**********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.