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LOUISENICOLAS
September 21, 2014 | by  | in Homepage News |
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An Interview with Louise Nicholas

What was it that made you want to come to uni and show the film?

I think it’s that age between 16 and 24, you guys are in that age bracket where bad things happen more. For me, the film was important so that young people could understand that where we are today, you’ve got that support whereas there was nothing there for me back then. I also wanted to show the effects of sexual violence on a person – I’ve carried this for thirty years. As it stands, I’m hoping that you guys go out and you have a lot of fun and you don’t be afraid to have fun.

Do you think New Zealanders are better at talking about sexual violence now?

No, and yes. Right up until the last 18 months, 2 years max, when we started seeing a shift in people’s thinking and people’s attitudes. It’s about encouraging our communities to help and support our young ones. Let’s stop blaming the victim, let’s start educating society. For those who perpetrate this type of violence, it’s a choice made, so let’s help them make the right choice when it comes to relationships and being a part of society.

Does our culture still blame the victim?

There are sadly still pockets that do. People are starting to be okay with talking about sexual violence. If you take those in my age group, the baby boomers, it was always a taboo subject. Now our daughters and sons and their children are growing up with this constantly on TV, in the papers, right throughout the media. So discussions need to be had around the dinner table. We’re here to help support parents and caregivers as to how to have that conversation. And it will build up.

As a survivor’s advocate you’ve worked on education through schools. What’s been the driver behind that?

I sat in on a class and the teachers were talking about consent. At the end of that class, there was one kid there, he would have been about 14, 15. He put his hand up and said “miss, I think your class is really cool, and I’ve got to say thank you, because I didn’t realise I was raping my girlfriend”. And I said, “that’s awesome. What part of today’s lesson made you realise that?”. He said “that part when you fellas were talking about what’s okay and what’s not. I just thought, you know, she wanted it, because I’m her boyfriend.”. There’s this whole mind switch when you put them into scenarios and say how would you feel about that. They say ‘not too good’. So what about your partner? ‘Well, if I don’t feel good about that, she might not feel good about that either’. So this is what’s going on in their noggins. It’s getting them to that stage and then moving past that to the point of saying “that’s not okay”, it’s about starting that conversation with our young kids.

Is there a particular age group you’re targeting most with consent education?

Teenagers are the most prevalent but you’re dead right, it’s actually any age. It’s not about schools educating our kids, it’s about communities supporting our parents and our caregivers to be able to have these conversations. I’ve got three daughters – they’re in their twenties now – but the conversation I had to have with them was the wrong conversation because I had to tell them what had happened to me. I should have been having a conversation about this is how you keep yourself safe. Because we had to have that conversation, the relationship I have with my daughters is that they tell us everything – and sometimes it’s way too much information! It’s safe. I think if parents can start at even the youngest age – I’ve got a seven year old, and it’s just the little things that promote the conversation. The conversation I’ve had with him, he’s seven years old, is there was something on TV and he said “oh, they’re sexing”. You just pick up on what your kids are picking up on.

With the Tania Billingsley case, you spoke with her on how to handle the media. How does the New Zealand media handle rape cases?

It comes down to the individual reporter, to be honest. Regardless of who they work for, it’s what their knowledge is that is helpful to a story. If you’ve got someone who just wants to get that story but hasn’t done the research, hasn’t done anything to help promote the issues surrounding that story and bring out the good of that story, it can destabilise so many survivors and it can help create the rape myths that we are trying to abolish. When you’ve got somebody that has a passion for it, that understands, that has done their research, it can be a powerful tool for those who have been affected by sexual violence and those who haven’t, because they can understand the reasons why survivors of sexual violence do or don’t do what the public think they should do.

With Tania, what happened to her was wrong, in the sense of sexual violence obviously, but what happened outside of that, politically, the sad reality is it wasn’t about what this man had done to her, it was the politics surrounding that. And that’s wrong. So they took away the crime that was committed and put it onto a politician who screwed up. And her story was lost. Her story, being a survivor, was lost for a very long time and that’s why she went on TV. She had to bring that back. But that’s the media for you. They can be extremely helpful or they can screw it up.

The media need educating, take Roastbusters for example. I was absolutely disgusted and appalled with the way TV3 dealt with that. They knew the story was huge, they knew there would be impact. If anyone had any knowledge of sexual violence and the impact of that story coming out they would have geared up the services, let you know you could be inundated. They didn’t, and we were. The services required by survivors spiked. We struggle for resources as it is, had we known this story was coming we could have anticipated that. But you know, it was a story, it was sensationalised, to a point of discrediting so many who shouldn’t have been discredited but that’s journalism. Sadly.

Have the police improved in their handling of sexual assault from your case to cases like Roastbusters?

They’re improving. For me it’s always little steps are sometimes faster. I believe we will always have pockets of individuals that will screw it up. My hope is that the good colleagues stand up and say I’m not putting up with that, the NZ Police don’t want to put up with that, so either sort it out or get out. It’s about having the guts to say it. It’s not going to be policy and procedures recommended by Dame Margaret Bazley to be implemented by 2017. Yes, that has to happen but it also comes down to individuals.

What came across in the movie was that it was a very aggressive court process. In your view has that improved?

I’m quite honest in saying no, that hasn’t improved. I started going through the criminal court process back in 1993, what’s changed? Yeah, no, nothing. Sadly. But I don’t want to discourage survivors from coming forward, because what they need to know is back then, in the 90s and even in 2006, I had no court support. I didn’t have anyone standing with me who understood the system. All I had was police, who were doing their utmost to ensure my safety and to ensure I came through the system unscathed. Well, they couldn’t prevent that because I came out feeling like I’d been through the washing machine. If I’d had someone who understood it and understood me and my emotions and everything I was going through, I honestly believe I would have come out a better person. And that’s what you get today. I don’t want to put anyone off it if they feel they need to go through this because it is ok.

You’ve advocated before for changes to name suppression law and other system reforms. What reforms do you believe should be implemented?

I absolutely believe that name suppression needs to be looked at. It comes down to the victim survivor and what they want. Some survivors feel empowered to say “I’m not ashamed that this happened to me, I want people to know who he or she is because he or she has probably harmed others.” But when you’ve got family members involved with family members, you’ve got to tread pretty bloody carefully. It’s not about protecting the offender, it’s about protecting the victim survivor. It’s absolutely important for it to be victim lead. I’d love to see a change to the courts. I don’t want to see jurors. It’s not about a higher conviction rate – you get more convictions, you get more people in jail – it’s about allowing a survivor to speak his or her truth in that environment, and do so safely. For many that’s all they want to do. Reform is allowing those who can make changes to courts hear from those who know. It’s got to come from those who have experienced it.

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