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National Hui on Sexual Violence: Speech

24 March 2007 Speech Notes

EMBARGOED until delivery: 9am, 24 March 2007

National Hui on Sexual Violence: Priorities for Action and Principles for Partnership

Matai Room, Police College
8.30 am

Rau rangatira mā, tēnei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te rā. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā ra tātau katoa.

I wish to begin by paying tribute to two of my colleagues, the Hon Annette King, Minister of Police and the Hon Mark Burton, Minister of Justice, without whose support we would not be here today. I also want to acknowledge the Sexual Violence Project Team and the National Network: Ending Sexual Violence Together in bringing us together to focus our collective will to effectively addressing sexual violence in New Zealand.

I want to particularly recognise Kim McGregor for her tireless work in ensuring that this complex issue was not lost in the range of work undertaken within the ambit of the Safer Communities action plan and the subsequent programme of work arising from the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families. Sexual violence is now very much centre stage.

I have described sexual violence as a complex area of work because there are a range of issues that must be confronted if we are to tackle the appalling statistics which represent the victims of sexual violence and the terrible social and economic toll that the violence exacts on individuals, families and communities.

From the causes of offending and re-offending through to how the complaint, prosecution and trial aspects of our criminal justice system responds to the victims of sexual violence; from supporting recovery for the victims or survivors of sexual violence through to the services that address the behaviour of offenders, along with the underlying issues of power and control; from restorative justice to rehabilitation, from health to criminal justice; the complexity is to be found in the disparate nature of the individuals, communities, service providers, systems and agencies that are in some way engaged in addressing the consequences of sexual violence.

I have been saying for some time now that we need a zero tolerance towards violence if we are ever going to have a violence free society, but that is easier said than done. It means not just changing the perpetrators' attitudes, but also the attitudes of those who accept violence as inevitable, or who think victims are somehow to blame or who think it is a problem for someone else to solve.

I often refer to this quote:

"The public through the submissions made to this Committee, has expressed its concern at the increase in violence and has called on it to find solutions. It is not unfair to say that the public now has the community it deserves. For the last two or three decades permissiveness has gone unchecked; domestic violence is rampant; the 'macho' image has been encouraged by advertising for commercial interests to the detriment of women; aggressive behaviour and violence in 'sport' has become accepted; pornography has become accepted as the norm, as has violence in the visual media; racism has increased; economic inequality with its attendant stresses and frustrations has increased; illiteracy and lack of parenting skills are common and awareness of spiritual values is sadly lacking."

This is a powerful piece of text, and can be found in the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into Violence (the Roper Report) under the heading 'the Unpalatable Truth'.

It is unpalatable, because it tells us that we are all responsible for the kind of society we have today, and I say today, because those words could have been written today, but they were written nearly two decades ago. This section of the report ends with the phrase :

No one can afford to be complacent about the problem. Violence occurs by acts of commission and omission and we are all responsible."

Violence is our problem, not someone else's, and only we can fix it by working together as a society. It is clear to me and to my colleagues that government cannot do this on its own. The solutions are as complex as the problem and will involve government working closely and co-operatively with non-government organisations & communities.

That is why I was so pleased this week to have been able to jointly announce with the Minister of Justice the new Sexual Violence Taskforce that will be overseen by a small ministerial group including myself and the Ministers for Police, Justice and ACC.

The Taskforce will be modelled on the Family Violence Taskforce, which includes NGOs as well as government agencies, the police and the judiciary. You will see from the Ministers I have identified that we have covered the relevant portfolios to give that vital oversight of all the issues involved in sexual violence. The terms of reference and work programme are being work-shopped this weekend, so that you can have real input into how the Taskforce proceeds. This is intended to be a genuinely collaborative model.

It will involve nine chief executives from the major agencies that work directly in the area. The Taskforce will also include chief executive-level representatives from three NGOs, and a representative from the judiciary. Expert advice will be provided by
a reference group made up of NGOs and others working in the area of adult sexual violence.

For some time now there have been calls for such a taskforce to examine the effectiveness of the criminal justice system's responses to sexual offending against adults.
This includes preventing sexual offending and re-offending, improving justice-related outcomes for adult victims (including victims of historic abuse), and holding offenders accountable for their actions.

We need to ensure that investigation practices protect the safety and integrity of victims, so that they will know that sexual violence will be taken seriously.

We also need to look at the justice system, and at ways to increase victims' confidence in the system. The investigation and trial process are two points in the justice system where many adult victims are known to drop out.

As I said at the outset, the issues raised by sexual offending are complex and require a multi-faceted approach, which is why we did not add it to the work of the Family Violence Taskforce. We felt that to do so could diminish the focus of both. And it is also why we have set up the Taskforce to deal specifically with adult sexual violence the issues relating to child sexual abuse are also complex, and we did not want to take the focus away from this important aspect of the Safer Communities action plan.

The Safer Communities Action Plan, which gives rise to the Taskforce, is a whole-of-government plan that identifies reducing sexual violence as a priority. Last year, the Ministry of Justice formed the inter-agency Sexual Violence Project Team and many of its members are here to engage with you and hear your feedback.

One thing that will be critical to the success of the new sexual violence taskforce is improving the low reporting and conviction rates for sexual offending. That is why the government last month committed $900,000 to fund research to identify the barriers to adult victims reporting sexual violence attacks, so that we can design effective interventions.

A grant from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology will fund the two-year project, which will be led by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice and the New Zealand Police. The research will: investigate what percentage of sexual offences in New Zealand end up with a successful conviction; investigate the rate of and reasons for attrition once complaints are made; look at ways to improve the likelihood of victims making formal complaints; and investigate how victims can best be supported through the criminal justice system.

At the moment we don't even know what percentage of sexual assault and rape complaints make it through to conviction because these statistics have not been collected.

We do know from anecdotal evidence, and from studies in other countries with similar criminal justice systems, that the rate will be very low. In the UK, for instance, the chance of obtaining a conviction for sexual violence is just 5.6 per cent. Given that reporting of sexual offences is also very low, this means that those who commit sexual violence currently have a very good chance of getting away with it. This leaves victims feeling powerless. It also undermines their and the general public's confidence in the justice system. And it means many offenders are not being held accountable for their actions.

Many of you will be involved in this research because, to get the best results, we need to involve NGOs and others working in the area of sexual violence prevention and support.

The project will commence in July 2007 and will run for two years. It will consider issues for a range of victims aged over 16, including: Māori, Pacific, ethnic, migrant and refugee victims, victims with disabilities, rural victims, and victims who know their offenders. It will include surveys and interviews with key informants such as yourselves; analysis of criminal justice and other relevant statistics; and case-tracking in a number of locations throughout New Zealand and it will build on relevant research already undertaken in New Zealand.

I do want to respond to those who have said that this research is not necessary, because we already know why victims of sexual violence do not come forward, however, that is not the motive for the research. We want to know what would make the difference. What are the effective interventions we could make and support we could offer to enable victims to see their complaint through to completion?

We are still finalising the membership of the Taskforce on Sexual Violence, but I believe NNEST needs to be there as the largest national network of agencies working with adult victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. That will include representation on the Taskforce itself, as well as representation in the expert reference group. I am interested in your views regarding NGO membership on these groups and I welcome feedback from this hui.

I am also pleased to let you know that the government will be providing financial support to help NNEST undertake its crucial co-ordinating role for the sector. The funding will be $35,000 and is contributed from the budgets of Justice and other state agencies with which you work. The funding will be a grant for NNEST to meet as a national network.

Government needs to tap into the incredible knowledge and experience that you have in this area. It is also very useful for us to have a single group that represents the sector, with which we can liaise. This doesn't mean that we don't want to or need to have direct relationships with your members and those who have yet to join, but it is not practical for government to consult directly with every organisation on every issue, any more than it is practical for you to deal with every government agency individually each time you have something to discuss.

So thank you for your work so far. It is valuable and valued. And I hope today's announcement of some resourcing towards the co-ordination role you are providing is a signal to you of the genuine commitment to partnership the government brings to the table.

In conclusion, I want to say why this hui is so important to me personally. As Minister of Women's Affairs, it is important that I state that not all adult victims of sexual violence are women, but the overwhelming numbers are women. That being said, that makes me acutely aware that some of the reasons why women stay silent in the face of sexual violence are felt even more keenly by the male victims of sexual violence, which reinforces the power and control aspects of this form of violence. This will not be overlooked by the Taskforce.

The perpetrators of sexual violence rely on their victim's silence to avoid being held to account for the damage they do. They rely on their seeming ability to transfer the shame of their crime to the victim of their offending.

If we are to effectively address sexual violence in our communities, in our streets and in our homes, then we must be prepared to break the silence and challenge the victim blaming that enables it to occur.

Consent freely given lies at the heart of what is the right to freedom of sexual expression. Anything less than that is a violation of that right; and I challenge the Taskforce and this hui to think about the ways that the systemic failure to protect that right might be addressed.

Because that is why we are here.

You can give voice to the victims who do not feel able to speak for themselves. You can give dignity to the victims who shoulder the shame that does not belong to them. And you can challenge our legal system to become a justice system, which holds those who commit acts of sexual violence to account for the damage they do not just to the victims, but to the community as a whole.

"Violence occurs by acts of commission and omission and we are all responsible."


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