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Shades of Brock Turner's trial in NZ rape trials?

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Contributor:
Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

Imagine that you went to a party. Imagine that you ended up going home with someone. Imagine that they tried to have sex with you. Imagine that you didn’t want to.

Imagine that it happened anyway, without your consent.

Imagine deciding to file charges, knowing how victims of rape are treated in police stations, in court, in the press in your country, and around the world.

Wait, maybe you didn’t know. Maybe you thought that respect, dignity, the right to say no, and the right to be heard are inalienable rights. You think differently now.

Imagine your parents, friends, fellow students reading, in graphic detail, about the events of that night. Imagine them reading comments on social media, comments that you always thought were reserved for other people. Comments that you might have made yourself, once upon a time. Imagine their faces, when they see them.

Imagine the relationships that were once filled with love that are now, somehow just a little bit different – irrevocably changed by an action that wasn’t your own. Imagine the connections you have that aren’t there anymore. Imagine your friends choosing a side that isn’t yours.

Imagine reading what the person you are filing charges against said about you to his friends before you went home with him. Imagine sitting in court hearing what he is saying about you now. Seeing his face.

Imagine that the amount of drinks you had is reported prominently, consistently, but the level of alcohol in his system is never mentioned, despite the fact it is also stated you had both been drinking. The implication is you must have led him on because you were drinking.

You are portrayed as being sexually aggressive, as dressing provocatively, as talking about things most women don’t talk about. You like parties, don’t you? You’ve been home with men before, haven’t you? You chose to drink, and had more than one? Why did you put on that dress? It’s a little short, don’t you think? Not really appropriate?

You must have been a bad girl, because good girls don’t act the way you acted.

The accusation is there in every word - sometimes said out loud, and sometimes clear from the disgust on his lawyer’s face. What else was he supposed to think? Explain to me how it was that you got raped, because all of your choices on that night lead to this.

The fact that he is an athlete, someone with connections, someone going places, is reported widely.

You are anonymous, “the victim”, the “complainant”. This is license in many respects for people to decline to treat you like a human being.

Imagine sitting in front of a lawyer as he advises you that discussing your birth control options with the person you have laid charges against was actually a sign that you wanted sex. The inference is why did you get into bed if you weren’t going to follow through?

The words “alleged”, and “allegedly”, as in “alleged protestations” is mentioned six times in twenty one paragraphs on a local news site. Five sentences of the same article are dedicated to the athletic career of the man you are filing charges against. The article is not long.

You are asked “Were you saying no, but not meaning no?”           

You advise that you were pulling your underwear up.

It is explained that "consent is the key word. It matters not whether it was given joyfully, reluctantly, exuberantly ... Consent given, but subsequently regretted, is still consent."

It is not explained that no always means no. It is inferred that reluctant consent is license to rape. It is not explained if pulling your underwear back up translates to reluctant consent or exuberant consent.

This feels like Brock Turner’s trial, all over again, except this is New Zealand, this is not Brock Turner, and you are the one living though this.

The onus is on you to prove that you were raped.

The voices of the anonymous women who file charges for rape in New Zealand matter. The voices of the women who decide not to file rape charges in New Zealand matter. It is time that their voices were heard rather than being sneered at, discounted, “explained”, translated incorrectly, misheard, misunderstood, obfuscated or worse, not heard at all.

There are articles on a Northern Districts cricketer’s rape trial recently in the media. They contain information that in my opinion is so disturbingly similar to the checkpoints in Brock Turner’s trial that I am furious and so, so sad, realising that this is happening in my own country.

And that similar situations have happened before. That they will continue to happen.

Discredit the accuser by using lines of questioning out of any victim blaming handbook? Check.

Play up the accused’s sporting record and promising future? Check.

Pervert and blur the lines of what consent means? Check.

The attitudes in this country towards rape, and consent, and the education around both for both young men and women needs to be reviewed, urgently. Because, as we have seen around the world, if you are male, particularly a white male who is an athlete, the bias is skewed in your favour.  Because before a jury has even had time to deliberate, women are already put on trial and found guilty by many voices on social media, and some in the press.

I encourage you to review the treatment of this young woman, and question how similar she might feel to the anonymous young woman in Brock Turner’s trial.

It’s not the same case. We don’t know what happened that night, and it is up to the jury of eight men, and four women, to make that call.

It’s not the same case. And I don't have all the answers. But I can use my small soapbox to say this does not feel right to me. And it does not feel right to me that one in five anonymous women in New Zealand who have experienced a serious sexual assault are reading the ways in which we are failing them. It does not feel right to me that one in three girls under 16 years old may be sexually abused in this country.

It does not feel right to me that the women I know number more than five, and include the people I am closest to in the world. They are not anonymous to me.

Like Brock Turner’s trial, something about this gives me the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. If it does the same to you, please use your small soapbox to speak up. Call attention to the ways New Zealand is failing women, call attention to the attitudes that solidify rape culture.

Because all of us deserve better.

 

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