Survivor experiences of the criminal justice system

****Content warning for sexual violence, rape, criminal justice system, victim blaming, racism****

There is a lot going on in colleges in the United States at present, with many feminists campaigning around sexual and dating violence on campus including the announcement of a new initiative to increase federal funding for the Department of Education to address the high rates of sexual assault on colleges campuses. In this blog from Wagatwe at Feministing she speaks about the way this initiative and the survivors who are supporting it are derailed by discussions of why survivors don’t report to the police and utilise the criminal justice system.

As a crisis worker and survivor advocate, I have spoken to many survivors who face huge amounts of pressure and scrutiny from partners, friends families and others about needing to report what happened to them to the police in order to ‘stop’ the same thing happening to other women. Many of these women don’t want to report their rapes, but are made to feel responsible for the actions of perpetrators and their crimes. Similarly, many of them do report the assaults to their schools, university’s, halls of residence, work places, doctors, or places of care and are faced with disbelief, told there is ‘nothing anyone can do’ or sometimes charged and investigated for making false allegations (a very rare occurrence).

I am not suggesting that women don’t use the criminal justice system, many women utilize the justice system and are entitled to have their day in court regardless of the outcome. What I am interested in, is this notion of the criminal justice system as the only way that survivors can seek justice and the way this ignores how survivors view their justice needs and also shuts down valid and alternative methods of seeking justice such as through Universities or through indigenous models that don’t align to western concepts of retribution and punishment. For my post grad thesis I wrote about survivors views of procedural, retributive and restorative justice and how these would better align with a host of reforms which were suggested to the New Zealand criminal justice system (which, unfortunately were never adopted).

As a diverse group of people, survivors have very mixed ideas about what justice means to them. Some wish for retribution or punitive
consequences for offenders and report having vengeful and/or violent feelings towards offenders . One New Zealand survivor notes:

His mother pleaded with me not to go through with the charge. She said if he went back to jail it would be the finish of him and that it would be the end of her. I felt sorry for her-but then he did it didn’t he? I didn’t see why he should just get away with it; after all it’s me that has to live with it.

However, a study by Doob and Sprott (1997)  found that victim/survivors of sexual violence are less supportive of extremely punitive justice systems than those who have not been affected by similar crimes.

Exposure, rather than retribution, was the most often cited reason for pursuing cases in the literature I looked at. Exposure was considered important as it served to ensure the safety of the individual survivor but also the safety of others. The intention was to prevent further crimes, rather than punish the offender for the crimes they had already committed. One victim/survivor in Herman’s (2005) study initiated civil action after the prosecutor decided not to pursue her case.

She explained, “I wanted him to go to court, money wasn’t the issue. I wanted him embarrassed. He was going to have to tell his family. He wanted to sign a confidentiality agreement; I said no of course I’m going to tell people about it’” (p.594).

This resonates with some victim/survivors in the study by Barrington et al. (1983) who felt that prison was the only available option, but this was not considered a satisfactory solution in the long term as it would not modify the offender’s behaviour.

One victim/survivor of gang rape said: “I am glad they’re in prison because another girl is safe while they’re away, but prison is not going to do them any good”

A small number of victim/survivors felt that while the criminal justice system should play a role in facilitating or producing justice for them and other victim/survivors, nothing would ever undo their experience or totally compensate them for the wrongdoing. A victim/survivor of Malcolm Rewa from Jordan’s (2008) study commented on the inadequacy of the retributive nature of the justice system:

Hearing the word guilty or not guilty is not going to take away what happened to you… we are paying for him to have three meals a day, watch TV, build up his body in the gym, blah blah blah, how ironic is that?”

Whether through formal or informal means the objective of most survivors was acknowledgement from their communities and an admission of guilt from the offender was neither “necessary nor sufficient” to validate the survivors claim. Survivors in Herman’s (2005) study were acutely aware of the way the crime was an act of disempowerment and humiliation and so sought to restore their status in the community, particularly in cases where the offender was a part of the same community.

The validation by bystanders and communities was considered of equal or greater importance, as it affirmed solidarity with the survivors and re-established their connections with their communities. Within this view of justice it was important for survivors to let their families and communities see through the offender’s deceptions (Herman, 2005):

I think I ought to believe he should be jailed, because I think it of other men who abuse children… I would think it of my father if he abused someone else… but if it was ‘just’ me, I want him to be seen for what he is by people who matter to me (p. 593).

So, alternative methods of justice such as college based processes not only fit better with the needs of survivors they are also preventative in the ways they address sexual violence in communities. If we have appropriate sanctions for sexual violence at all levels of society, if survivors are believed and their communities support them and validate their experiences, not only do we do the work of prioritisng survivors and their healing but we also send the message to offenders that we know what they have done and that their actions are unacceptable. To do this on a grand scale, in every institution, workplace, family and home is to do it properly. To do it on that scale is to create real change. When so few survivors report and so few offenders are convicted, we need to think bigger than the criminal justice system, we need to make it a part of every facet of our communities in order to send a consistent message and end rape culture.

 

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Submission to the select committee for sexual violence

**********Content warning: rape culture, graphic content, sexual violence, woman hating, suicide, sexism****************

Late last year the government announced a select committee inquiry into the funding of specialist sexual violence services in Aotearoa/New Zealand. As a community worker, this is something that our sector has been asking for for a long time. Many of our rape crisis services are only funded for around 33% of the services they deliver and only 70% of the country has access to twenty-four-seven specialist sexual violence services and these services are less accessible for women in rural areasFurthermore, there are no twenty-four-seven kaupapa Maori-based specialist sexual violence services, meaning that Maori women are even less well serviced than non-Maori women (Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, 2009). We have been fighting for sustainable and adequate funding to provide specialist services to the thousands of survivors and their whanau who require support every year. I wrote a submission based on my experience as a worker and the impact the lack of funding has on those of us who work long hours for no money and experience serious burn out and vicarious trauma. I have five minutes next week to speak to my submission and have input into the select committee’s decision on how our sector will be funded.

I am going to include what I plan to say to the committee at hearing. As part of my submission I am planning to talk about a woman I supported a long time ago who I think about often. I want to explain that I usually don’t share the stories of survivors (clients or people I know) because I don’t believe they are my story to tell. However, this particular woman didn’t survive and for me, to tell this story is to remember her and to not forget the profound impact that sexual violence has on individuals and on all the people around them. All the woman and supporters I have ever worked with remind me of this, but this woman and her story is important to me because it was the first time I (as a privileged pakeha, middle class and straight woman) really understood the extent, gravity and injustice of rape and rape culture.

So, as you can imagine five minutes is barely enough time to scratch the surface of all the things I wish I could say to the government about rape and the inadequate funding of the sexual violence sector. I have worked in the SV sector for over five years, doing paid and (mostly) unpaid work supporting survivors, delivering education and doing strategic planning on both local and national levels. The lack of funding to our sector means that we can’t afford to pay any of our staff full time, nor what they are worth, and most people we can’t pay at all and so the majority of support work done in our community is voluntary. The type of work that we do is very difficult and requires huge amounts of emotional, psychological and spritual strength. This type of emotional labour is predomnatinly done by women who are over represented in the sexual violence sector (I say this not to invisibilise the work of many men who also do this work, but to point out it is still largely considered ‘women’s work’). This type of work is routinely devalued and this is reflected in the lack of funding that is provided to our centres to provide services which both change and save lives.

Many people have said to me, ‘but it is your choice to work in this area’ and that is true. But it is also the choice of this government to refuse to provide adequate funding to survivors. It is the choice of this government to say that the work hundreds of women do around the country to provide these services is not important, is not worthy and is not valuable. It is the choice of this government to say that survivors ( the majority of which are women) are not deserving of care.

And by telling us that the work women do is not valuable, this government feeds a rape culture which tells all women that they are not valuable. This government through their deliberate choices to ignore the needs of women reinforces a rape culture which allows a man to abduct a woman, rape her, strangle her, piss in her mouth, drug her, whip her, beat her, spit on her and tell her that she is nothing, that no one cares about her, that she is not important and it doesn’t matter what happens to her.

And this government tells her that this is true by choosing not to fund a service that could help her. This government makes me complicit in abusing her when she comes to the centre in which I work and I tell her that she can’t get counselling because there are 12 other women on the wait list, and we can’t afford to hire any more staff. That the support workers all have to work other jobs to pay their bills because we don’t have enough money to pay everyone, so they may not always be available. 

This government contributes to abusing her by failing to provide support for this woman and thus telling her she doesn’t matter. This government in choosing not to provide services, to which she is entitled to as a human being and also as a victim of crime, creates a culture in which she can say to me ‘I wish he had killed me because that’s what I deserve’. The choices of this government means that instead of going home that night she will throw herself off a cliff.

And this is the reality and the consequences of the choices that you have made. The consequences of your decisions are not abstract, they are tangible and they are painful to survivors, to their families, to the sector and to women and communities in general.

So, I ask you to remember this when it comes to your reccommendations about how to fund this sector . And if as Hekeia Parata once told me when I tried to explain this to her, there is no more money ‘it’s all about the way you cut the cloth’, then I ask you to cut the cloth in a way that reflects that the work I do and the work you do is of equal imporatnce. Cut the cloth to reflect that all survivors are deserving of care and support. Cut the cloth to show that every person is taonga, and we will all do whatever we can to value them. Ahakoa he iti he pounamu. 

 

Slutwalk Speech 2013

****Content warning: rape, rape culture, victim blaming***

I have been pretty busy over the last few weeks so haven’t managed to write anything new, I am hoping to put up something this weekend around prevention. I read and write rape prevention content all day at work and sometimes it’s hard to do it again in the evenings!  However, what’s on my mind today is the Select Committee Inquiry into Sexual Violence in New Zealand, the oral submission dates have been posted and I will have 5 minutes to speak to the personal submission I wrote as a sector worker. Whenever I need inspiration for speeches for work I always go to the writings of Andrea Dworkin and bell hooks as they have helped me many times before. For now I am posting the speech I gave fior Slutwalk last year which incorporates some of the teachings of these two great feminists.

Kia ora and thank you all for coming along today, and to those of you who turn up each year to make a stand against rape culture.

According to Rape Crisis tikanga, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge those women who have come before me, who have struggled and fought on our behalf so that we may be here today. For those of us in the now, for the mahi we all do in carrying on this legacy. And for those who are yet to come, partly for whom we stand here today in the hope that this mahi will no longer be necessary.

I would also like to acknowledge that the words I speak today are a compilation of the knowledge of Rape Crisis womyn and many other feminist womyn who have said all of these things before, and more elegantly than I.

As many of you will know the Slut Walk began in 2011 in Toronto when a male police officer told a group of women that they should avoid dressing like ‘sluts’ in order not to be victimised. Since then SlutWalk’s have taken place each year all over the world. Each of these marches has a different Kaupapa or ideology depending on where they are, so today I will speak to you about what this march means for us, the women of Rape Crisis.

Our aim for this march is not to call ourselves sluts, as we do not believe that such a thing exists. It is useful here to note that ‘reclaim’ has multiple meanings. Reclaim has its origins in the Latin reclamare: “to cry out” or “appeal” in protest. Our SlutWalk movement is about ‘crying out’ against a word that is used to police women’s sexualities according to sexist binaries. We want to highlight that ‘slut’ has no meaning beyond what patriarchy imbues it with. Our aim is to highlight the way slut is used against many women to police our sexuality and behaviour, to degrade and humiliate us. We want to draw attention to the way that slut is used to justify sexual violence, to wrongly blame survivors for sexual abuse and minimise the actions of perpetrators.

We want to highlight the way ‘slut’ contributes to a culture of victim blame. The way slut contributes to rape myth and the false belief that survivors are to blame for sexual violence because of:

the way she dresses; the way she walks; the way she talks; the way she sits; the ways she stands; she was out after dark; she invited a man into her house; she said hello to a male neighbour; she opened the door; she looked at a man; a man asked her what time it was and she told him; she sat on her father’s lap; she got into a car with a man; she got into a car with her best friends father or her uncle or her teacher; she flirted; she got married; she had sex once with a man and then said no the next time; she is not a virgin; she talks with men; she talks with her father; she went to a movie alone; she took a walk alone; she went shopping alone; she smiled; she is home alone; she is asleep… 

And so it goes on.

We are here today because we oppose this rape culture that blames survivors for the crimes of offenders. We oppose this rape culture that makes excuses for perpetrators and fails to hold them accountable for their choices. We are here because we oppose this rape culture that tells women what we should wear, where we should go, who we should socialise with, that our sexuality is equal to our worth and value as individuals. We oppose this rape culture that tells each of us that we are not valuable just as we are.

Rape culture teaches us to be afraid. A culture of domination relies on a cultivation of fear in order to ensure societies obedience. So as we come together today we do the work of challenging rape culture, we choose to move against fear, against the alienation and separation that rape culture encourages and we choose to love. The choice to love is the choice to connect and find ourselves in one another. As bell hooks has said we have to be courageous. When we learn to face our fears we embrace love, and while our fear may not go away it will not stand in the way. Love is a practice and when we act, as we do today, we do not feel inadequate or powerless, we foster light within ourselves and when we shine that light we draw to us, and are drawn to others with that light, and we are not alone.

I stand here today knowing that the way we are going about sending this message is for many people controversial. I acknowledge that for many people this march is not part of their pathway towards ending rape culture. But there are many feminist pathways towards this goal, and this is only one of them. Each of us can, do, and should, act in ways that support the multiple pathways of creating a world free from sexual violence.

When my colleague and I spoke of this day we imagined a festival full of families, music, dancing and colour. We talked about a celebration of our community, a practice run for the day when not one person is raped. Here today we practice for that day but we also help to create it. We walk towards that day where rape no longer exists and we will begin the real practice of equality. And on that day we will for the first time in our lives begin to experience freedom. Here today we help to make that day a reality, and I hope that each of us will be able to experience at least one day of freedom before we die

Creating a violence free future

**Content warning for discussions of rape, coercion and sexual violence**

Sometimes it feels very difficult to look forward and imagine a world free from sexual violence. As a crisis worker, and a person who has to live within rape culture, it is often very challenging to be surrounded by the stories of violence, trauma and sadness that are so commonplace in everyday life. When I first started to do this work, I faced a huge change in my perception of the world and the people in it. Hearing about the terrible things that some people do to others and being faced with the reality of the impact this has on so many survivors, was in many ways too difficult to comprehend. And while all the stories I have ever had the honour to hear from survivors have been courageous and inspiring it is, as i’m sure many supporters will tell you, extremely affecting.

In my lowest moments it is hard to think it is possible to change rape culture, to eliminate rape and, indeed, I have had many conversations with people who would argue that rape is inevitable and there is no way to create change. I can understand why people feel that way, when we are surrounded by rape and rape culture. And also because it is difficult for those of us who do rape prevention to show and quantify for people what is not happening-which is after all what we are trying to achieve. It is easy to feel that way when I read Australian National Crime Prevention Survey stats which show that 14% of men and 3% of women think ‘It’s okay for a boy to make a girl have sex with him if she has flirted with him or led him on, that 15% of men and 4% of women think ‘It is okay to put pressure on a girl to have sex but not to physically force her.’

But despite all of this, as Andrea Dworkin has said: “I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is.” Feminism is a hopeful politics and it has taught me that even when we are bombarded with the negative this does not mean that change is not possible. Sexual violence prevention work is for me, something that reflects the concepts of feminism more generally. It is about believing the world to be capable of being something other than it already is. And change is so achievable, I know it when I read things like ‘Where Men Stand: Men’s roles in ending violence against women’ by Michael Flood which states:

Compared to 14 years ago, men and women are now
more likely to:
• Agree that physical and sexual assault, and threats, are
domestic violence;
• Recognise the spectrum of domestic violence
behaviours as ‘very serious’;
• Agree that domestic violence is a crime;
• Agree that forced sex in an intimate relationship is a
crime;
• Reject the myth that women ‘ask’ to be raped;
• Support public rather than private ways of dealing
with violence and harassment;
• Report that they would intervene in some way in a
situation of domestic violence.

While the work of primary prevention takes time, there is a growing body of evidence that shows it is effective and we can change people’s behaviour in a way that operates in accordance with feminist norms of equality and respectful relating.

 

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