Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Would Kate Sheppard Do?

There has been a lot in the NZ media lately about violence against women.   Most of it has been centred around the misinterpretation of the Labour leaders 'I'm sorry for being a man' statement, (and subsequent backlash from what I can only imagine are men insecure with their own masculinity), and some of it has been from the Tania Billingsley case.  That too has had its backlash, mostly from right wing bloggers and men whom, in my opinion, also seem insecure in their masculinity and, dare I say, political leanings.  

I wasn't going to throw my two cents into the fray - many journalists and bloggers have already commented and far more eloquently than I can.  I have however, been quietly sitting back and watching the media and blogger frenzy unravel, and as such, I have been wondering and shaking my head in disbelief and silent disgust. 

But this morning I read Martyn Bradburys article in the Herald and it reignited my wonderings.  It was the icing on the cake in terms of things I have read and watched in the last week or so that has left my 'wonderings gene' twitching.   Reading through his article, and reflecting on the appalling statistics, it was his reference to Kate Sheppard that really had an impact on me.

Our country has a proud history of strong female role models - from Kate Sheppard through to Helen Clarke.   In terms of women's rights, New Zealand has been a world leader, a trail blazer in 'social democracy' where  we were the first in the world to give women the right to vote, led by Kate Sheppard.  With this in mind, I wondered what Kate would think of what is happening?  What would she do?  I am pretty confident she would not have sat back quietly wondering.  I imagine she would be most disappointed with how complacent and we have become.  And so, this post was born.

The Wonderings:

Wondering Number 1:  The media.  

Once again I need to vent my frustration at the mainstream media who actually started this whole thing off by turning Cuniliffes well intended words into a feeding frenzy of misinterpretation, innuendo, and twisted rhetoric.   I have written about the importance of our mainstream medias impartiality and the huge responsibility they have bestowed upon them, before.  Their words shape the discourse of an argument, and in this case it allowed the right wing 'anti anything positive' to go forth and spew their mantra that Labour is anti men.  Instead of reporting policy they went straight to tabloid reporting.  In doing so they lost a perfect opportunity to focus on violence, New Zealand's rape culture, and the chance to have a decent public debate around doing something about it.  For that, I am cross.  Once again, an incredibly important issue that impacts on all kiwis has been smudged, and obscured by a ludicrous beat up by journalists who should know better.  

And so I wonder, is there an unwritten policy that reporters have to find opportunities to sensationalize wherever possible, and especially if it involves Labour?  Have they forgotten why they went into Journalism?  Have they forgotten about their care of duty to the people of New Zealand?

Wondering Number 2:  The discovery that someone has set up a Facebook page 'The Labour Party's War On Men'.  


I'm officially gobsmacked.  It is an open page and I had a quick trawl.  The posts seem intent on showing the few statistics that show women also conduct domestic violence and that men are victims too, and some posts are meant to provoke and offend.   I can see what they are doing, in an attempt to justify their position, and I appreciate that there are cases where this is the reality.  But the majority of statistics for domestic violence/violence against women are committed by men.  This page and their political point scoring posts undermines all the efforts of those who work for the elimination of violence.

Not only do I find this bad taste, but it offends me on many levels.   It offends me as a woman because it disrespects all the women whose lives have been torn apart by domestic violence, it offends me as a Mum, because it takes away from the seriousness of child abuse, and it offends me as a wife and a sister, because it suggests that men who create such pages are rednecked, irresponsible cretins.  None of the men I know fit this category.  On the contrary, the men I know find this kind of thing appalling, and unlike the creators of this page, understood the genuineness of the Labour leaders sentiment.  They have the maturity and common sense to understand what he was saying.  I am all for a good joke but this is bad taste.

Domestic violence and abuse is not a laughing matter, and while there is dissension amongst our countrymen and women around dealing with this in a co-ordinated and serious matter, then we do not move forward.  It is everyones responsibility to stand up and do something - and for our male leaders and role models to do just that is something that needs to be applauded, not twisted and manipulated in this way.

And so I wonder, who does this sort of thing?  What kind of person fails to see the significance of the issue?  My guess is that they are young, immature, right wing and perhaps thought this would be a great way to drum up more anti left sentiment.  Unfortunately, the people I have spoken to think it is childish and ignorant.  It leaves me ashamed to know we have kiwis who support this kind of thing.  I wonder if its the same group that think the Roast Busters rape culture is perfectly normal and acceptable?  

Wondering Number 3:  Paula Bennett on The Nation 

Yesterday, as she was being interviewed, she was asked about New Zealand's rape culture.  Earlier in the week she said "New Zealanders need to change the way we respect each other, in order to abolish rape culture".   This was in response to Tania Billingsleys brave and courageous appearance on TV3s 3rd Degree about her alleged assault by Muhammad Ismail, who subsequently pulled the diplomatic immunity card and high tailed it out of the county.  Well blow me down with the proverbial feather when yesterday she suffered from the obligatory mental health disorder commonly found in the Beehive,  political dementia, when she suddenly forgot she thought there was a rape culture in NZ.  Instead, she stated "I wouldn't say we've got a rape culture or a sexual violence culture in New Zealand..."  It was a pretty big flip flop.  Then to punctuate her flip flop, she went onto blame the statistics on New Zealand's high level of reporting.  I found that appalling and I agree with Lisa Owens summation that to do so was 'trivialising' the situation.  I was left underwhelmed by her performance and disappointed that she had gone from ardent supporter of domestic violence victims to fence sitting turn coat.

And so I wondered.  In only days she changed her mind about the situation in New Zealand, and I wonder why.   I note that a prominent right wing blogger condemned her original stance shortly after her original call for the need to make changes to address our rape culture, and then all of a sudden she backtracks and disavows any knowledge of such culture.  Did she have pressure on her to change her position, and take heat off the people that Tania was calling for to resign?  I had initially admired her original stance, especially because she is a high profile female role model and seemed to be going up against her colleagues, but her subsequent back track has left me cold and disappointed.  I wonder where her backbone disappeared to...

Wondering Number 4:  Judith Collins on Q&A

Similar to the above interview the day before with Paula, I found some of the answers from the Minister as she was interviewed by Rachel Smalley to be quite flippant and almost blasé about Tania Billingsleys case and the work that Women's refuge does for domestic violence victims.   I got the impression the reason the funding was frozen for Women's refuge is because they are predominately dealing with gang related violence against women, and this puts off other women from using them.

What was intriguing was her answer to Rachel's question about the handling of the Tania Billingsleys case by MFaT and what message that might send to young kiwi men about sexual assault.  Her response was quite correctly summed up by Rachel as flippant when she replied that it wasn't applicable because in this case the man in question was neither kiwi or young.  Both Techno Man and I looked at each other and simultaneously said "what, is she serious?".  There were times during the interview where I wondered who the reporter was, as Judith pushed her way through like a bull in a china shop.  She even managed to claim the reporter was listening to Labour too much and not to take too much stock in what they say.  She went on to say that the men in cabinet were quite angry over the whole affair and were in fact 'ropeable'.

And so I wondered.  What don't we know about the Women's Refuge funding freeze, and why don't we know?  What is the real reason the men in cabinet are 'ropeable' and 'angry'?  Is it because they are disgusted in the way MFaT handled the case, their own handling of the situation or what I think is more likely, that Tania Billingsley came forward and has been upfront in a courageous and open way?

Wondering Number 5:  The panel on Q&A 

The panel were discussing Judith's interview and in particular the Tania Billingsley case when an obscure reference to the victim (Tania) setting the whole thing up was mentioned.  It was fleeting and quickly the host Susan Woods turned the conversation over, but the allegations that Tania had made it up and it was a political manoeuvre, were already out there.  I found myself gobsmacked again.  I wondered what the ex ACT Mp was getting at, and so I did a bit of a quick google search.  Sure enough, there were a few references.

It would appear that snide innuendos are starting to surface from fairly right wing blog sites who seem to be using this crime to push their own right wing political agendas.   For these bloggers to use her story to push their own conservative Right wing agenda disrespects all victims of rape and violence.  As men they should be ashamed, and as kiwi men they have quietly given tacit approval to young men that this kind of issue is not a 'big deal'.  All because a strong young women stood up and denounced domestic violence and sexual assault for the heinous crime it is, and made it clear her feelings about how the Government has dealt with this case. She has made a stand on behalf of all women who have been victims and for that, she should be held aloft, not treated with such disrespectful disdain.

And so I wonder.  How on earth are women ever to get a fair go in this world when there are clear so called 'rules' about how you stand up and state your case?  It seems in Tania's case she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't.  Initially when she was a faceless victim to a diplomat who ran off under diplomatic immunity amidst bureaucratic bungling, she was a just a statistic and harmless.   The moment she came out in the open, it seemed she was a target.  When you look at it from that perspective, those on the far right seem to only like their victims to be faceless and voiceless.  I wonder what message this sends women?  How many feel safe enough to stand up under that kind of backlash?

Final Wonderings

Where does this leave us in the public debate on violence and sexual assault? 

What does it mean for me as a parent?

How do I teach my daughter what is acceptable and what is not?  Fortunately she is surrounded by outstanding male role models who are disgusted by domestic violence and find sexual assault an abhorrent and unnatural unmanly thing to do.  The reality and the statistics paint a different picture.  The chances of someone she knows being a victim of such violence is 1 in 4.  Teaching her about personal safety and how to help will be important and I sure hope someone is having the same discussions with the young men she will encounter.

What does it mean for me as an educator?

Do we in education teach our young people to be resilient, strong, and respectful of what it is to be a man and what it isn't? What it is to be a women, and what it isn't?   Are schools and teachers providing our young people with the skills, values and social precursors they need to navigate the world without resorting to violence?  Do they have opportunities to discuss, reflect and understand?

I am proud to be a woman, and I am grateful to live in NZ, but we would have to be kidding ourselves if we thought it was all peachy and rosy.

The last few weeks have highlighted that we still have some work to do to eradicate violence and sexual assault in our country and in countries around the world.  It will take all of us, not just women and not men on there own - but all of us together, making a stand to say enough is enough.

There is an election coming up.

This is your chance to do something proactive and real for all the women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.    From where I sit, the only political parties who are serious about getting on top of this insidious dismantling of our society are those on the left.  In particular, Labour have outlined some real practical solutions that are fiscally responsible and take a holistic and long term, structured view.  Coupled with the vision from the Greens and Internet Mana, the most vulnerable in our communities have a chance to be productive, taxpaying citizens.  

And so I wonder, what would Kate do?

The Facts:  

Women’s Refuge statistics

20,000 women and children needed the help of Women’s Refuge in 2013.

Women’s Refuge is New Zealand’s most significant family violence organization with a 40-year history of providing comprehensive services for women and children.

In 2012-13, our refuges provided 76,000 safe beds for women and children who did not feel safe to sleep in their own homes – this was an average of 209 women and children each night.

The average length of stay in a safe house in 2012-13 was 24 days for a woman and 29 days for a child. This is an increase from the previous year which was 20 and 26 days respectively.

On average, of the women who seek our help, 64% report psychological abuse; 49% report physical abuse; 23% report financial abuse; 21% report harassment and stalking; 12% report spiritual abuse; 12% report sexual abuse and 11% report that weapons were used. 24% of women reported that children witnessed or heard the abuse. (note most women experience multiple forms of abuse so these figures will not add up to 100%)

56% of Women’s Refuge clients are under 36 years of age.

35% of children are under the age of five and 86% of the children we deal with are under the age of 10.

Women’s Refuge receives an average of 82,000 calls to its Crisis/Support lines every year. This means we answer a crisis or information call every nine minutes of every day.

In 2013 we had 821 staff with 477 unpaid or volunteer staff. Half of our workers – paid or unpaid – identify as Māori.

Women’s Refuge responded to 1,500 Police Safety Orders in 2013 which is a huge increase on the previous year which had 880 PSO responses. We are not paid for this work.

Police refer more than 27,000 Family Violence Interagency Response referrals to Women’s Refuge each year. We are paid for only 2200 of these referrals.

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