National Rape Crisis and the Law Commission

Many thanks to Georgia Knowles, National Co-ordinator of Nga Whitiki Whanau Ahuru Mowai O Aotearoa/National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa for this post. National Rape Crisis was formed in 1982 out of the grass roots feminist movement to eliminate sexual violence. Currently there are nine affiliated centres; Mid North Family Support Rape Crisis and Youth Services Keri Keri, Dargaville SOS, Hamilton Rape and Sexual Abuse Healing Centre, Whangarei Rape Crisis, Wairarapa Rape and Sexual Abuse, West Coast Rape Crisis, Dunedin Rape Crisis, Tauranga Rape Crisis and Napier Rape Crisis.

National Rape Crisis aims to provide a public profile for the issue of rape and sexual violence in New Zealand and our overall goal is the elimination of violence against women and children. We work from a feminist based philosophy of sexual violence that believes that rape is the degradation of a person’s whole self, and includes all sexual acts forced on unwilling participants and all forms of coercion, not only physical. We believe that rape and the fear of rape is a powerful form of social control because they are an invasion of spiritual, bodily and emotional integrity.

Collectively, our centres offer support for women and children survivors of current or historic rape and sexual abuse, their partners, whanau and friends.

We support the possible reforms to the pre trial and trial processes of the criminal justice system proposed by the New Zealand Law Commission. We believe that the proposed reforms have value in creating a criminal justice system that aims to reduce the secondary trauma and victimisation that survivors experience in the current process, and that the reforms are better aligned with survivors own concepts of justice.

Research involving survivors who have been involved in the justice system shows that they regard the criminal justice system as the primary institution for providing justice in response to sexual offences. Being provided with an avenue to achieve a meaningful sense of justice through a formal system response is considered to be of high importance. Further to this, the criminal justice system was considered an important symbol for representing the attitudes of society in regards to sexual violence.

In light of the perspectives of survivors in regard to the justice system, we believe that not only are these reforms extremely valuable for the way that they could change the experiences of survivors in the future who will proceed through the criminal justice system, we can also consider them to be symbolic of what we hope to achieve within our wider communities. These reforms show that as a country, we have listened to the voices of survivors and have acknowledged that they have suffered and been re-victimised within our current justice system and that this is unacceptable. That we believe that rape culture is real and is damaging. That victim blame, disbelief and rape myth are perpetuated and instiutionalised within our current system and the affects of this are serious, and create a barrier to true justice.

Further to this, similar research suggests that survivors conceptualise justice as multi faceted. On an individual level they wanted authorities to acknowledge the wrong that was done to them. They wanted the perpetrators to be identified, made accountable, and to face consequences (although not necessarily through imprisonment). On a local community level, they want resources, support and education. On a societal level, they want authorities to identify sexual assault as a serious issue and to establish processes to prevent further sexual offending.

So “justice” for survivors is enacted through the criminal justice system but also throughout wider society. This is in line with the recommendations of Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence that only 9% of sexual abuse incidents are reported to police so the solutions lie “beyond the criminal justice system as well as within it”. National Rape Crisis support these reforms as one, extremely important, part of the wider efforts of the sexual violence sector in New Zealand. Efforts that include ensuring adequate and appropriate support, and resources, for ALL survivors regardless of their class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or age. That these resources are available where and when survivors need them, for as long as they need them for, and are not based on obligations. And the considerable work that goes into establishing the provision of consistent and quality education, preventative and otherwise, to all communities in Aotearoa.

The elimination of violence against women and children is paramount to the goals of Nga Whitiki Whanau Ahuru Mowai O Aotearoa and we believe these reforms to be a positive step towards this goal. We encourage everyone to write a submission in support of the Law Commissions proposed changes to the pre trial and trial processes of the Criminal Justice system. The real world knowledge and experiences of individuals and communities is instrumental to creating the changes that we wish to see in Aotearoa.

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