post by Suzette Jackson
Trigger warning : rape
A close friend* of mine was raped recently. She called me immediately afterwards to be with her. There is no way to explain just how powerless I felt. I hugged her as she cried. I was there when the police came. They asked questions about her behaviour and her drinking the night before. I felt angered that this even came up as an important point. They took away bedding and underwear. Her boyfriend raged. He tried convincing her not to press charges. He was all for vigilante justice. I tried to be a voice of reason. I said I thought the police were better now, that the system was better now, and that she could get some resolution from the process.
Later, that same day, we went to the Greenlane sexual violence clinic where my friend was interviewed and examined. Two of us went with her. Two of her closest female friends. The staff members were lovely. They said a counsellor from HELP, an Auckland-based organisation that provides support to victims of sexual abuse, would be available. She wasn’t. Instead, my friend was offered phone support. I was astounded. What if my friend had been by herself? What if she’d been sitting alone in a sterile hospital room with the only support offered down a phone line? That is not right.
In the days following my friend decided to proceed with making a statement to the police. It took months. The police could only offer her interview times during normal business hours. This was difficult for my friend. She had just started a new job and didn’t feel comfortable telling her boss why she needed to take time off. Eventually an interview was scheduled and I went with her to the Henderson police station. This time two people from HELP were present. An advocate and someone learning the ropes. They were kind and informative. However, what they said did not give us much hope. It felt like they were saying ‘good on you for coming in to tell your story, but it isn’t likely to go anywhere’. That shouldn’t have been surprising. Statistics reveal that a staggering 85% of reported cases of rape, or sexual violence, on women over the age of 16 go unresolved in New Zealand.
That means they never get heard in court and the offender never gets prosecuted.
In monetary terms, it’s estimated that sexual violence costs our country $1.2 billion dollars a year . On average, the cost of each reported case of sexual violation adds up to $304,370 . I can see how. My friend had to find a new home. Along with her child, she could not bear to live in the house where she was raped. She couldn’t work. Her anxiety and depression escalated. Months later there are some days she can barely get out of bed. She needs intensive therapy.
And what of her rapist? She has heard that he has moved to Wellington. It seems life continues as normal for him. There is something fundamentally wrong happening here.
My friend said to me that after she was raped she lay there, too powerless and too scared to call out for help. She said she sat on her stairs for a long time, working up the courage to tell her boyfriend. She was scared he wouldn’t believe her. What kind of culture are we living in when a young woman is too frightened to call out, or to talk about her rape, in case she isn’t believed or supported? This is not a society I wish to belong to. It is, however a society, I want to help change. All of us have a responsibility to challenge sexual assault and harassment. While we may never stop rape that should be the aim. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have very few. However, as well as writing this blog for my university studies I also emailed it to the Minister of Justice, Jan Logie, who is focusing on domestic and sexual violence. As a trainee social worker this is my plea. Be brave.
Be bold. Radical change is needed because the status quo is not working.
*My friend gave her blessing to me writing about her story and my perceptions of the systems she engaged with
Roper, T., & Thompson, A. (2006). Estimating the costs of crime in New Zealand in 2003/04. Retrieved from The Treasury https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/wp/estimating-costs-crime-new-zealand-2003-04-html
Ministry of Women. (2018). Our work. Retrieved from http://women.govt.nz/about/our-work
Johnston, K., & Know, C. (2018, May 3). Unresolved: Why New Zealand rape victims are being left in limbo. The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12042963
HELP. (2018). About help. Retrieved from http://helpauckland.org.nz/about-help