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, email@example.com
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.
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