Attendees from Cartwright Seminar Call Minister of Justice to Action

Women’s Health Action Trust held its 25th annual Cartwright Anniversary Seminar on August 13th this year dedicating it to improving justice for sexual violence survivors.

‘One in a Hundred’ explored the research, policy and service based solutions that have been identified over the last five years to change the appalling statistical reality that the seminar title refers to.

That is, in Aotearoa, in the 21st Century, we still have a situation in which only 7 out of 100 incidences of sexual assault against adults are reported to the Police, of those only 31% reach trial and only 13% result in a conviction (including 5% guilty pleas).

That means that that only a tiny proportion of sexual assaults – less than 1 in 100 – result in a formal sanction.

 

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Group Photo – Back row: Paulette Benton-Greig Project Restore, Julie Radford-Poupard Women’s Health Action, Dr Kim McGregor Rape Prevention Education, Louise Nicholas National Survivor Advocate. Front Row: Elisabeth McDonald Assoc. Prof Law Victoria University Wellington, Warren Young Policy and Law Reform Consultant, Kathryn McPhillips Clinical Manager Help.

 

The reasons for this situation have been well rehearsed and include social effects such as survivor self-blame and myths about what counts as ‘real rape’, the perception – and reality – that the criminal justice process is brutal and inhumane to victims, and the effect of evidential and level of proof requirements.

The public saw the reality of those effects when Rickards, Schollum and Shipton were acquitted of raping Louise Nicholas in 2006.

It was fitting then that Louise opened the seminar by reminding us that despite the public outcry at the time and the rush to examine the problem, nothing has actually changed since then.

She talked about how it breaks her heart every time she has to tell a survivor that there is nothing to stop that from happening to them.

Her opening was a poignant reminder that change requires the political will to implement recommendations; that we have invested heavily in research and problem solving since 2006, but that the will and the courage to make change has waned.

Collectively we need to reinvigorate the issue, agitate for change and justice and stay the course in demanding accountability from our leaders.

Elisabeth McDonald (Assoc.Prof Law, VUW) and Warren Young (ex Law Commission, law reform consultant) took the audience through the various recommendations for procedural change that were identified through their collaborative research projects – the Law Commission issues paper Alternative Pre-Trial and Trial Processes: Possible Reforms (NZLC IP30, 2012) and the Victoria University research resulting in From “Real Rape” to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand.  

They emphasized that whilst the nature of the mismatch between the criminal justice system and the realities of sexual offending means that the best results would be achieved through fundamental and systemic change, there are also other more modest changes that could be made if the issue of rape justice was on a government’s agenda.

The very disappointing outcome of the recent review of the Evidence Act (only one recommendation was accepted) and the languishing Law Commission project (no work has been done since the Issues Paper submission process) are clear examples of opportunities missed.

Stella Gukibau and Sue Ngawati Osborne from Tu Wahine Trust and Paulette Benton-Greig from Project Restore highlighted the possibilities for effective and transformational justice processes outside the formal criminal justice system.

Stella and Sue discussed the use of tikanga Maori to work with whanau and to create the chance for appropriate outcomes for Maori.  They also proposed a recommendation of their own: that, building on the positive outcomes from Te Kooti Rangitahi (the marae-based youth court), specialist sexual violence courts be created and embedded within Marae.

Given the reduced recidivism rates from that Court, and the positive experiences in Christchurch of formal courts sitting on marae, that may indeed be a way forward that makes a difference.

Project Restore, which provides specialist restorative justice processes in cases of sexual offending, offers another service delivery model that has the potential to assist more survivors and families, particularly those that are least likely to be served by the formal criminal justice system.

Increased support for these initiatives and for other alternative justice processes was strongly supported by all speakers and the seminar audience.

Acknowledging the great work has been done to create solutions and recommendations to the problem posed by our collective ‘One in a Hundred’ problem and recognizing the need to follow through and demand effective change attendees at the Cartwright Seminar today called on the Minister of Justice to hold sexual offenders to in ways that better meet the needs of victims by:

  • Developing alternative models, including restorative justice and other culturally appropriate processes, to produce better outcomes for all;
  • Developing specialist sexual violence courts for those who acknowledge guilt (including providing treatment for adult to adult offending)
  • Appropriately reforming existing court processes so that defendants are more involved and victims are treated more fairly and in a less traumatizing way.

Our thanks to Women’s Health Action Trust for providing this opportunity to bring attention back to the issues of justice and law reform for sexual offending and to the contributing organisations; Counselling Services Centre, Rape Prevention Education, Tu Wahine Trust.

Article written by Help. Click here to visit Help’s website.