OPINION: Last week the young Wellington woman at the centre of the intent to rape charges laid against a Malaysian diplomat came to me for support.
I've been asked a lot this week why the woman came to me.
I don't presume to talk for this woman, and I won't. But I will say she didn't seek my support because I was the Green Party's spokesperson on diplomatic affairs. I'm not. She came to me because I'm the spokesperson for women and because I've spent my career fighting violence against women.
All along this case has played out in the political arena and in the media, as a diplomatic fiasco. And there in a nutshell, is the problem. In truth this so-called fiasco was about a monumental failure of a Government to do the right thing by a young woman. But she, and her right to justice, barely made it into the story in its first few days.
As the Foreign Affairs Minister proffered his apologies to the Prime Minister, and commentators mused about the international diplomatic implications of the fiasco, she, it seemed, was almost an afterthought.
Since day one, she told police she wanted the man to stay here and face trial. But a succession of failures to consider her situation seriously led to the man being free to leave.
I see this not just as a failure to do right by a woman at a horrendous time in her life - which it patently was - but as a failure of the Government and wider society to take the issue of violence against women seriously.
Why didn't the minister think that an alleged sexual attack on a woman by a foreign diplomat was important enough to deserve his on-going attention?
Why didn't this alleged attack by a diplomat send shockwaves through the Government?
Why didn't it rouse ministers into micromanaging every aspect of their officials' response to this case, in the same way they did, for example, with the SkyCity Convention Centre deal?
The failure of ministers not to respond appropriately to this alleged attack is symptomatic of the same kind of attitude that lead another minister to think it was OK to phone the police on behalf of a man charged with domestic abuse.
I can't help see these examples as a failure to appreciate the seriousness of sexual violence and all violence against women.
Sexual and domestic violence are at epidemic levels in this country and we need a consistent response across all of government. And most importantly we need leadership that demands our violent culture changes.
We need leadership which shows, by its own actions, that all forms of violence against women are completely unacceptable
It is a government's obligation to ensure the safety of all its citizens. I think this Government is failing in that obligation
Victims of all forms of violence need to know that when they do speak up the system will respond appropriately. This is not often happening. The justice system needs to work.
The Law Commission recently came up with a range of solutions to improve the 1 per cent conviction rate for sexual violence in NZ. These were hugely supported by the sector. But the current Minister of Justice shelved this work.
The Glenn Inquiry and the most recent Family Violence Death Review report again painted clear pictures of a system failing to ensure justice.
The police can be singled out for making great improvements to their practices, but changes by this Government to the Family Court, legal aid and police prosecution guidelines have made it even more difficult for victims to get justice.
Perpetrators need to be held to account and offered the help they need to change their beliefs and behaviours.
And services that support victims and prevent violence must be given the resources and respect to do their job.
It is good that the diplomat at the centre of this case, Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, is coming back to New Zealand to face a trial here. That was what the young woman wanted all along.
The problem is that he was allowed to leave here in the first place. More than a diplomatic botch-up, that, and the blaming and face saving that followed it, was a failure to lead on the serious issue of violence against women. At the end of the day a young woman was let down by a Government that didn't even notice her.
- Sunday Star Times