I have been processing so much (as surely we all have) since the terrible tragedy of 15 March. It feels like paralysis. What do you say these days when a friend or colleague asks how you are? Do you answer bravely that you’re well, not wanting to infect someone with your own grief? Or do you choose the direct route and dive straight into the existential trauma that you are experiencing? How do we make sense of life after this?
When shocks happen I have observed that my own reaction – sometimes conscious, often not – is to strive to return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible.
I wonder if as a nation we are all trying to do that right now. Except the old normal isn’t going to work. When these things happen they often require us to re-evaluate our lives at the most fundamental level, if we are to truly heal and move forward.
As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a few days after the attack: We are a nation of over 200 ethnicities and 160 languages. We see ourselves as peaceful and inclusive. The act of the terrorist was counter to this view of ourselves. Our response was not. We responded with aroha.
We would like to think that what happened was the opposite of how we are in Aotearoa. But it is not as simple as that.
As Jacinda also said, 15 March was not an act by a New Zealand citizen, but that does not mean there are not things here that we need to address. As Lizzie Marvelly said a week after the attacks, this did not just happen in a void.
Things need to start making sense again, but for that to happen, we need to do the work.
It can be helpful at times like these to use models and frameworks. The systems thinking model suggests that violence and hate like we saw in Christchurch actually represent the tip of the iceberg.
Depressing, I know, but only for those who sit too comfortably, perhaps, with our own privilege to begin with.
The model suggests that underlying mental models – attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and values – allow structures of power to continue functioning as they are. These are the beliefs that we often learn subconsciously from our society or family and may well be unaware of.
Mental models form the foundations of structures of power that enable misuse of power and wrongdoing to continue to occur – whether it be the abuse of interns at Russell McVeagh, the many forms of discrimination, including on the basis of race, that continue to happen in the workplace, the policies which have enabled hundreds of thousands of Māori kids to be removed from their whānau since the 1950s, or a justice system that overall, provides very little justice for survivors of sexual abuse. Structures of power enable habitual behaviours that become so ingrained they become unconscious.
This in turn leads to observable patterns. We begin to notice the same stories and trends. Think about the way #metoo exploded onto the scene, and the many stories that continue to emerge about sexual abuse by the powerful of those less powerful. Yet the system of power that allowed these things to happen in the first place had been operating for eons.
Finally this leads us to the event level. The tip of the iceberg. The shock we experience when something unimaginable, like Christchurch, happens. It was not just the behaviour of one individual that enabled such tragedy to occur.
It is important but it is not enough for each of us to grieve the terrible loss of 50 lives in Christchurch. We also have an opportunity as a nation to question the fundamentals of how power and privilege play out in Aotearoa and change some things that have needed fixing for a long time.
If we are to make meaning of Christchurch, to draw some good from such a terrible event, we must look inside ourselves.
We need to explore our mental models – whether they be around race, religion, women, gender – that enable current power structures to stay in place. In the case of sexual abuse these mental models enable rape and victim blaming to keep on happening. Similar mental models keep so many of our Māori and Pacific whānau poor, unemployed or in prison. In the case of the Christchurch attacks it was a mental model that enabled racism to take seed so strongly and let one man take so much.
For those of us that sit with privilege we have to fundamentally question our own values, beliefs and behaviour at every level: who we choose to include or exclude in our communities, how we treat each other in the workplace, and how we behave in our personal relationships – right down to the words we use.
As Lizzie Marvelly has said, it’s time for us all to take responsibility. We must champion respectful discourse, and utterly reject intolerance, bigotry and discrimination:
“The flipside of all this is that our words are imbued not only with terrible, but also beautiful power - should we choose to use it. Let's use our freedom of speech to speak powerful words of love. And let's never forget that with great power comes great responsibility.
We are still a nation in shock. We need time to grieve. But as Jacinda Ardern has also said, there is work to do to become the nation we believe ourselves to be. Let’s do that mahi.
It’s been an intense start to the new year.
Many, if not most of us were still on summer break when the news began to fill up again with stories of the latest travesties of justice – NZ Cricket’s shameful promotion of Scott Kuggeleijn, former NZ Air Force staffer Robert Roper being awarded costs despite being found guilty, and a young man promoting his music career at the expense of his victims. Some people also seemed very upset by an ad about razors.
Over a year on from the explosion of #metoo, stories of sexual abuse or assault continue to lead the news almost daily.
The interesting thing this year will be where our attention turns to as a nation. I think it will turn to our justice system. I read an amazing book over the summer. Eggshell Skull is young Queensland lawyer Bri Lee’s account of her own journey through the courts seeking justice as the complainant in her own case. This is the story of a broken justice system, told through the eyes and ears of a survivor.
In New Zealand our system does not serve survivors well either. Next week the Ministry of Justice is holding a Victims’ Hui to ask how we can improve our criminal justice system for all victims/survivors of crime. For survivors of sexual violence, the system currently works as a weapon against them. For the the 3% of cases of sexual violence which do go to court, victims/survivors are often traumatised, and consequences for offenders often fail to match the harm they have caused. I look forward to being part of that conversation and to taking the debate out into the community throughout the year. Stay tuned for more news on this front.
Trans rights put on back burner
In other disappointing news, an amendment to the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Act, which would have enabled transgender people to self-identify as their chosen gender on their birth certificates via a statutory declaration, and without having to undergo medical treatment, has been put onto the backburner by the government. Self-identification is already used on passports and driver's licenses, but changing your gender on birth certificates currently requires a medical procedure and then an application to, and approval of, the Family Court.
As Lizzie Marvelly has said, the idea that a transgender person must undergo a medical "transition" in order to live their life as the gender that they identify with is now very outdated. And yet the law still labours under that misconception. This is an issue of basic human rights. Transgender youth have some of the worst self-harm and suicide statistics of the entire youth population. We will continue to advocate, alongside many other organisations, to see the select committee process which was handling the Bill re-started.
Today, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues), Jan Logie, launched a new website to provide information about justice processes to survivors of sexual violence and their advocates: https://sexualviolence.victimsinfo.govt.nz/
Today also marks the launch of a new report from the Ministry of Justice, Improving the justice response to victims of sexual violence: victims’ experiences.
The Ministry of Justice is currently implementing a suite of operational changes aimed at improving the experience for sexual violence complainants in the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on reducing the risk of revictimization.
Wellington HELP applauds the work done to create resources to support sexual violence victims’ as well as improve their experience in the justice system.
“This resource is another important step in our journey to rid New Zealand of sexual violence,” says HELP Wellington chief executive Conor Twyford.
“Many victims of sexual violence find that their lives are severely negatively impacted by the offending in wide ranging ways, but particularly in relation to emotional and mental health. The courts are an area where in my relatively short time at HELP I have seen how retraumatising and disempowering that process can be for victims. Anything that assists survivors to navigate the process better, hold onto their power, must be applauded.
Recently we held our Annual General Meeting. As part of that we organised a panel entitled #metoo - what now? The panel was MC'd by Linda Clark and included a diverse range of speakers, including a transgender woman.
Here's a story from the Spinoff about our experience of standing up for transgender rights.
Conor appears talking about HELP's latest fundraiser
*This is the Op-Ed I wrote for Stuff, that appeared 16 March.
OPINION: Last week our organisation HELP was contacted by the general secretary of the Labour Party, Andrew Kirton, for advice following an incident that happened at a Labour youth camp in February.
The stories that have emerged of what occurred at the Young Labour camp are absolutely unacceptable. But the reality, sadly, is that this problem is happening all around us, all of the time. It's not isolated to Young Labour. We have a culture of sexual violence in this country that we need to address.
Because it is an uncomfortable subject, as a society we don't talk about serious sexual harassment, assault and abuse until high-profile instances like this occur. For the many thousands of survivors of sexual abuse, however, this is a burden they have to live with daily. Our country desperately needs to discuss this issue more often and more openly.
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are providing a voice for people demanding change both overseas and here in Aotearoa. It's totally achievable. But the first part of the process is accepting, as a society, that we have a problem that we are no longer willing to ignore.
The organisation I lead, HELP, is a not-for-profit organisation which works with survivors of sexual abuse and their whānau. We provide a 24-hour crisis line and we are the agency contacted by the police when a person reports a rape or sexual assault. We provide free, ongoing support to survivors, including, social work and counselling.
We are experiencing unprecedented demand. This year we are on track to see 700 people across Greater Wellington, double the number of people we saw last year and twice the number we are funded to support.
We, along with other similar agencies across Wellington, are committed to helping every survivor who takes the decision to come to us. But to do the change work required, agencies like ours need to be better resourced to deal with decades of sexual abuse across all generations.
More funding is one, important part of the answer. But we also need a cultural shift where this issue is taken seriously. In Wellington, the Sexual Abuse Protection Network (SAPN) delivers a really impressive consent education programme for secondary schools called Mates and Dates. Currently only 16 per cent of schools across the nation are taking up Mates and Dates because prevention work in this country has to date been under-resourced.
I don't know the details of what happened to the young people at the Young Labour camp, nor should I. Every day we have people calling in seeking support from our frontline staff – and their information should remain confidential.
What I can say is that in situations like this, the people affected should be put in touch straight away with specialist support: at the earliest opportunity.
Furthermore, the victims of assault should always have power over their own process and where they want to take it. There have been a lot of people saying that, because of their age (all complainants were 16 or over), Young Labour should have informed the Police and the young people's parents.
While this sounds good in theory, and in reality, many young people do end up telling their parents and police, this process has to be led by survivors.
In some cases, alerting parents or the police without the young person's prior approval could have a detrimental effect and add to their level of shame and self-blame. There are occasions where people do not want to tell their parents because they have very good reasons not to do so.
Young Labour, along with all other organisations, should be looking hard at how they can promote a culture of consent and positive behaviour at camps, events and in the workplace. As there is still a major lack of awareness and understanding around consent and sexual abuse, organisations have a vital education role to play.
What we have here is an opportunity for Young Labour to do some really good work to act as agents of change at a time when people are really looking for that change. I know that Andrew Kirton has reached out to the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network to ask for support into its review of what happened at the February camp so as to improve its culture and practices going forward. That is a good step.
21 November 2017
Twenty four artists are exhibiting their work at the NO APOLOGIES art fundraiser which will be opened by Jan Logie on Monday 27 November at 6pm at the Thistle Hall, top of Cuba Street, Wellington, and runs through to Sunday 3 December.
The exhibition is in support of the Wellington HELP foundation which provides support services to survivors of sexual and gender abuse.
The works on display include artists such as Sian Torrington, Jack Trolove, Maria Colls, Danielle Burns, and Fiona Pardington. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork are donated by the artists to Wellington HELP.
Conor Twyford, General Manager, Wellington HELP said this is their first art fundraiser in many years and the fact that so many artists have come together to support the work of HELP shows how important the issue is for the community.
“The artists are collectively saying through their work that their vision is for a world free from sexual and gender violence. Our theme, ‘No Apologies’ strongly asserts that sexual abuse in any form is never the fault – in any way – of the person who was abused.”
“This is an interesting and eclectic display of art from some of our most creative New Zealand artists,” said Conor. It is well worth a visit to the gallery to see their interpretations of the “No Apologies” theme.
The exhibition will also feature the launch of Sian Torrington’s beautiful publication entitled “We Don't Have to Be the Building” reflecting on her art and community activism. Copies will also be available to purchase at the Gallery.
Conor said there is also an online catalogue available and the artworks can be purchased online as well as at the gallery.
More information about the exhibition and the online catalogue can be found on http://www.wellingtonhelp.org.nz/
For more information contact
Conor Twyford, GM, Wellington HELP
027 277 8149, firstname.lastname@example.org
Some Reflections on Working in The Sector
When I came into Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP as the new General Manager in October last year, I came with some existing reference points. I have a community sector background and so I am used to, and love, the special spirit that is so much part of working in this sector. That sense of clear purpose and connectedness, of going the extra mile. (Sometimes it’s called the Love Factor, but it still can’t excuse the pay).
Working in the sexual violence sector takes that spirit to a whole new level. The work is, by definition, hard. That much is self-evident.
It attracts, however, the most amazing people. People who are grounded in their experience of walking alongside survivors. Whose work is often grounded in their own experience. People who are rigorously professional. People who have learnt that good practice is essential for our healing. That holistic, wrap-around services work. That prevention and education are key. And who know, above all, that we must truly honour Te Tiriti and deal with the causes of colonial violence as well as rape culture if we are ever to genuinely deal to sexual violence here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
They also have ridiculous senses of humour. I didn’t expect to laugh so much.
Still, there are so many challenges. We are dealing in our daily work with the after effects of rape culture – a culture that is so insidious that we don’t even notice it much of the time. We are having to walk alongside survivors through institutions like Police and Courts. Institutions that are nowhere near perfect – as we know only too well from the many stories in the news.
The sector is deeply under-resourced – kaupapa Māori services, and services for male survivors are two that spring to mind immediately. But even the ‘mainstream’ survivor organisations like us at HELP and Rape Crisis – because of the way the sector is funded – are in constant crisis. The more people we see, the faster we have to run the fill the funding gap in our budgets.
When the whole sector is so under-resourced, it has real and genuine impacts. Research shows that people in the Rainbow community, and especially people of minority genders such as trans* and intersex, experience extremely high levels of sexual abuse. Even worse, they are often not seeking specialist help, because even when they do seek help they are not always getting it, or experiencing it as supportive. While it is great that $46 million extra over 4 years is being invested in a national helpline, into supporting male survivors and working with people who engage in harmful sexual behaviour – all excellent initiatives – there is still a desperate need to better resource our core, day-to-day work so that we have capacity to serve all survivors, including our minority communities. That saying from the union movement – an injury to one is an injury to all – has never been more true.
Things need to change.
And things are changing. The gender binary is dissolving as we speak, with more and more people identifying neither as straight or with a particular gender. With that, inevitably there will come a groundswell of demand for better, more responsive services. Outing rape culture is becoming part of the national discourse. We have seen the roar of outrage in particular from young people, especially young women, who are still overwhelmingly the targets of sexual violence, over what happened at Wellington College. Despite the headlines, within the Police are many excellent people working with the very best intent to bring about change. And surely all those repeated calls from so many corners for an inquiry into historic abuse in children’s homes – remember, 80% of those kids were Māori – must some day soon trigger an inquiry. We must learn from history if we are to stop making the same mistakes.
I started this blog post talking about how special this sector is, and that’s actually where I wanted to end. Because, alongside the harrowing stories, the daily struggle to meet demand, to pay the bills, are some wonderful, wonderful things. Here at Wellington HELP, we get almost daily offers of support. This has come in so many forms. Volunteers help us daily with basic admin. The NOPE sisters have emerged with their wonderful NOPE shirts – you can buy yours here. The wonderful Justin Meade found us a volunteer film crew, a graphic designer, and has almost single-handedly built us a new website. And of course we had that amazing flash mob last month, led by the wonderful Carol Shortis. Fresh from the Women’s Marches, MILCK, the American singer/survivor, let us use her song, I Can’t Keep Quiet, as the basis for the flash mob - and her publicist Laura Goldfarb supplied the studio audio for free, because she knew it mattered.
On Thursday 18 May, at the Southern Cross, all this wonderful effort will culminate. At 6pm, we are launching Friends of HELP. We invite you to come and watch the video we have made using all this wonderful volunteer energy. We invite you to be part of HELP. Part of changing the future. Because it’s too important not to be. Because change happens when people push for it. Because NOPE really does mean NO. Hope to see you there.
Arohanui ki a tātou katoa.
 www.kahukura.co.nz – See, for example, Sandra Dickson’s excellent research on partner and sexual violence in rainbow communities.