Rape and assault are not tolerated in any civilised society. All around the world girls are being raped and some murdered or married off as child brides as we speak, affecting close to a billion women and girls.
Gender based violence, including sexual violence is being inflicted on women and girls in epidemic proportions. Different cultures have different ways of dealing with sexual assault. We live in a country that has cracked down on it and we have doctors and people we can go to for help. Helen Clarke, Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1999, went to the police and said that sexual violence is not okay and all assault and rape charges must be investigated, and this had a huge impact on New Zealand and our sexual assault crimes. However it is still an issue .
Women in Afghanistan have their rights stripped away from them, they are raped, they are tortured , they are even punished for it. Many young girls are forced to marry while they are still in high school. Rape and assault should not be tolerated in a any society.
Two months ago in Nigeria, thousands of women and girls survived the brutal rule of the Boko Haram armed group. They were starved, they were kept in locked camps, they were abused , they were raped. Instead of receiving protection from the government, women and girls were raped and they have to put up with it to avoid starvation. This is how women and men in different countries and cultures are living. They have no freedom and no protection. Rape and assault should not be tolerated in a any society.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo thousands of women and children are being attacked in their homes, in the fields or as they go about their daily lives. In many cases women are being been taken by military as sex slaves, some are attacked and sexually assaulted, some in front of family, some next to the corpse of family members. In addition to the trauma of rape, victims’ rights are further violated, deepening their suffering. Most people with injuries caused by rape are denied the medical care they need. We may be living in a nice little bubble in Wanaka but all around the world this is not the case.
Have you heard of Louise Nicholas? She was a small girl from a small timber town, who was raped and abused by three senior police officers. She tried to have them convicted, it went to court several times. With persistence she pushed her case. The police did everything they could to frustrate her. They attacked her credibility, they did everything they could to discredit her, they lied. However, this gutsy young woman took on the police establishment and won. She went through multiple trials and won. She is a powerful role model to lots of women, and her story has been covered in magazines, a movie and a book which was a best seller.
It was after hearing Louise’s story that Helen Clarke spoke out and insisted that all sexual assaults must be investigated with vigour. Its amazing to think that until this point the police did not even investigate domestic violence. They thought it was a family issue and none of their business. Sadly though we still have a very low rate of conviction for rape in New Zealand, but its not all bad news, Louise Nicholas now works with New Zealand Police on a program to change attitudes. She lectures, she talks to the public, she has been instrumental in changing attitudes in the police. And now domestic violence is taken seriously. If Louise Nicholas is able to do this, then all of us can say to our friends, stop we don’t want to go there.
In New Zealand the sporting leadership has been very active. Rape and sexual assault come down to the unequal position of men and women. Women don’t have as much power. There is a high profile case right now in America, involving a powerful producer in New York, who is accused of raping one woman, and sexually assaulting many. The term “the casting couch” was used, meaning if you didn’t sleep with the producer you didn’t get the part. Both Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Laurence and many more stars have accused him of sexually assaulting them. It is all about power, his perspectives were that he could do it, he could do what he wanted and was a very powerful man, a man who had been good friends with Hilary Clinton. This case started the global “me too” movement. If he is convicted, it will be a massive empowerment for women globally. Rape and assault are not tolerated in any civilised society.
Even in Australia we have our dark stories. We have the royal commission that is investigating people who are assaulted and raped in state care. In New Zealand there is currently and investigation taking place on boys in state care who were in youth homes. They were assaulted and sexually abused by staff and by other boys. This inquiry will happen this year. An interesting article , “Is The State A Psychopath” in July 2018 in North and South Magazine considers “an individual being accused of the crimes the state is accused of … serial rape of children, torture and violence against children and neglect of children”.
Despite all the terrible things that happen in New Zealand, we do have a powerful role model like Louise Nicholas, we do have rape crisis centres, we do have empowerment centres for men and we do have twenty four hour help lines.
The most positive thing to hope is that in our generation , we are aware enough to take care of not only ourselves but also our friends. That is the challenge for us. Within this room the power is in our hands, it is the message we must tell each other and we must tell our friends and our children. We have to be optimistic for the future, how we interact, how we support each other. If you all want a change, you have to look after yourself and your friends, you can make a difference.