The Vigil for Grace Millane in Auckland's Federal Street last night was a beautiful gathering with shared purpose to honour those who have died and to voice the need for change. Thank you to Ali Mau and others who arranged, it, who spoke and who led us in song.
But it was only half the story. There was much talk of men's violence against women, in particular domestic violence, but this was not how Grace Millane died. We don't yet know her story, but we do-know that most female travellers and many other girls and women who are killed in this country are killed as part of sexually motivated attacks. This seems to be much harder to talk about than domestic or family violence.
So why is the distinction important? While both are fueled by a context of misogyny and undervaluing women and children, they are different in their nature and require different responses including different legal and treatment responses. Those responses are also differently resourced. For example, there are few places in this country now without access to "living without violence programmes for men who abuse their partners, but I am not aware of any community programmes to treat men who have thoughts of sexual violence towards adult women who are not their partners. This is notable in a society in which it seems about 1 in 5 adult women is a victim of sexual assault, and a society which is saturated with pornography which often denigrates women and abuses children, all the while training the users' brains to align their sexual arousal patterns with this violence.
One of the things we know about this kind of violence is that it often follows an escalating pathway. So where is the outreach to invite people struggling with these kinds of urges or thoughts, to engage in treatment early on in this pathway. And where is the treatment.
At HELP we support people who are making complaints of sexual assault to police. Day after day, women are making complaints about men who have sexually assaulted them, but day after day most of those complaints go nowhere because our criminal justice system requires a kind of evidence which doesn't usually exist. Just last week a woman told me that sh felt like the only ways she would have had that evidence was if she had been wearing a camera, but she couldn't have done that as she had no idea of when someone was going to decide to sexually assault her.
So what does this tell the guy with sexually harmful behavior - that he can do what he likes in this country because there is about a 99% chance that he will get away with it.
If we want this to be a safe country for women travellers, or for any woman or child, we need to turn this around. We need to let people know that it is not OK to use other people to meet their sexual needs. We need an outreach program me to invite those who might be struggling with sexually harmful ideas or urges to seek treatment. We also need to make a dramatic change to our justice system so that it can be effective at providing consequences for those who sexually violate adults and children, to turn that 99% chance of getting away with it, into a 99% chance of facing consequences, before it gets to homicide.
We are committed to continuing to provide specialist services to help victims reclaim their lives after the devastation that sexual violence causes.
To do this we would appreciate your support this Christmas.
Thank you as always for your support. Wishing you safe and happy holidays Kathryn McPhillips
Executive Director - HELP Auckland
PS. If you would like to support HELP's ongoing work to help victims of sexual assault,
please consider making a donation.