Real Rape Real Justice

December 1, 2011

I heard an interview on Radio NZ this morning with the  Elisabeth McDonald and Yvette Tinsley about the book they have just coauthored called “From “Real Rape” to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand”. You can read about the book here.

Basically the book makes recommendations for changes to the justice system so that survivors of rape/sexual abuse/assault who go through the legal process would get greater satisfaction from the process. Interestingly, they pointed out that achieving a prosecution isn’t always the main goal for complainants. It could be about acknowledging the harm done, seeking treatment for the offender or getting assurance that the abuse will end.  First *duh-I-should-have-known-that-moment*. Of course, meaningful justice for a survivor doesn’t equal prosecution.

It was pointed out that due to the fact that rape is more often perpetuated by people known to the surivivor (family and friends) the maximum penalty of 20 years for a guilty verdict could act as a deterrent BOTH to the survivor AND the perpetrator. The survivor may not want to see their father/ex-partner/etc to go to jail for 20 years. Second *duh-moment*. I’ve heard myself say things like ‘throw the book at the bastard!’ when hearing about perpetrators of sexual violence and this was the first time I had thought about how a guilty verdict might inflict further damage to the survivors life. I hadn’t thought that the potentially long prison sentence might act as a deterrent for survivors seeking justice. (Roughly only 10% of survivors report these crimes and only about half of those make it to court.)

The potential lengthy prison sentence apparently is also a deterrent for perpetrators to plead guilty. The authours stated that if the outcome of a guilty verdict was restorative justice or treatment, it is possible that more perpetrators would own up to their crime and take accountability for their actions. This feels hard for me to believe but I think that this is because I’ve maintained an image of perpetrators in my head which is quite black and white. This was *duh moment* three. Not all perpetrators feel zero remorse or are completely unwilling to accept responsibility or seek help to change.

They also suggest (but not quite recommended) that it might be better lose the jury (adversarial) and instead rely on specially trained judges (inquisitorial) with (maybe) some lay person input. This is due to the pervasiveness of rape mythology which still permeates our society. People still largely think rape/sexual abuse/assault is done by strangers. Now I’m no law expert but to me this seems like a HUGE change to a system that has been in place for literally centuries. There might be other situations which depart from the jury system but I don’t know about them.

But I’m comfortable with changing the old system. I would like to think that as wisdom grows we can change traditions, rituals and laws which create damage. And the current legal process is damaging to survivors of rape who seek justice. The authors pointed out that if community level education was in place then over the long term those myths might go away, but until then (and these are my own words) we can’t trust juries to reach a fair verdict. Let’s repeat that. Sometimes we can’t trust juries to reach a fair verdict due to pervasive and incorrect beliefs. Wow, when else might this be true??

If community education is a formal recommendation (and I’m not sure it was) I would be interested to who they recommend should pay for it and who should deliver it? It’s all very well to say we need more community education but this will not become a reality until enough secure and reliable funding is provided to experts who can deliver this community education.

There were other bits in the conversation which were interesting, including a discussion about establishing consent and criminal liability but I wouldn’t be able to do the analysis justice.

The next steps are that the law commission will respond to the research and do some public consultation. Let’s keep an eye on this, it’s an opportunity to make a real difference to a difficult process which stops survivors (and perpetrators) from seeking resolution and justice through our legal system.


I’m sure some more seasoned bloggers will pick up on this story and I’ll link to them here when they do.


a gendered war

September 24, 2011

Today I co-presented to a small group of young(er) woman who are the administrators of the Wellington Young Feminist Collective. (Check them out on tumblr and facebook). My co-presented was Natalie the Manager of Wellington Rape Crisis where I sit on the Governance Group. We had been asked to talk about how to support a survivor of rape and sexual violence and discuss ways of dealing with disclosures.

Because apparently, they’ve had to deal with this a lot. I mean a lot.

There is this thing that happens when women start creating spaces where we can talk about the hard stuff. We start talking about it. We start listening, sharing, listening and we cry together, get angry together and sometimes, like this group and many others, we get political together.

I love the good men in my life, I really do. But I feel a kinship and solidarity with women that men may never understand. That feeling of kinship comes from a deep unspoken knowing that on some level, many of us have been injured, many of us are angry and many of us feel like we are in some kind of war. A gendered war*. One where the fact that we are women means we start out with a target on our backs and empty ammo cartridges. It’s not a fair fight.

This next paragraph was supposed to be positive and optimistic about how much progress we’ve made but I keep thinking about the fights we are still fighting on so many different fronts. We are still battling for full and undisturbed rights over our reproductive health, body image related problems are getting worse, rates of violence are still terrible and not a week goes by where I’m not outraged by some disrespectful and degrading headline in the news.

Yes, great strides have been made, I just hope in ten, twenty years time we can claim even more successes.


*Just want to point out that men are abused too, in shockingly high rates. I mean that overall, on top of sexual violence there are many additional problems faced by women, which men don’t face, or face much less.

Children at Slutwalk?

June 25, 2011

I went to Slutwalk Wellington today. Loads of others will now doubt be blogging about the event, it’s message, how it went and what it set out to achieve. I wanted to talk about my experience today and specifically, the fact that I brought my almost-five-year old to the protest.

I thought about it long and hard and discussed it with my partner and we made the decision jointly. I asked myself why I wanted to bring her. What was my honest motivation? On one had I wanted to help expand the message of Slutwalk to include the obvious but not overtly obvious point that Rape affects children. It affects them when they are survivors and it affects them when their family members, friends and neighbours are survivors. That made me wonder if perhaps I was using Anabelle to send a message, and considering she couldn’t really give her informed consent to this I questioned myself if this was the best motive.

I tried to identify the potential questions she would ask me. Perhaps I was shattering her innocence by instigating these conversations with her at this age. But for many girls and boys this innocence is a luxury and I would rather that she was exposed to these ideas through me in an environment of strength and protest than as a victim.

I worried that she might get scared, but thankfully, in New Zealand violence at protests is relatively uncommon. I don’t think I saw any obvious law-enforcement there today. I knew this would be a low-probability risk.

In the end I knew I wanted to bring her because we have a right to have families represented at protests. I wanted her to learn that sometimes we have to make a loud noise for what we believe in with groups of others. That marching with others who believe the same thing you do is a powerful and empowering experience.

So I let her decide. I explained that I was going to the protest because it doesn’t matter what we wear, no-one is allowed to hurt us. She got it. ‘We’re not allowed to hurt people’ she said, confirming her comprehension. So I asked her, what would you say if someone said, ‘don’t wear short skirts because it might make someone hurt you’. I would say ‘no’ she said with a tone of c’mon-surely-everyone-knows-that’s-ridiculous-like-duh voice.

So we went.

She was great. I made sure we went to the toilets first, I had plenty of snacks and checked in with her before, during and after the march. She walked when I asked her to and despite occasionally complaining it was too loud and being a bit bored during the speeches she was fabulous.

My favourite moment was when following shouts of ‘2 – 4 – 6 – 8, there is no excuse for rape’ and ‘what do we want? No rape! When do we want it? Now!’ She turned to me and said; ‘Mum, who’s Ray?’