For Rape Awareness Week, two women share their stories of survival.
Warning: This story contains references to, and descriptions of rape and sexual violence which may be triggering to survivors.
Rapists are hiding in plain sight. But after 10 years of abuse, 50-year-old businesswoman Anna* escaped hers.
Anna met her husband when she was just 24. He was a bit older - in his early 30s.
They moved in together after six months, and married after a year. He was wealthy. They travelled. They had a lake house, a beach house, a mountain house. Friends, holidays, cars, parties. “It was a dream,” Anna said.
Small warning signs popped up here and there, but things were fine until 10 years into their marriage, when Anna fell pregnant with their first child.
“That was when he changed.”
She discovered he had been using cocaine. “He was so good at hiding things. I realised that I didn’t know him at all.”
The benders began. They lasted up to five months. He became violent. Sexually violent.
“I felt like I had no choice.”
When her husband raped her, Anna imagined she was not there. To keep herself safe from mortal danger, she didn’t physically fight.
“It wasn’t safe to speak out. It wasn’t safe to say no. Even though I was being physically hurt already, it would be worse if I said no.”
In hindsight, all the signs of abuse were visible. The emotional and physical abuse, the gaslighting. The isolation from friends and family. He kept money from her. He told her she was crazy, over and over again.
“It was like being a bird in a golden cage. But a golden cage is still a cage.”
“The most immediate thing that people can do if they’ve experienced sexual violence, is telephone us,” says Kathryn McPhillips, executive director of HELP Auckland, an organisation that supports survivors of sexual violence.
“If they’re in Auckland they can call our 24 hour helpline, 09 623 1700. If they’re not in Auckland, they can call Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00.”
McPhillips said talking to somebody who understood how things played out, and their consequences, was important.
“It’s one of those traumas that people don’t talk about, but the most fundamental, natural way that the human race deals with trauma is to tell someone.”
With sexual violence, victims are often unable to tell people in their immediate circle, as they may not be sure they will get a “safe” response.
“It’s really important that you call an agency like us and talk about it. We can also set you up with police to make a report - we talk that through with people if that’s what they want to do - we are called out to police interviews and forensic medical examinations, so you can have us with you through that process as well.”
Anna tried asking for help from friends, but her husband was charming. No one could see or believe what was happening.
On her second attempt, she and her two daughters finally left for a safe house.
“He was going off again. It was the middle of winter. I said ‘grab your coats girls’ and we left. And we never looked back.”
She said New Zealand had a cultural problem when it came to sexual violence towards women - and it was not limited to lower socio-economic parts of society.
“Men like my husband are part of an entitled, empowered, private school boys’ club. They think women are less than, and they can, and they will.
“And it’s rife. Just rife. They’re hiding in plain sight, and they’re starting young.”
Sadly, both Anna’s daughters have also been victims of unwanted sexual advances from men.
One - barely a teenager, is called a slut by a boy at school on a daily basis.
“One of her teachers suggested she cover her shoulders, as if shoulders were the problem. The other teacher said on mufti day ‘did your mother see you leave the house like that? You look like you’ve come from a night on K Rd’.
“She a kid, and these are female teachers,” Anna said.
“This boy is poking my daughter in the back at assembly, and she’s saying ‘stop it’, and he does it again and he laughs at her. Because men in our culture can touch women - they can touch women’s bodies when women don’t want them to, and when women say ‘no,’ the men laugh.”
At 16, her eldest daughter was raped by a trusted friend.
“He told her he was suicidal. He wore her down. It completely derailed her life. She left school. It rocked our entire world.”
Anna said her experience reporting the rape to police was a bad one.
The boy was never charged.
HELP’s Kathryn McPhillips said it was unfortunate that many survivors of sexual violence reported bad experiences with police.
“They are working really hard to fix that - but it’s not straightforward. Members of the police are members of the community, so they’re as susceptible to rape myth as anyone else, until they’re properly trained - as police are trying to do”
She said the most important reason for having an advocate during the process of reporting sexual violence was to ensure the victim’s wellbeing.
“Police’s aim is to get the evidence and deal with the person who did this to you,” she said.
But for the men or women reporting sexual violence, recounting what has happened can be traumatic.
“It’s our role to help people feel safe through those processes so that they won’t be accumulating more trauma.”
Everybody is susceptible to the rape myth, McPhillips said.
“What was she doing out at that time, why did she get in the car with him, but she’d already had sex with him before.
“All of those reasons women get blamed for rape are ideas that still exist in our society - in our rape culture.
“And police can hold those beliefs just like any other member of our society can.”
McPhillips said the media coverage and public reaction that followed “made public the fact that these beliefs are still prevalent in society.”
“The boys will be boys myth is a classic. If ‘boys will be boys’ means that they’re allowed to demean and harm women, that is so not ok.
“In New Zealand we have this hyper-masculinity as something in our culture to aspire to, and it’s unfortunate when that is paired with boys feeling they are entitled to demean girls, or to see them as objects.”
Sarah* tries to speak to friends and acquaintances about the time she was raped as much as possible.
“Especially to guys. It’s important for men to know this happens to their friends - women they know in real life.
“I think women are very aware that it happens. Women aren’t surprised. Most of them have gone through some sort of a seedy situation where they've felt unsafe at the very minimum.”
Sarah was 25 when, in 2011, she was brutally raped by a drug dealer in her own home.
On that day she smoked meth with a friend, who then asked two men over to sell them more drugs.
When they arrived, Sarah took a large amount of GHB.
Also known as the date rape drug, GHB can make users feel euphoric. But it can also cause them to pass out.
Sarah began to writhe around on the floor. Her friend put her to bed and then she and the two male drug dealers left.
“But then one of them told my friend he’d left his bag inside,” Sarah said.
She remembers waking up that evening wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but no underpants.
“I was like ‘oh my god, why the fuck aren’t I wearing underpants?’ And then I got flashbacks.”
Sarah remembered the man on top of her. She remembered pleading with him to stop. There was a text message from an unknown number on her phone: “Hi, it’s Peter. You’re such a sexy little G puppy, let me know if you want to fuck again.”
Her vagina was in agony from the brutality of the rape. She called a friend, who came over with an emergency contraceptive pill and clean bedding.
“I was under this false belief, being a feminist, that I wasn’t going to let what he did to me upset me.”
Sarah knew what had happened wasn’t her fault. But she felt the rapist had no right to make her feel traumatised.
“I should have just been more open to my emotions. Whether or not women should feel bad about being raped, the fact of the matter is that they do.
“You can’t just be some super-tough person who can say ‘I was raped, but I’m not going to let it affect me’,” she said.
Anna says education is key to destroying rape culture.
“Know what consent means. Know that women don’t get raped because their skirts are too short or they’ve had too many glasses of wine, or they’re walking in the dark.
“They get raped because men rape them.”
According to the most recent and accurate data available from the Ministry of Justice’s New Zealand Crime and Safety survey, only seven percent of sexual offences were reported to police in 2008, down from nine percent in 2005.
HELP Auckland estimates that 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported and three of those get to court.
Only one of those is likely to get a conviction.
In the 12 months to December 2016, only 5524 sexual assault and related offences were reported to police.
Ten years ago, a Commission of Inquiry released a report on how police treat sexual assault victims. The 2007 report pointed to systemic issues, evidence of disgraceful misconduct and a culture of skepticism around reported sexual assaults.
The inquiry made 60 recommendations: 47 to the police, 21 to its watchdog the Independent Police Conduct Authority and one to the government, following Louise Nicholas' accusations of rape against police and the jailing of officers for raping a woman in Bay of Plenty in 1989.
The Office of the Auditor-General has reported on progress every few years and the last of those reports will be this year.
In the Auditor General’s third report, in 2012, progress was described as mixed.
The report said leadership challenges remained and most of the commission's 47 recommendations were yet to be finished. Progress on adult sexual assault investigation is relatively poor.
Detective Inspector Dave Kirby, Manager of the adult sexual assault and child protection unit, told The Wireless police recognised that it took a lot of courage for victims of sexual assault to come forward.
He said police were “absolutely committed to giving the best service and support possible to sexual assault victims.”
“In Mid 2016 a specialised training package was prepared for all staff who might deal with a sexual assault victim,” Kirby said.
“A focus of this training is around police staff’s attitudes with regards to showing empathy, respect and care for sexual assault victims.
“The specialised Adult Sexual Assault investigation and management staff receive extra training. This training covers myths, attitudes, process around sexual assault investigations and victims.”
Kirby said there were more than 100 specially trained adult sexual assault investigators around New Zealand who were dedicated to investigating sexual assault complaints and getting the best result possible for the victim.
“Police investigate complaints thoroughly and do our very best to keep victims up to date with the investigations progress. Sometimes the investigation does not get the result a victim wants. In all cases every effort is made to explain how decisions whether or not to prosecute are arrived at,” he said.
“If anyone has any concerns about a complaint of sexual assault not being taken seriously, I urge them to email ASA@police.govt.nz. This will go to the Adult Sexual Assault team at Police National Headquarters who can follow up on the complaint.”
*If the events depicted in this story have been triggering in any way, please consider contacting any of the following organisations:
HELP Auckland 09 623 1700
Em - Online support for young women
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
Shine 0508 744 633
Lifeline 0800 543 354
*Names have been changed.