirt, were out at 4am, got hurt by a woman, a famous guy or their son, walked home alone, have been assaulted before, have a conviction, had consensual sex with them before, are on a benefit, disabled, transgender, male, queer – NONE of that should matter to the NZ Police.

We need to keep demanding better from our police and justice system. Every sexual assault traumatises its victim and empowers the offender. We need to shift our attitude from ‘don’t get raped’ to ‘don’t rape’. It is never the victim’s fault, ever. The responsibility belongs to the rapist, and the rapist alone.

We now have the 3rd highest  sexual assault rate in the world. Yet only an estimated 1% of all sexual violence survivors and 13% of those who report to the police get to see their attacker face consequences for their actions. That’s a lot of survivors who deserve justice, but the vast majority of us never get it. We’ve got to turn this around, and until the police take every complaint seriously, it’s not going to happen.

 

 

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About the author

Rachael Goldsmith (B.App.Med.Arts – Journalism, Nat.Dip – Human Resources, Nat.Cert – Social Services) is a writer & social justice activist from Invercargill, Southland.

29 Comments

  1. David Harcourt says:

    Rachel, I am so utterly sorry that this happened to you . What can I say, except that you’ve presented a very sobering story and one that I won’t forget in a hurry.

    I have a couple of cop friends and I’ll be making damn sure they read this.

    You are a very courageous woman and I hope my daughter has your courage when she gets older.

  2. Liberty4NZ says:

    A very courageous, well written article Rachel. I’m sorry this happened to you. It is a testament to your strength of character that you have survived with your sense of humanity intact and with this strength, help others.

  3. Andykatib says:

    Thanks for speaking up. A rape is a rape no matter who the victim or perpetrator is.

  4. Nick says:

    I don’t know what materials Louse Nicholas has to work with in trying to work to change police attitudes, but your testimony is something police and everyone else working in the area needs to read, internalize and (even) understand.

  5. I salute you, Rachael

  6. Lara says:

    A powerful and well written piece Rachel. I commend your bravery.

    From one survivor to another, HUGE hugs and thanks.

  7. freedom says:

    These simple words might express the admiration and respect I have for your strength your resilience and your continued efforts to help others, but it is the actions taken by all who know, and learn, from yours and others’ experiences that we must believe will bring a real and long overdue change. Kia kaha.

  8. Psycho Milt says:

    Thanks for having the courage to write this. I just wish there was some basis for believing NZ police officers wouldn’t behave like that.

  9. Janice says:

    My God. It beggars belief that a woman can walk into a police station, speak to a female officer, and not be given a rape kit. You’re very strong. Life has enough hard stuff without going through the kind of dismissal that could drive a person completely out of their mind. What you’ve described is an absolute nightmare to me. I’m just stunned by it. I remember reading an article a few years ago, a small quote from the local police officer – a woman – in a small rural community popular with tourists in summer time. She said they had “the odd ditz around” in summer, but things were usually all good, or something like that. I thought, who’s going to complain to you?
    Cannot believe (figure of speech) you weren’t examined. It’s just too awful.

  10. LudditeJourno says:

    Thanks Rachael. This is horrific, and should not happen to anyone, ever. Speaking truth to power is the only way we can change how appalling our criminal justice system is now for survivors of sexual violence. Much respect and aroha for your bravery.

  11. Janice says:

    I think another interesting thing here is “female testimony”. It’s amazing what a man’s word will do for you if you’re in a position of having to convince someone “impartial” that something happened. Female testimony seems to be seen as prone to some kind of clouding or emotionality that makes it inherently suspect.
    A trial that really disturbed me was the “unimog” trial, I think it was last year. I was heartily shocked by that verdict. The not guilty verdict was basically stating that she’d just kind of got it all mixed up in her head. I would call that an appalling travesty of justice.

  12. Your strength and courage gives hope to others, Rachel…

    Do not despair that your dropped your IPCA complaint. You have not given up, your fight has simply taken a different road.

    Kia kaha.

  13. A says:

    Rachael, thank you for writing this.

    Apart from the absolute horror of what you have been through and how police treated you, it breaks my heart that you feel the need to apologise to other survivors.

    I am one of those who has kept my experience private. I did not go to the police for many reasons, including not believing I had enough proof, thinking I wouldn’t be believed, panicking that friends and family would find out before I’d had the chance to come to terms with any of it (it took years and years), and that I literally wouldn’t be able to live through what might lie ahead.

    I’ve often questioned whether keeping quiet is a disservice both to those who have gone through the same thing and, in the end, to myself. I wonder whether I owe it to others to speak out. I carry guilt for my silence, and you (seem to) carry guilt for not beating a cruel system.

    I just cannot do what you are doing. I am sorry – to you, and to all – for that. Those who feel they want to or are able fight for change, this country needs you.

    As Frank said, you’re continuing your fight, just in another way, and that’s a lot to be proud of. Huge kudos to you for your strength and bravery, and as someone else said, your humanity. Know you are appreciated and valued, and I hope that telling your story gives you strength, empowerment and freedom.

    • Lara says:

      I’ll join you in this.

      I never went to police either. The first time I was so young, a child, how does a child defy parents and go to police? Generally they don’t.

      The second time age 21 the circumstances were such that I KNEW police (or indeed most people) would blame me, I wouldn’t be taken seriously, and my trauma and post traumatic stress were so great I couldn’t even think straight.

      Survivors have the responsibility to THEMSELVES. ONLY.

      If the system and wider society took the voices of women seriously (we’re called crazy and too emotional, our voices are suspect) then perhaps our complaints of rape and sexual abuse when we take them to police would be treated with respect. But they are not. While our society is failing women no survivor ever has the responsibility to undergo further abuse at the hands of police. Because being raped and then having police refuse to investigate perpetuates the distress of survivors, it’s abusive.

      So Rachel, no need to apologise. Your first commitment is to yourself. Look after yourself first so that you’re strong enough to try and change the system.

  14. Dave Head says:

    A female relative was raped not once but twice. Back in those days most women would not go to the Police- because I was one of them. No training on sexual crimes was given. While I worked with some great people -others were little more than morons. So much so I refuse to go on patrol with one. My inability to conform with the Stations culture drove me away after 20 months service. But at least one of the rapists who attacked my relative got a form of non-conventional justice!

    I also witnesses the harassment some ‘alternative people’ & sex workers got from ‘some’ of my colleagues.The younger Cops were more accepting of these people-who only came out at night in the main. I actually got to know a few and found them delightful but that was not appreciated by some I worked with.

    I am glad you spoke up Rachel with courage. Kia Kaha!

  15. Andrea says:

    Are there rape crisis centres for boys and men? For the homeless and LGBT community?

    It’s bad enough being scorned and scathed as a woman at the police station or medical centre; but – if I was a boy…

    Just reading about kids that have been abused, and the self-hating silence they carry. ‘No one will believe me’. Or civilians in conflict areas. The shame and harms.

    What have we got?

    • Lara says:

      I’m pretty sure rape crisis has only one criteria. That you need their help. Pretty sure they offer support to boys, men, and LBGT people.

  16. Mandy Hager says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  17. […] wins against the rapists of sex workers in New Zealand were hard fought for and a long time in coming, as Rachael Goldsmith […]

  18. Z says:

    Thanks for giving a voice to the issue. I wish I could get my complaint properly investigated but they say it is closed.

    I think I will eventually find evidence to support my case so I hope to have it reopened.

  19. Kevin says:

    Why wasn’t the parlour ever prosecuted? Obviously they cared more about making a profit than the welfare of their employees. The drunk bastard should have been turfed out immediately when he got abusive to the girls. Even a bar would have thrown him out right away.

  20. Blake says:

    Thanks Rachael – for sharing your experience and I am so sorry you had to go through this. Hope you have all the ongoing loving support you need and want. Your sharing has opened up more sharing ! a good thing.

    ” When woman lose touch with their real selves, the harmony of the world
    ceases to exist and destruction sets in. It is therefore crucial that every woman, everywhere, make every effort to re-discover their fundamental nature, for only then can we save this world.” Ammachi

    Our “inner knowing” nature, whether we are women or men, is strong and standing up to abuse and feeling free to speak out is so important and I applaud you for being bold. It is one of my goals to do whatever I can to encourage the increased funding of centers that help those who have been abused and need support. Our police need to be better trained to deal with more compassion and knowledge with rape victims and any abusive victims – that is obvious.

    When we have an “out of touch” Prime Minister who would rather fund guns and war and push horrific trade agreements, instead of properly funding crisis centers and specialized training for those who work in this field, then we all need to speak out, and write and sign petitions and support those who have the guts to come forth and speak out.

  21. lita emery says:

    Thank you for speaking out so many sex workers get raped and dont even feel validated enough to make complaints its disgusting that just because u offer a ,sex service your not worthy of being treated with respect. The police have a,lot to learn if the police wont respect us how are the public and clients meant to see that we are every bit as worthy as everybody else. I like you have suppirted from behind a shielded anomnimity but reading your story today i speak out as a at times sex,wrker woman mother lover friend human being. Thank you for speaking out and giving me the strength to be proud publicy of wbo i am what ive had to do and who i am because of it and proud of the people ive helped heal through doing it. Im lucky to not ever have being raped in work but i was raped in my childhood gratefully i know one of my rapists is now dead. The others i dont really remember but i remain to this day with the residue of my abuse it never leaves you but you do overcome to own it rather than letting it own you. Blessed be to all sex workers go for gold girls head high shoulders back walk tall new zealand.

  22. Kate Davis says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. I’m so sorry it happened and that these situations continue to occur. We knew in 2003 that decriminalisation did not mean de-stigmatisation. It will be a long hard road but every person who challenges it and speaks out is part of that journey.

    As I was reading the blog I was shouting at the screen ‘ring nzpc!’ I’m glad you finally did. The ChCh branch are amazing women, as is Catherine.

    Protecting and excusing rape culture in NZ is an ongoing issue. We all need to tell our stories, to speak, to blog and to post. Every event. Every comment. Every attitude.

  23. Dear Rachael,

    There is no need to feel ashamed; you are very brave in sharing your story. Sharing your story is part of your healing journey. It is also appropriate given the attitudes towards victims in the current political climate.

    I am really sorry that you did not get the justice that you deserved, even an apology from the perpetrator. It must have been extremely difficult for you being dismissed by the police. A shock – since we are conditioned to naturally assumed that they will follow process. On the other hand, it was lovely to ascertain that you had a partner who genuinely loved and cared about you. You were very lucky to have his support at the time.

    Although this was the past, right now you are in a position to advocate for the rights of sex workers and other victims. This experience gives you experience x

    Further comment: Acknowledgement of male victims needs to also be addressed in sexual violence articles.

    • Thank you. Just note that I was very careful to include men twice, and transgender once in the blog. I am acutely aware of sexual abuse and assault against both men and trans people.

  24. BF says:

    A question to the more legal-minded minds among your readers may be able to answer …..

    But first, congratulations to you Rachel on your courage in following through with your story. I read it with a heavy heart as it is a story I fear could have been told many times over.

    My question: why would it be that “a very prominent New Zealander”, as the media have called him many times, and who first came to the attention of the police – and soon after, as I understand it, the courts – in Northland last year; on what basis would his court appearance for his alleged illegal activities not happen until June 2016? That is the date reported in the press recently. Why such an enormous length of time from indictment to hearing? Surely the courts are not that much behind in their hearings?
    I ask this in the comment section of this story for reasons that may be obvious to anyone else interested in this case.
    Does anyone have an answer?

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