Judy O’Brien’s Speech at the #WeToo March

I’m Judy O’Brien, Coordinator for Sexual Abuse Prevention Network – a collaboration of two survivor support agencies – Wellington Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Help Foundation and an agency that works with offenders – WellStop.

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network offers a range of programmes for professionals, and young people to develop skills to identify risky situations and strategies to intervene safely.  We also offer programmes that focus on improving understanding of consent and ethical sexual decision making.When preparing what I was going to say tonight, a friend suggested I just get up here and scream for three minutes because that’s honestly all I’ve wanted to do for the past couple of weeks. The recent media attention given to the stories of people calling out the abusive behaviour of men in powerful positions has brought to light the shockingly high prevalence of sexual violence throughout or communities  and it’s just not  good enough. I am so humbled and inspired by the raw honesty and shameless bravery of survivors of sexual assault coming forward and sharing their own stories. You have offered hope and support to so many others who have felt shamed and isolated by their own experiences. But we shouldn’t have to share our stories for people to take this seriously! Or to recognise that sexual violence Affects. Us. All! Instead of expecting survivors to share their stories, we as a society should be demanding that people who sexually harm others recognise that their behaviour is harmful, and encourage others to change. 

Rape and sexual abuse in our communities is a much wider issue than just what we see on our newsfeeds – this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Just one “me too” is one too many.  New Zealand has a shockingly high incidence of sexual abuse and rape and Wellington has one of the highest number reported to Police. In NZ, 1 in 4 women, 1 in 8 men, 1 in 2 transgender people and up to 90% of people with some disabilities will be affected by sexual abuse in their lifetime. Only 9% of these incidents are reported to Police and only 1 in 10 is committed by a stranger to the victim.We need cultural and behavioural change so that this kind of assault does not happen in the first place. We need a high level commitment to ongoing consent education for our young people. Most sexual negotiations between young people are non-verbal.  People need to understand the complexities and nuances of consent and the links between alcohol and sexual abuse. If someone is heavily under the influence of alcohol or drugs – it is illegal to have sex with them. In NZ, alcohol is the most commonly used drug to facilitate sexual abuse and half of all rapes in NZ are associated with alcohol.

The whole community can be part of preventing sexual abuse. The most effective way to stop rape is to address the behaviour of the rapist.

We can  also address behaviors that may not themselves be illegal but could be  precursors to sexual violence.  People often do harm without knowing that their behaviour is harmful. Call people up on bad behavior. If your friend is pursuing someone who is clearly too drunk to make informed decisions – pull them aside and let them know this is not ok.

We need to address behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that contribute to rape culture. If people you know joke about rape or sexual abuse – tell them that this is unacceptable as it trivializes the issues and isolates the survivors who may be present, making it harder for them ever to disclose their abuse. It may lead to potential abusers thinking that their behavior acceptable. If people you know make comments that undermine women or that stereotype women as passive and indicate that men need to be persistent to get what they want sexually – then let them know that their attitudes undermine women’s sexuality and ignore consent, encouraging young men to pressure women into doing things that they don’t want to.    

Call up transphobic and queerphobic comments and behaviours as discrimination against diverse genders and sexualities contributes to rape culture.Look out for those who may be at risk. If you see or hear something which may be dangerous or suspicious, contact the local police or step in yourself to offer support if it is safe to do so. We cannot assume that someone else will intervene. Research on the “bystander effect” shows that the more people that witness a situation, the less likely anyone is to take action. Being an ethical bystander doesn’t mean being a hero. It means making the smallest gesture that might prevent harm from occuring.  Check in with your friends when you are out drinking, check in with other peoples friends.We all have a role to play in preventing sexual violence. This has gone on too long. But change is possible! Within my lifetime, marital rape became a crime, and consensual homosexual sex became legal. The energy to change our culture is right here. We too can make a difference. Let’s not focus on our individual stories but take strength from the power of our collective rage and resilience.

Please, take care of yourselves and each other.

Kia kaha.

SAPN on Back Benches

SAPN General Manager, Fiona, was on Back Benches last week talking about consent education in schools. You can watch the clip below to hear about the work we do with young people – as well as the perspectives of MPs from Labour, National and NZ First

Speech at “Stand Up for Women” event

A speech by SAPN General Manager, Fiona McNamara at the the “Stand Up for Women” event on Saturday 6 February 2016. The event was a counter protest against the “Return of the Kings” group, led by Roosh V, who planned to meet in Glover Park on that day.

Photo credit @nz_sim (via Twitter)

Tēnā koutou. I’m Fiona McNamara and I’m the General Manager of Sexual Abuse Prevention Network – an organisation governed by Wellington Rape Crisis, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation and WellStop. We work with adults and youth to teach positive messages about healthy relationships and consent and teach skills to identify and prevent sexual violence.

This week I have spent a lot of time wondering, should we be giving any air time to these so-called “Return of the Kings” or should we ignore them? Should we give them publicity and notoriety? By talking about their harmful views on national television, on blogs and social media are we just giving a platform to one small group that would otherwise have been ignored? Will giving them publicity attract like-minded men or put ideas into people’s heads, grow the following and encourage copycat behaviour?

It would be easy to dismiss this group because it is hard to see how anyone can take these ideas seriously, but unfortunately, what these people are saying are not new ideas. We’re up against these ideas everyday. What we are here fighting today is not just about one man writing for his own website from a basement. It is about an issue that affects all parts of our society. An issue that is so widespread that it will touch each one of us personally in our lifetime. Sexual violence is at epidemic proportions in New Zealand and worldwide with 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6  men and 1 in 2 trans* people experiencing sexual violence in their life. 100% of incidents are preventable and each one of you here today is part of the solution.

What’s especially scary about the “Return of the Kings” is that this group decided that at this time, in our society in 44 countries they could actually get away with openly expressing this extreme hatred toward women, with advocating for rape and violence, with expressing overt homophobia, transphobia, and racism and that there would be no consequences.

They thought they could get away with this because they are not the only ones who hold these views and they are not the only ones expressing them. There has been huge outcry about what this particular group has been saying because they are saying it in a way that we cannot ignore. But what’s scarier to me than a small number of people on the internet is that these same ideas are everywhere, but because they are usually expressed more subtly, they often go unchecked. The harmful messages that this group is putting out there are the same messages that we see in music videos, song lyrics, TV shows, stand up comedy, comments shouted to women walking on the street, or laughed off as casual jokes in in the staffroom or at a party.

This week while much of our attention was focussed on the “Return of the Kings”, a female news reporter in New Zealand was assaulted on national television. The men who assaulted her said they were just playing a “friendly joke” and “Next time, have a male presenter when going into a Laneway festival”. And it  wasn’t just them brushing off their own behaviour – they were called “legends” by others on social media. Our communities are not just turning a blind eye to sexual assaults – they’re celebrating them.

I applaud each and every individual who has spoken up in some way against sexual violence this week. Our collective voices around the world have been louder than the hate group and as a result they have realised that this is something that society as a whole will not stand for and their events have been called off.

The next step is to identify and call out these same ideas and behaviours when they are presented in a less obvious way.

The solution to this problem lies with  all of us. The specialist sexual violence sector is small and we need the whole community to consistently speak out against harmful messages and harmful behaviour and to promote positive messages. We need to keep up the momentum of this week and keep the pressure on. Sexual violence is not inevitable and those of you here can lead this change.

We can all do something to contribute to ending sexual violence.

  • Call people up on bad behavior. If your mate is pursuing someone who is clearly too intoxicated to consent – pull them aside and let them know this is not OK. If they’re really into that person, they can wait until they’re sober.
  • If you think someone you know might be in an unsafe relationship, be their friend. Make it clear that you will be there if they need your support.
  • If you hear someone joke about rape or sexual abuse – tell them that this trivializes and normalises unacceptable behaviour. It can also isolate the survivors, making it harder for them ever to disclose their abuse.
  • If you hear comments that stereotype women as passive and indicate that men should be persistent to get what they want – then say that such attitudes undermine women’s sexuality and ignore consent, encouraging men to pressure women into doing things that they don’t want to.
  • Call up transphobic and queerphobic comments and behaviours as discrimination against diverse genders and sexualities is dehumanising and contributes to the high incidence of sexaul violence for these groups.
  • Don’t stand for marginalising anyone in our community – say something about racism, ableism and ageism.
  • Bring an analysis of gender and sexuality stereotypes into conversations with people who don’t think about these topics every day. Encourage people to be critical of the messages they see on TV or hear in music.

Sexual abuse and sexual violence exist on a continuum and a culture in which some individuals are valued above others is a breeding ground for serious abuse. We all need to call up harmful behaviours. As we’ve seen this week, if we all take a stand, we can drown out those harmful messages and shift the conversation.

By coming here today you have taken the first step and made the call that you are someone who won’t stand for abuse and violence. Keep the conversation going in your own communities, support your friends when they need it and continue to speak out.

Photo credit @nz_sim (via Twitter)

Note that the men at Laneways who are referenced here have since apologised