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Ethnic Communities Join Conversation About Sexual Violence

Finding people in the ethnic community ready to talk about sexual violence was surprisingly easy. 

“We put the call out, and our communities answered,” says Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Shama Ethnic Women’s Centre Director. “There were 25 people immediately keen to be involved.”

“Let’s Talk” is the result - a multi-language, multi-media community project to encourage people in ethnic communities to talk with each other about sexual violence.

“It is not always easy to find information about these topics in English, and it certainly isn’t available in multiple languages,” Ms Rodriguez explains. “We want to make sure that our communities know about legal protections, and people who want help know where to go.”

Ms Rodriguez says Shama is hearing a growing demand from ethnic communities for ways of talking about sex, relationships and how to prevent sexual violence. “We know too that hearing a message or watching a video in your first language has a different connection in your brain. First language messages are more effective. This is even more true in a country where sometimes people do not hear their first language very often.”

Friends Arjun Atree and Samarth Kulkarni both leapt at the chance to make videos and be part of Let’s Talk.

“Everything I know about sexual violence tells me men have to be part of prevention,” says Auckland based digital marketing professional Mr Atree. “We solve problems together. That’s why my video is in Hindi, to reach my community.”

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Mr Kulkarni spoke in Kannada, an Indian language, and also focused on prevention. “I’m keen to improve workplace culture, especially around discrimination and sexual violence,” the graduate of Auckland Law school says. “And I want to be useful if people ask me for help.”

There are now fourteen videos up at Let’s Talk, with more in production. Arabic, Farsi, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Tagalog all feature, as well as Kannada and Hindi.

Ms Rodriguez says the enthusiastic response comes from the way Shama has built relationships with ethnic communities over the last twenty years in Hamilton. “Going national with the sexual violence response was needed, because our people need cultural responses which mainstream organisations don’t always know how to provide.”

Last year, Shama hosted a hui with more than 100 participants in Wellington to kick off their sexual violence work. People talked about needing to find ways to talk about sexual violence, but not having the right words or knowledge about what to say.

“They wanted to know what to do if someone has been harmed? What stops sexual violence from happening? What about child sexual abuse? And even how to define sexual violence,” Ms Rodriguez explains. “Let’s Talk is our first attempt to get ethnic communities talking about this together.”

Hamilton-based counsellor Kaoru Tsukigi arrived in Aotearoa from Japan in 1998. “I know from my own experience of adapting to life here that having first language solutions is important, and that’s why I volunteered,” she says. “It’s powerful to hear this subject talked about in Japanese.”

Latin American community member Carla Ceppi covered child sexual abuse in her video. Ms Ceppi runs a Spanish language website from Wellington. “One of the major challenges we face as migrants is the lack of information in our native language which could allow us to have a better understanding about how the system works,” she says. “This makes us more vulnerable. I will be sending the video out through all my networks. The further the information goes, the better.”

Invercargill based Meggy Bartlett-McBride is involved with Shama as an advisory group member, but she also wanted to make a video in Tagalog. Originally from the Philippines, her video focuses on what sexual harm includes, especially in ethnic communities. “We wanted to include when people who should be helping you pressure you to have sex,” she says. “And also be really clear – culture or religion should never be an excuse for any type of abuse.”

You can find the Let’s Talk videos at

Let’s Talk is a series of six messages about preventing and responding to sexual violence experienced by ethnic communities. The messages were crafted by ethnic practitioners working in sexual violence treatment and prevention and have been translated into first languages by community champions. These community champions are the visible face of ‘Let’s Talk’. Each one is sharing a message from their heart, in their first language – let’s start to talk about this.

Shama anticipates this project will grow as it is advertised, and as more people get comfortable hearing or saying these messages.

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