This week, in New Zealand, we have a moment of truth presenting itself. The back story is long and complex. As these things so often are in politics, it is a distraction from a main event. The shiny paper keeping everyone’s attention over here. The dead cat thrown on the table to distract from a deeper story. However, in this instance, we need to take a good hard look at the dead cat.
The Prime Minister, in a debate about Christmas Island detainees and human rights, accused opposition parties of “Backing the rapists”. Now, Imma come back to him in a second, but lets have a wee second look at what happened here.
He refused to allow them to speak, and forced them to leave. Many other MP’s from opposition parties, mainly Labour and Green party MP’s also walked out in support of the calls for apology and in protest at the comments of the Prime Minister and the actions of the Speaker.
Please, take a moment to watch this story which allows these women who we elected to represent us, and who do represent women in their electorates, their chance to speak. The chance that they were denied in our parliament, (the place that makes decisions and speaks for all of us). However, as you watch it, know that women in this country who share these stories exist. And they were as effectively silenced as these MP’s, when those mics were turned off.
I am not a politician. I am not a representative of an electorate. I was however, reduced to actual tears on watching this story. It triggered me both as a victim who was silenced and as the mother of a victim who was silenced. The Prime Minister should be held to a higher level of expectation. He needs to own his position on rape and rape culture. This is NOT the first time that he has been questioned in relation to perpetuating rape culture. Indeed this is not the first time this week that New Zealand’s failure to address rape culture has made headlines, with what is being coined Roast Busters Two in the news and discussions online. This of course follows the initial Roast Busters case, with all the horrific lessons it taught us, about how to get away with rape in New Zealand.
The Speaker of the house should be held to a higher standard. The MP’s who walked out did the right thing, and we need to stand up, regardless of our political affiliations, regardless of our position on the Christmas island debacle, and demand that the Prime Minister and the Speaker formally apologize for their unacceptable behavior.
I am a survivor of sexual assault. I, like many other men and women, never came forward. I have disclosed my experiences publicly on many occasions, and I carry no shame for the events that I experienced. I wish that I had felt safe and supported to lay criminal complaints, but I did not. Because I knew my attacker, because I knew that I would be called a liar, because I knew that I would be forced to relive an experience that nearly destroyed me, I stayed in the silence. Despite my bolshy nature and my fighting spirit, I am a statistic. The fact that seven of our female MP’s were brave enough to stand on my behalf in a place of power and claim a right to have their status as survivors respected brought me to tears. I know the strength that took.
And they were silenced again. Literally, had their mics turned off, told not to speak, forced to leave. Silenced.
We must not allow this. It is not just women. But when even women are not allowed to speak of their experiences what hope is their for male survivors? How will we ever be able to change this awful pattern, if even our parliament and our Prime Minister will not stand up and acknowledge that comments like his, on that day, are not ok?
My daughter was braver than me. After she was sexually assaulted, she went to the police. Investigations, repeated questioning of her “version of events” dragged on for two years. And ultimately, no charges were laid. She joins the ranks of survivors with no vindication, no validation of their lived experiences. (She has given me permission to discuss this in this piece, because she is amazing.) When she was assaulted, it took her some time to tell me or her dad. She didn’t tell us straight away, because, on the night of her assault, she had broken some of our societal and parental Rules to avoid rape. It wasn’t till after she finally talked to us, and the torment she had experienced alone became ours to share with her, that I realised I had given her those rules. I made it not safe for her to come to me, her mother, her staunchest supporter, because I gave her a list of ways not to get raped, starting when she was about two years old (Boys will be boys, I said). I drowned her in rape culture, thinking that I was keeping her safe. I was NOT keeping her safe. I was isolating her, and causing her to experience all the things I experienced.
I knew that I had been assaulted while breaking a rule. I was drinking, and underaged. I was probably dressed questionably. Those facts became a part of my story.
So I taught my daughters to avoid rape:
Stay with your friends.
Never leave your drink.
Dress carefully. Boobs or legs, not both.
Don’t talk to men you don’t know.
Never go off alone with a guy.
Never abandon your friends.
Never let someone else buy your drinks.
Always have money for a cab.
Always have someone you can call to come get you.
Always tell someone where you are.
I never realised that if they broke one of those rules, and then they were sexually asaulted…. I had given them a reason to blame themselves. So when my daughter was assaulted when she was “not where she was supposed to be”, she took some of the blame for those events onto her own shoulders. She questioned, for however short a time, her right to bodily autonomy, because she had broken the rules.
I did that. I own that. I have changed the messages I send to young women. But I actively participated in rape culture throughout the years that I raised my daughters. I silenced my own child. I added to her pain and confusion. I DID that.
While we call out our Prime Minister for his comments and our Speaker for his actions, we must also examine our own actions, words and the impact they have on rape culture. We MUST change something and we must change it now.