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.