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.



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. 


Bystander approaches to sexual violence prevention

In 1964, the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese shocked Americans from coast to coast. While a man attacked, raped, and killed a young woman over an hour and half, it was reported that over 38 witnesses watched and did nothing to help. This story sparked research into what is known as the ‘bystander effect’ the phenomenon in which people do not offer help to another person in danger even though they are present. While the Kitty Genovese story has now shown to be a myth, as in actual fact several people tried to intervene or called for help and the police failed to respond, work around bystander intervention approaches have proven to be very effective in sexual violence prevention work.

Bystander intervention as a rape prevention strategy is most associated with the work of Vicki Banyard and her colleagues at the University of New Hampshire. The bystander approaches works from two key premises. First, that sexual violence is a social and structural and social issue rather than a problem of individuals. That is, sexual violence impacts and affects everyone, not just those who are direct perpetrators or survivors. Second, it works from an understanding of sexual violence as a continuum of behaviours ranging from healthy, age-appropriate, respectful, and safe behaviours to sexual abuse, rape, and violent behaviours. Between these two points are other behaviours, ranging from those that begin to feel inappropriate, coercive, and harassing.

In order for this strategy to be effective, individuals need to notice that something is happening, recognise the event as a behaviour along the sexual violence continuum, take responsibility for providing help, know how to intervene and choose to intervene safely.

From this perspective, people may intervene in situations at one end of the continuum, such as saying something at a party when a person makes inappropriate sexual comments or speaking out against a friend who is sexually harassing their partner. The idea is that this then stops these behaviours from progressing to acts at the other end of the continuum, thus stopping acts of rape and sexual abuse before they happen. The value of this approach is that it means each person can be engaged in preventing sexual violence by taking small and straightforward actions in less extreme situations.

You can find resources, publications and online e-learning courses for bystander intervention at the National Resource Center for Sexual Violence

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

How perpetrators become visible

*****Content warning, rape, child sexual abuse, racism, depictions of violence, colonisation***

Finally, as promised here is an overview of the piece I wrote about the Turangi rape case using the Due and Riggs article. It’s shorter than the original, which also includes an analysis of the way the perpetrator’s mother came to be blamed for her son’s actions, in a classic ‘blame the mother’ story. I am hoping to get this one published eventually, so any feedback about the ideas in this piece would be useful! I just want to preface this blog by saying that what I have written here is in no way something that is looking to justify the actions chosen by this offender or to suggest that this survivor was not deserving of the compassionate and generous response shown to her by New Zealander’s. She deserves all of the support that was given to her, as does every survivor of sexual violence. What I am interested in, is the ways that race/ethnicity change the way we respond to and perceive sexual violence and how that skews the reality of sexual violence and they way it is responded to in Aotearoa New Zealand. As well as the way it reinforces negative and damaging representations of Indigenous peoples.

In late 2011 to early 2012 New Zealand mainstream media covered in detail the rape of a five year old girl by a 16 year old youth[1] in a holiday campground in Turangi. The story of the attack was reported in the media the very next day, and coverage continued on the case for over four months. The 16 year old pleaded guilty to charges of sexual violation by rape, causing grievous bodily harm and burglary. On the 29th of February in 2012 with a starting point of 18 years imprisonment, but a discount of four and a half years due to the boy’s age, background, remorse and early guilty plea he was sentenced to 10 years for rape, 7 for grievous bodily harm and two years for burglary.  In her book “Sex, Violence and Crime: Foucault and the “Man” Question”, Adrian Howe (2008) argues men “disappear” from narratives and discussions around gendered violence. What is interesting in the Turangi case is the ways in which this perpetrator became hyper-visible in mainstream news media coverage. This piece aims to provide a comparative analysis of the Due and Riggs piece and New Zealand’s mainstream media coverage of what is known as the “Turangi case”. Similar to the findings of Due and Riggs, the media reporting of the Turangi case makes the perpetrator visible through portrayals of Māori people as degenerate and dysfunctional. In contrast to this, Pākehā New Zealand is portrayed as virtuous, with emphasis given to the $60,000 that was raised by New Zealander’s for the victim and her family (Bowen, & Kidd, 2012).  As suggested by Due and Riggs,  these media representations of Indigenous peoples serve to erase the impact of colonisation and institutionalised racism within Australia and New Zealand and have every real impacts on the health and wellbeing of Māori and Aboriginal people.

First, it is important to acknowledge that the contexts in which these articles are written are not identical[3] but these countries do share certain features as with other settler colonial contexts particularly in the major inequalities that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in both Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand Māori have a life expectancy that is almost eight years lower than non-Māori and experience broad ranging inequalities in education, income, housing and employment. Similarly, Indigenous Australians are the most disadvantaged group in Australian society. They suffer from high rates of unemployment and imprisonment, low income, substandard housing and ill health. The life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is seventeen years less than other Australians and they are more likely to be exposed to violence. This disadvantage experienced by Indigenous peoples in Australia and New Zealand is directly associated with both historical and contemporary racism, colonisation and oppression indicators (Anderson et al, 2008, 6). Australian and New Zealand are also notably similar in terms of popular discourses of Indigenous pathology and social disorder that erase colonial violence and position whiteness as superior. So, to provide an analysis of the case I will provide some background of the coverage of the case by looking at the way these discourses of indigenity as well as discourses of sexual violence are typically presented in the media.

Ardovini-Brooker and McDonald (2002) argue that in general, the sexual abuse cases that are publicized in the media are usually cases that are considered “news worthy” or “sensational”.[4] The “sensationalised” nature of the cases also function as a type of public entertainment. This specific news coverage of rape cases downplays the extensiveness of the crime, distorting the realities of sexual abuse by positing it as a rare occurrence, sexualizing it, and furthering discourses which apportion blame to victims. Their findings show that in media coverage of rape cases, offenders were most highly scrutinized and condemned when they were minority offenders who attacked white victims (2002, 14). Offenders were most likely to be apportioned blame in the media when they were a lower class than the victim, were part of a minority group and when the rapes fit a more stereotypical “real rape” scenario (Estrich, 1987). That is, perpetrated by a stranger, at night, in a public place and involving excess physical force.[5]

The extensive coverage of the Turangi case fits within the findings of Ardovini and MacDonald as a sensational rape case. The rape was committed against a white child by a minority offender who was of a lower class.[6] The attack fit a “real rape” scenario as the offender was a stranger,[7] it happened at night time in a public campground and the abuse involved excess physical force. These “sensationalised” aspects of the case are emphasised in the news reporting:

Loper said the attack on the girl, who was on holiday with her family from Europe, was one of the worst he had seen in his 28 years of policing. The girl’s injuries, Loper said… “Are significant and heart wrenching.” (Watson, 2011, emphasis added)

Mark Loper is the Detective Inspector who investigated the Turangi case. This extract positions him as a figure of white authority that can legitimate and judge the ‘seriousness’ of this particular rape, reinforcing that there is a hierarchy of violence where some violence is ‘more important’ or ‘more serious’ than other forms of violence.

The fact that this particular case attracted so much media attention is partly because the case fits within the reporting of a “sensational” rape case in the media, but it is also consistent with the findings of Due and Riggs who argue these negative media representations function as part of a systematic racism in the media which focuses primarily on negative stories about Indigenous people, helping to reinforce dominant negative stereotypes. Thus, it is significant here that only 9% of rapes in New Zealand are reported to police. From this only 55% suspects are apprehended and of those 31% go to court. 13% of those cases will end in conviction and not all those convicted will serve prison time (McDonald & Tinsley, 2012). Within these statistics, Māori are over represented at every stage of the criminal justice process. Māori people make up 13% of the population and 50% of the prison population.[8] This is six times higher than one would expect given the relative rate of non-Māori in prison (Marie, 2011; Department of Corrections, 2007). This over representation is mirrored by Māori being over represented as victims of crime.[9] Research shows that the over representation of Māori in the prison population is the result of justice system bias and amplification whereby systematic factors that operate at different steps of the criminal justice system make it more likely for Māori individuals to be “apprehended, arrested, charged, convicted or imprisoned” with the result that Māori “accumulate” within the system in greater numbers than non-Māori and are also dealt with more severely than non-Māori (Department of Corrections, 2007, 5).

There is now much research on the ways that mass culture contributes to and reproduce racism and negative stereotypes of Māori people (Gregory et al, 2003). Research shows that Māori are consistently underrepresented in the news and when they are represented the reports are often negative. Gregory et al (2003) argue that:

Māori are not given their share of “voice” given their status as Indigenous people who have been unjustly treated in the colonisation of Aotearoa and according to their rights guaranteed by the treaty which acknowledged their sovereignty and social equity. (54)

Stories and symbols of Māori and Māori violence have carried over into current news reportings of Māori, who are categorised in a binary of “good” or “bad”. “Good” are those that fit into Pākehā society and bad includes those that do not because they are “stirrers” (such as protestors), receive special “privileges” based on their Māori identity or are violent (Gregory et al, 2003, 53). In this coverage of the Turangi case, the offender is never explicitly identified as Māori.[10] However, the use of Te Reo in the articles helps to emphasize his ethnicity:

He stood silently with his head down. About a dozen reporters were present in court and his mother read to the court a karakia he had written. (Bowen, 2012)

Judge Cooper said…“You are responsible for your actions but your whanau and your extended whanau are responsible for your upbringing which has involved a young man who has committed a serious crime.” (Francis & Watson, 2012)

In this way the offender and his family are already marked as racially other and thus are set apart from Pākehā New Zealand. Media coverage of the Turangi case portrays this “imagined reality” of Māori people as criminal, gang related and violent. Many of the articles cover details of the youth’s upbringing in order to reinforce these stereotypes:

His mother and father – whose families held ties to Black Power and the Mongrel Mob respectively – split up when [offender] was 3. [Offender] had been involved in Child, Youth and Family care, and years of “bad parenting” had exposed him to violence between his parents and from his father, alcohol and cannabis at an early age, and also sexual abuse – the most recent episode when he was 15. Defence counsel Catherine Ewen said [offender] did not see his mother, who lives in Auckland, between the age of 13 and 16, while his father had been a Mongrel Mob member for as long as he could remember. (Watson, 2012)

Here the use of ‘families’ in the plural helps to create an understanding of many, or all, Māori families as gang related. In doing this, Māori are therefore equated with negative connotations of gangs, including a capacity for crime and violence. The reference to Child Youth and Family Services serves to legitimise the media claim of “bad parenting” and subsequently creates a causal relationship between bad parenting and violence, alcohol and drug use and sexual abuse. Furthermore this discourse helps to reiterate prominent discourse of “Māori child abuse”, as opposed to just ‘child abuse’[11]  (Marie, 2010, 283). There is no coverage of whether resources and support were provided to this young man and his family, whether support will be made available to him given his experiences of violence and sexual abuse, or about the insufficient funding for culturally specific programmes based on tikanga Māori principles within New Zealand (Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, 2009, 3). Instead these “voyeuristic” images (Stringer, 2007) are presented to us as what Marcia Langton describes as a type of “war porn”, where images of Indigenous people are played out in the media in an “obscene and pornographic spectacle” which disguises the real suffering that Indigenous people endure on a day to day basis (Langton, cited in Due and Riggs, 2012, 5). In turn, this works to simplify the complex situations faced by Indigenous peoples in New Zealand and diminishes our capacity to create effective and appropriate solutions to the issues of social inequality and violence.

As argued by Due and Riggs, these constructions of Indigenous peoples as pathologically violent help to re-center white voices as “neutral arbiters of right and wrong” (2012, 8).  This is evident in the use of the case as a vehicle to advocate for tougher sentencing, even though this offender’s sentence was the harshest sentence ever handed down in New Zealand to a youth for an offence other than murder. Monopolizing on the racist representations of Māori people in the coverage of the case, Tamsin Marshall, a representative of the Sensible Sentencing Trust told One News (2012) that the:

[Offender] should have got at least the whole 18 years for his crime and as a deterrent to other people who might be “in that world” where they commit such offences. Asked if it was significant that judge “had a go” at the teenager’s parents, Marshall said: “Absolutely. They should be held to account completely and utterly. They should probably go to jail themselves.”

We can infer from her comments that “in that world” implies a world of Māori gangs, alcohol and drug use, criminality and violence. Even though there is no evidence to prove that longer sentences are an effective prevention method, indeed McDonald (2012) argues that New Zealand high sentences for rape actually contribute to New Zealand’s low conviction rate, by deterring offenders from taking responsibility for their crimes, the media continue to report on calls for harsher sentencing instead of opening up a valuable discussion about institutionalised racism and the overrepresentation of Māori men and women in prison.

An important consequence of these discourses is in the way they erase the historical context of Pākehā settler colonialism in New Zealand while enacting colonialism through the mainstream media. This has been described as a form of “elite racism” (Anderson et al, 2008, 6). Hokowhitu (2011) argues that colonialism requires a limited system of representation or “regime of truth” concerning minority groups that constitutes them as degenerates based on their racial origin, because allowing them individuality would undermine the justification for colonial rule (71). Within these news media representations this absence of examination of colonial power is evident. Following Renan, the way the news media “forgets” the violence of colonisation acts to create an image of Pākehā New Zealand which overlooks the reality of inequality in New Zealand, which is fundamentally important to discussions of racism as well as sexual abuse.   In a study looking at the perceptions of non-Māori and Tauiwi focus groups in New Zealand media, Gregory et al (2003) found that participants felt that the mass media generally reflected Pākehā viewpoints worldview, values and interests. In accordance with this, and also with Due and Riggs’ notion that the negative construction of Indigenous peoples also works to construct whiteness as virtuous, within the media coverage of the Turangi case there is much space given to the representation of Pākehā communities in New Zealand:

“The community was bewildered by a crime of such severity.”

“There was a deep sense of shame within the Turangi community.”

“Unless communities take a stand…similar things will happen again.” (Watson, 2012, One News, 2012)

The responses and actions of Pākehā New Zealand to the attack are also covered in detail:

Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said: “Heads were shaking the breadth of the country and the community was bewildered by a crime of such severity committed on a victim so young. There was a deep sense of shame within the Turangi community and throughout New Zealand that one of our own had committed this offence on a visitor whose family had come to New Zealand to enjoy a holiday.”  “We heard today too that the Turangi community raised more than $13,000 for our daughter. We are again amazed at the generosity of New Zealanders and thank this community. We know what happened was a random act of evil and will never hold Turangi responsible for it.” (Watson, 2012)

Waikato District Health Board said the girl’s family had been inundated with letters and emails from people who were appalled and ashamed at the attack. They wanted the family to know that the attacker was not representative of all New Zealanders. (3 news, 2012)

This focus on the shame felt by Pākehā New Zealand, and the large amount of money that was donated to the girl and her family serves a dual purpose. First, it again marginalises Māori people within New Zealand, positioning them as the racialised Other who are “not representative of all New Zealander’s”. This is reinforced in the fact that, presumably, some of the members of the Turangi community that raised money for the victim and her family were in fact Māori, but this is not given any media focus.  For the mainstream media coverage t overlook this serves to overlook the agentic responses of Indigenous people have to responding to violence within their communities, a theme which is also identified by Due and Riggs. Second, it works to create an image of New Zealand where sexual abuse is a rare occurrence and is responded to with appropriate resources and services. This is counter the lived experience of many people in New Zealand, considering we have the highest sexual abuse statistics in the OECD[12] and some of the worst child abuse and poverty statistics in the United Nations (Beaumont, 2011; Duff, 2011). Further to this, the $62,000 raised for the young girl and her family is not reflective of the way New Zealand deals with sexual abuse. The Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence (2009), found that support services for survivors of sexual abuse and rape are geographically inconsistent[13] and insufficiently funded across the board (2009, 34). Within the last year, 1.5 million was cut from the community and volunteer sector (Levy, 2011) and $6 million per annum was cut for counseling support (McGregor, 2012). This year’s budget sees $200 million of the Social Development budget “reprioritised” into welfare reforms aimed at getting solo parents back to work earlier. The Community Response Fund, created to help the not-for-profit sector, who has experienced increased demand during the recession, has been discontinued (Trevett, 2012). Baird’s (2008) concept of child fundamentalism is also evident here. If we consider how many cases of “sensational” child abuse are publicized in the New Zealand media it is significant that this girl and her family were donated such a large amount of money whereas other victims are not. Part of this response can be attributed to the discourse of child fundamentalism which positions the girl as “young and defenseless” (, 2012). I would argue that it is also partly because the family is foreign and this attack disrupted Pakeha New Zealand’s ‘violence free’ image. Thus it was important to show that “New Zealand is a beautiful place with friendly caring people not monsters.” (, 2012) With the media gaze so focused on this incident as an example of pathologised Māori violence, Pākehā are constructed as virtuous and clean of social problems and so this reporting also works to the detriment of examining sexual violence within non-Indigenous communities.

The argument made here is that the mainstream news media coverage of the Turangi case is in keeping with the findings of Due and Riggs. Similar to their analysis, the news media coverage of the Turangi rape case revealed a prominent discourse of Māori people and their families as inherently dysfunctional and having a capacity for violence and for crime. In comparison to this construction of indigenity, Pākehā are presented as virtuous and violence within their communities is disavowed or at least, not tied to ideas of culture or ethnicity. Barbara Baird’s theory of child fundamentalism is also identified, but is extended in that it can be seen to apply both to the victim and to the perpetrator. . In speaking about the Turangi case in this way, the media silences the voices of minorities and makes hyper-visible the views and attitudes of Pākehā people, in order to make invisible the hierarchies of race, ethnicity, gender and class that exist in New Zealand and that are fundamental to the perpetuation of racism and sexual abuse.

[1] I have chosen not to use the offender’s name as the paper is interested in the representation of the teenager rather than the teenager himself.

[2] Indigenous Australians represent 2.3% of the population and make up 14% of Australia’s prison population and they are 12.9% more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians (, 2008).

[3] While there is no comparable government policy to the intervention in New Zealand it is interesting to note that elements of the intervention program are being introduced by the National Government. The new welfare budget aimed to get solo parents back into the work force will introduce ‘payment cards’ to unemployed youth, similar to the cards used for welfare quarantining in Indigenous communities (Trevett, 2012). While this does not target Indigenous people directly a disproportionate amount of unemployed youth are Māori or Pacific Islander’s (Youth in the NZ labor Market, 2009).

[4] In this reading “sensational” cases are those that involve someone of notoriety or an “exceptional” circumstance such as gang rape (Ardovini-Brooker & McDonald, 2002).

[5] In terms of adult sexual abuse stranger rape makes up roughly 3% of all rapes and the majority of rape involves coercion (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2010).

[6] The offender’s job as part of a Turangi pruning gang is made known to us by the media (Watson, 2012).

[7] In child sexual abuse cases 85% of offenders are known to the victim (McGregor, 2009).

[8] Maori women make up 60% of the female prison population (Department of Corrections, 2007).

[9] Māori women are twice as likely to experience sexual violence (TASV, 2009)

[10] Before the offender’s name was released TV One did explicitly identify the offender as “16 and Maori” (One News, 2012).

[11] 60% of notifications made to CYFS are made by non-Maori families (Merchant, 2012)

[12] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

[13] 70% of New Zealand’s female population has access to crisis support, some areas of the country have no access (2009, 3).

[14] This discourse was not identified in the Due and Riggs analysis, but Barid argues that motherhood for Indigenous women in Australia is barely a viable subject position in colonialist discourses identified by the state and the Indigenous man is often marked as violent or neglectful (2008, 300).

[15] The offender’s father went to prison for assaulting his current partner the day after the teen was sentenced (3 News, 2012).

Rape Crisis Philosophy and Te Ao Maori

I’m still working on my condensed version of the piece I wrote about the Turangi rape case, but hopefully I will get that up this weekend! In the meantime, in respect of the acknowledgement of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi last week, I thought I would write a brief piece about Rape Crisis philosophy and the influence of two pūrākau or stories on this philosophy. This is recounted from my Tauiwi understanding of these stories so am happy to hear if anyone has a better understanding.

Rape Crisis philosophy is based on a bi cultural and collectivist philosophy formed in the early 70s during the survivor movement. Here are two stories from Te Ao Maori that I have been told that discuss sexual violence, there are probably many others with different interpretations.

One pūrākau that discusses rape and incest is that of Tane and Hine Ahuone. Tane, who was an atua (a godlike entity) went in search of a female entity. No female form existed at this time except the female essence of mother earth. A female form was created from this essence by Tane and the other atua, when Tane took clay and fashioned it into the form of a woman. He breathed life into the form and invigorated it, creating Hine Ahuone. Tane and Hine Ahuone had children together, one of whom was called Hine Titama. Over time Tane and Hine Titama had a relationship together. One day, Hine Titama  asked about her father. When she discovered that Tane was her father this caused her great distress and she ran into the realms of the night. Tane followed her to bring her back and she replied to him through karanga, she told him to look after their children in life and she would look after them in death and she became Hine-nui-i-te-po, the guardian of death. This story highlights (in my understanding) that the relationship between Tane and Hine Titama was not right, and required action to be taken in order to return balance to that relationship. Hence why Tane was to be the kaimanaaki of their descendents in life and Hine the role of kaimanaaki in death.

One other aspect of Rape Crisis philosophy that pertains to one of these stories, is the fact that it does not distinguish between bodily rape and the rape that many women feel of their land and their culture. This acknowledges that in New Zealand colonisation forced the separation of Maori wahine from their land. Within Te Ao Maori women are considered as te whare tangata (the house of humanity) and therefore are treated with the same consideration as Papatūānuku, who is the creator of all life. This separation of Tangata whenua and the land, parallels the separation of Ranganui and Papatūānuku by their children in the Maori stories of the original sin, this separation was considered a rape, and act of violence as the parents were separated without their consent (Taonga, n.d.).

Hinetitama by Robyn Kahukiwa

Hinetitama, 1980, by Robyn Kahukiwa (1940– ).

Revisiting ‘Tomorrow when the war began’


***Content warning for: sexual violence, post traumatic stress disorder, colonisation***

I spent my new years break re-reading one of my favourite series from my childhood, the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden. There are seven books in the original series, and an epilogue that consists of three books called ‘The Ellie Chronicles’. The books follow Ellie (the ‘writer’ of the story) and a group of her teenage friends during the invasion and colonisation of Australia by an unnamed foreign power. Ellie and her friends avoid the occupation and operate as a guerrilla group throughout the war. My 12 year old self was obsessed with these books and waited anxiously for each one to come out. My present self enjoyed re-reading them too, there are lots of positives in the way violence is explored in the series that I am glad my young self was exposed too. Ellie often discusses the complexities surrounding the gangs use of violence, and you hear her experiences first hand of the way her use of violence changes her, traumatizes her and results in the loss of many lives. Including the lives of some of her loved ones.

However, my young self never got around to reading ‘The Ellie Chronicles’, because at the time I was so disappointed in the ending. Ellie, who has dreamed of finding her mother since the war began and returning to their farm, find her mother who is so traumatised by the process of colonisation that she can barely speak. Instead of things returning to as they were before, the colonisers remain and the land is split up. Ellie and her family only end up with a small portion of their land returned, and have to lease out the rest of it at exorbitant rates to the occupiers. So, as is the reality of many countries, colonisation continues and is ongoing, something my young self couldn’t seem to fathom. As an adult, I am disappointed that at no point during the series was the parallels to this situation and the lived experiences of the indigenous people of Australia ever mentioned. The fact that Ellie often refers to Australia as ‘my country’, when in fact, that country was stolen from indigenous aboriginals using many of the same tactics of violence and dispossession outlined in the story (and many others) is conveniently invisibilised, taking away from a powerful way of teaching young people about the ongoing trauma and violence caused by colonisation, both in Australia and in Aotearoa New Zealand. But that’s another blog.

What I wanted to write about today, is the treatment of sex and sexual violence in the series. Again, there are really encouraging moments in the books where Ellie is represented as a desiring and initiating sexual subject. There are explorations of her sexuality as something that is purely physical and sexual, and also as something that is intimate and emotional. Conversely, there are also very tired representations of women’s sexuality as passive, where she often acts at as gate-keeper to her sort-of-boyfriend’s (Lee’s) sexual advances. Lee too, represents the dominant discourses of male sexuality. He is aggressive, always wants to go ‘all the way’ and often acts coercively towards Ellie, being angry and sulky when she refuses him. At one point telling her ‘thanks for nothing’, when she chooses not to have intercourse with him.

That aside, what agitated me the most was the book in which Ellie gets raped by an acquaintance at a party. At one stage during the books, Ellie and her friends are taken to New Zealand where they stay at an army base before returning to Australia. Ellie meets a young man when she is giving talks about the war at secondary schools and he invites her too the party. She gets extremely drunk and the man (Adam) rapes her. She describes trying to pull her jeans up but eventually thinking she just wants it to be over so she can go home. Needless to say Adam never asks if she is interested in what is going on. Ellie describes the situation:

“I was gone, I’d had it. And he changed really suddenly…it wasn’t working for me, I was just doing it, I don’t know, because I was expected to, I suppose, he expected me to…I felt too sick and drunk to stop him, to even try to stop him. I’m not saying I was too drunk to do anything about it, it wasn’t like that, I mean that’d be rape”

Which it was. But it’s never addressed further, her friend tells her she should have known better, because Adam was obviously a creep. Her counsellor tells her the whole situation is just her reaction to witnessing and living with the death of one of her closest friends. Throughout the following three books the rape is constantly on her mind, she frequently describes feeling dirty and ashamed, she says it felt like he attacked her, that when she slept with Lee she could feel his love for her but Adam made her feel like he hated her. At one point, while fighting with an enemy soldier she has a flash back to Adam raping her and has a panic attack. Basically, the series tells the realistic story of a survivor. However, as a child I didn’t know anything about sexual violence. When I re-read the books I didn’t remember the rape scene, although I remembered her having a sexual encounter with a gross guy. I imagine that 12 year old me absorbed that situation as just one of the many ‘risks’ associated with sexual relationships.

And it occurred to me that hundreds (maybe thousands) of other young people have read these books and thought the same thing, or maybe someone has read this and it has reinforced their own self blame and denial of an abusive situation. Or maybe it has justified a reader’s perpetration of harmful sexual behaviour, as something that they are not responsible for.  There are many implications of writing a narrative like this for a young audience with no analysis of it as an act of violence, of power and control.

But it also highlights the power of the media and of storytelling to change the way young people think about sex, sexuality and sexual violence. Teen fiction has a major influence on young minds and there is massive potential there to reach wide audiences with messages that promote positive, ethical and respectful sexual encounters and/or relationships. Those early years, before young people start engaging in relationships, are a crucial time to promote prevention messages and much research shows that young people want to know about how to have respectful relationships, how to communicate, negotiate and engage in sexual activity. Changing the way we write and talk about sexual violence or even the discussions we have with young people when they encounter messages like this, is a powerful way to help shape a violence free future.