When Prime Minister John Key shouted that opposition parties “backed the rapists” on Tuesday, he not only tried to distract people from his failure over the Christmas Island detainee issue, he trivialised rape and was deliberately offensive to many MPs. What’s more, the Speaker allowed him to do it. We asked the Speaker to hold John Key responsible but he refused to do so.
So on Wednesday, Green and Labour women MPs held John Key to account for his offensive statement.
I stood up with Labour and Green colleagues and registered the personal offence I felt as someone who has experienced sexual assault and worked with survivors.
Accusing us of supporting rapists was meant to shut us up; shut us up as thousands and thousands of victims have been shut up before. The Speaker’s decision to silence the women who rose to register their personal offence as survivors of sexual violence echoed that, but we made sure the Prime Minister could see the impact of his political games and how he dehumanised parliament.
Sitting in the House and being told I support rapists took me back to all those times I’ve seen families and communities torn apart when someone disclosed their experiences, and others chose to support the sexual offender. I’ve seen and felt intimately the consequences of that support. It was deeply offensive to me to be characterised as doing that.
Some of the MPs who said they were victims of sexual assault say they’ve never said it publicly before pic.twitter.com/0oM5GJGi5p
— Katie Bradford (@katieabradford) November 11, 2015
Accusing us of supporting sex offenders and rapists as if they are the lowest of the low also helps perpetuate rape culture because as well as trivialising the issue it ignores the reality that the majority of sex offenders are people who were previously friends or family. These people are often likeable. The young man who sexually assaulted me when I was at uni seemed otherwise likeable. I didn’t report or even publicly disclose. I had seen other young women do that and be ostracised, all because ‘he’ seemed like a good guy.
These are some of the same attitudes that mean our courts can only be relied on to convict in cases of what has been described ‘real rape’; a rape committed by a stranger with physical signs of injury. It may seem counter intuitive but to get on top of our rape culture we need to seek accountability and justice and express our pain but without creating the impression all rapists are monsters. Denying someone’s humanity and sexual agency is a monstrous act, that sadly all too often is perpetrated by people who are otherwise known as good people; not monsters.
Our system in no way provides accountability at the moment and that needs to change alongside our culture. Accountability for sexual violence and rape requires decision-makers to put themselves in the shoes of victims and survivors, and take this issue seriously.
John Key has personally minimised the alleged rapes disclosed by the ‘Roastbusters’, Tony Veitch’s history of abuse, refused to apologise to Tania Billingsley after she spoke out about institutional supports for rape culture, and minimised his harassment of a young service worker as horse play.
John Key and this Government have, over their term in Government, slashed funding to sexual and domestic violence agencies, gutted the Family Court, set a target to reduce crime despite low reporting rates for sexual and domestic violence being far too low, and have blocked substantive law reform to improve the 1 per cent conviction rate for sexual offending.
Those decisions have had much more profound consequences for victims of sexual violence than our request for the Prime Minister to oppose Australia’s bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council.
We stood up for thousands of New Zealanders who have suffered sexual violence and want the Government to take it seriously. I was proud to stand with so many women and men from the Greens and Labour for a safer society.