Have you heard the one about... rape?
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Rape in NZ: Join the debate
Just the other day at work we were sharing jokes. Someone's joke was to ask what is worse than finding a worm in your apple. The answer to this joke: rape.
It created a lot of laughter and a few shocked expressions but I was dumbfounded that this would be considered in any way humourous. Clearly the inventor and reteller of this joke has not experienced rape for themselves.
The word rape is used much too freely, and too often used to create laughter. Have we lost sight of what this word really means? Do we have no connection at all to what this entails for the person who survives it, not as a nasty joke but as a cruel physical and sexual attack?
The statistics for rape are incredibly high - and this is only taking into account those who come forth with their ordeal. I would put money on it that every person who reads this article has either been a victim of sexual assault or knows someone who has.
My experience with it leaves much to be desired from the police and the support networks that are supposedly there to assist.
The first time I came across it I was a witness to it. I was working with young people out in the streets and it was late on a Friday night. Two girls were walking around the train station, opposite the police station, clearly intoxicated and underage. When asked how old they were they replied that they were 15 and 16 and looking for their friends. While another youth worker and I were offering to give them a ride home or to a safe venue, two guys approached - clearly over the drinking age.
Legally, we could not force the girls to get into our car or to allow us to give them a ride home and clearly out looking for a fight, the two older guys persuaded the girls not to listen to us but to go with them and they would make sure they got home safely.
Watching the girls stumble off into the darkness of the subway with these two guys was nauseating. We decided to go and let the police know - just so that they were aware.
Later that night we had wandered over to the playground where there was a commotion going on and ended up breaking up a couple of fights between kids that should have long been tucked up in bed. Then, in the corner of the playground just outside of the playing area beside a large area of bush was one of the girls sitting against a bench and crying. Within the bush we could hear the sounds of her friend being raped.
While one of the guys in the team jumped in there to stop what was happening, I took off running as fast as my legs would carry me to the police station and asked them for help immediately.
Their response? They could only act if the girl herself came in and lodged a complaint to press charges. I actually yelled at the woman on the counter that they could intervene and stop it as it was happening right then. She simply shrugged and advised that they could not act on someone else's view of what was happening.
In the end we were able to organise a ride home for both girls. One of them was so shaken and in really bad shape but was too afraid to go the police for fear of her parents finding out. As far as I know, nothing was ever done.
Disillusioned with how little we could actually do on the streets to help people when it counted, I took a break from being out there on Friday nights. I never wish to witness something like that again.
However as fate would have it, I not only witnessed something like that again, but the next time it would happen to me.
Alone and away for a few days by myself during a really low period I made the foolish decision to go with a guy I had just met back to the local pub for a drink.
The attraction in this was not the attention but the drink. I didn't drink. I'd never been drunk in my life. I'd never before had a drink in a pub that wasn't coke. The thrill of having an alocholic beverage spoke to my rebellious side and I went along with him.
I should have seen the warning signs when he had a key to unlock the pub. Suspicion wasn't even raised when he locked the door behind us. I was on a road to self-destruction that night and the thrill of doing what I knew I shouldn't was hard to resist.
I was incredibly naieve and foolish and had never done the deed before. When he suggested going into the back where his flat was and having a drink and playing cards, I just thought, 'sure, why not.'
At the back of the pub was a small warehouse/storage type building with a few rooms off it which were inhabited by a few guys.
I knew enough to not accept a drink that had been poured for me out of my view. My moment of rebellion and anger at the world subsided and the realisation that I actually didn't know how to get out of this place started to set in.
I said I needed to go. It was another of the flatmates who piped up and said he wanted to have fun first. A fight broke out between the two men - wine bottles were smashed, ashtrays were thrown, a hole was punched in one of the walls, the table was upturned, a chair was thrown across the room. All the while I'm looking for a door, a window - anything that would open and set me free.
My new 'friend' eventually managed to shut his troublesome flatmate in one of the bedrooms and barricade it with a couch. He led me down a corridor to a sliding door which he had to ram open.
By the time we got outside and had run further down the street he had turned to me, saying "I saved you, you owe me now".
I will never forget that night. The way my body stopped responding and my mind floated above me - willing myself to scream, to fight but watching helplessly as I took everything he threw my way.
It would be years later that I would be told that I should not feel guilty for this - that in fact this is one of the best things a woman can do in this situation because it could have been much worse and violent had I put up a fight.
When I arrived back at the bach I was staying in, I couldn't get out of my clothes fast enough - I was shaking and crying hysterically. I couldn't phone my parents because I thought it had been my fault - hadn't I asked for it by being so stupid??
I calmed down enough to drive the 40 minutes back home and woke friends to tell them what had happened.
There had been surveillance cameras where it had eventually taken place. The thought of someone seeing these made me want to throw up. I told them it had happened at the beach. The thought of having to ID this man and see his disgusting face again ... I told them I'd not seen his face. They took me to the police station.
Apparently the fact that I wasn't beaten black and blue was reason to suggest I was lying. The detective actually put it to me that I was a Christian girl with a position within a church and had had sex willingly, but it hadn't been what I thought it would be so to cover my guilt I had made my whole story up.
I put it back to her that if that were the case would I not just say nothing? Why would I want people thinking this of me - isn't this worse than something that was a willing affair where I had control, choice and ownership?
I told the detective that it had not happened at the beach but at a park and that I remembered seeing a surveillance camera. I explained the location of the pub. I explained the chaos they would find if an officer was sent out there to examine it. I explained the smashed bottles, the broken chairs, the hole in the wall.
I was shaking and crying hysterically as I recalled the events that had occured only hours earlier.
The detective put it to me that it wasn't normal for a rape victim to change their clothes afterwards. My choice of language at this point became rather colourful and I was warned to calm down or I'd be arrested. It was clear that nothing good or productive was going to come from this encounter.
The detective asked if I would consent to a rape kit. I said yes straight away - asked where I signed. She then said it would be a waste of police time as I had lied to my friend about the location of the attack so how could I be trusted now. So I told her again - check the surveillance, call the police from the other town to check out the pub to verify my story, do a rape kit.
She leaned across the table and said that it was people like me who stopped real victims coming forward. I told her where to go and that it was people like HER that stopped people. She then read me my rights and advised me that I was under arrest for making a false statement to the police. She brought my friend back in the room and told her I had confessed to making it all up.
I was fingerprinted and told I would have to appear in court. I was advised that a rape kit was unneccesary. I was told the punishment she would seek would be a $20k fine or six months imprisonment.
I was later disowned by the elders of the church, by the members of the church I had looked up to and respected. The church was told not to trust me. I was uninvited to birthday parties. I was told I was no longer welcome at small groups. The youth whom I had worked with for years were told to stay away from me.
Because my own doctor was able to do a kit, albeit days later, and could confirm there were obvious signs of forced entry that would indicate sexual assault, I was granted diversion but still had to serve 40 hours of community service.
The man who had forcefully taken my virginity went absolutely free.
It would take me many years to trust men again. To not see myself as broken or dirty or ruined. To enter through the doors of a church again, knowing that a handful of self-righteous people did not equate to every Christian.
This took place seven years ago this month. Its effects are still felt. The tears still flow. The anger towards police still lies there. Years later, I got a verbal apology from the police for the way the situation was handled, but the distrust I feel towards them is just as strong.
Rape is NOT a joke. It is NOT ok. It is not a topic to laugh about. It needs a lot of attention here in New Zealand. So many women are victim to it. Not every victim will react the same. And when people are sitting in their offices and laughing at it - something is seriously wrong.
If you've been affected by rape or sexual assault you can contact support centres here.
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