The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

This is no country for women

Cross posted from Tangerina-land

Today one of Wellington’s most vital and underappreciated services, Wellington Rape Crisis, announced that they will be reducing their service by a day per week. They simply cannot keep up with the demand for their services without adequate funding, and they are uncertain of their future due to operating under a $55,000 deficit.

Wellington Rape Crisis is 35 years old, and was started as part of the international Rape Crisis movement. It continues to be politically revolutionary in that the organisational values explicitly state that women are at the centre of their practice*, and a feminist analysis of rape and sexual abuse underpins all their work. Not only do they provide frontline services, but they advocate politically for women’s rights to autonomy and self-determination over their own bodies. If this seems like nothing special, or if you’re of the opinion that we’ve already achieved these things, then you might want to do some serious reading.

Let’s be clear about these “vital” services. All too often, WRC staff are the difference between life and death for their clients, both metaphorically and literally. WRC provides clients with tools and support to work through trauma, and helps provide survivor’s loved ones with the strength and knowledge to confidently stand by them. Staff can help with housing issues, medical referrals, access to funding for study or training, childcare and much more. The organisation recognises that rape and sexual abuse affects every part of a person’s life, and works holistically within this.

Unbelievably, despite the huge amount of resources that sexual violence response requires, WRC still allocates funds and energy into preventing rape and sexual abuse in the first instance. WRC, along with other agencies, makes up the Wellington Sexual Abuse network, which provides education and campaigns which helps to combat sexual violence. The organisation is committed to not just being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, despite this being the service which gets the most funding from the Government.

However, no matter how vital an organisation is, if the climate in which it operates doesn’t value or support the work it does – it will die. Our Government has created a hostile environment for many community not-for-profit agencies. I want to be clear in stating that WRC is not the only agency in this dire situation. We live under an administration that feels competition is a good thing, not just in the private sector, but in community service provision.

While excellence in service should always be strived for, the way to achieve this is not to pit tiny, often volunteer-run organisations against each other for laughable sums of money. Money that they have to annually re-apply for at great expense of their already stretched resources. Money that makes organisations scared to speak out against Government initiatives for fear of being reprimanded through the loss of their funding.

This Government believes that the answer to everything is the private sector, and that corporate/community partnerships are the way of the future. But while the term “survivor of rape” still makes people shut their eyes and block their ears, Wellington Rape Crisis has no chance of being the next glossy recipient of the Vodafone Annual Feel Good Backpat Fest 2012.

I am sick to death of people desperately trying to rally 11th hour awareness for services people like to have, but rarely want to think about. Just last year Auckland’s only 24-hour crisis line for people who have experienced sexual violence was almost shut down due to a lack of funding. It was saved literally the day the service was due to be cut off, by ACC finally bowing to public pressure.

When previous governments are prepared to form a Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence, yet no one is willing to implement their recommendations, it becomes a question of priority. One in four women in New Zealand will experience sexual assault. One in four. That’s a quarter of all of the women you know. If that isn’t a crisis, I’m not sure what is.

But, of course, our Government would much rather invest billions of dollars in a sports tournament, or millions into private schools, or tax cuts for the top tier of New Zealanders. Regardless of whether you broadly see value in these investments, a specialist organisation shutting its doors on Wellington’s most vulnerable women – even for just a day less per week – is unacceptable. It is undoubtedly the start of a slippery slope for all community services the Government doesn’t see as a priority.

This shouldn’t be about National politics. This should be about recognising, like WRC does, that rape is a crisis. If I’m going to be glib (which I am) I might also point out that investing in the prevention and treatment of sexual assault enables more women to be productive little cogs in our economic wheel. It’s a safe, reciprocal investment.

But it shouldn’t be about that. It’s about the fact that we live in a society which teaches women to consider themselves lucky to not be survivors of sexual violence. We live in a society where women are most likely to be raped by someone they know and trust, in their own home, yet they are made to feel like the aesthetic and transport options they choose every day make them responsible for any assault which may befall them.

We live in a society in which every single woman who you have ever known or even walked past has a script for protecting herself. She knows which neighbours keep the lights on for the longest, which shoes she can run easily in, and how to slot her keys between her fingers to use as a weapon if she needs to.

And nobody wants to talk about it. Well, that’s fine. Don’t get your hands dirty thinking about things which make you uncomfortable, that’s your choice. It’s a shit choice, but it’s yours to make. It’s not a choice that one in four New Zealand women have, however.

And for those women, thankfully there are agencies who don’t have their hands over their ears. But for how much longer? When a 35 year old organisation which is relevant to a quarter of all New Zealand women is slowly starting to close its doors…we are in crisis mode. This is no country for women.

I am despondent at the thought that months from now, if WRC has to close for another day, and another day and then maybe forever, that Wellington women will have to call for help from around the country like Auckland Sexual Abuse Help did. Are we doomed to repeat these last minute tearful pleas in which the public has to briefly acknowledge how vital these services are, every time the Government quietly suffocates one to death?

This is no country for women.

If you want to help. Please, please do. Though it needs to be said we should not have to self-fund a service as vital as this.

*Wellington Rape Crisis provides services to anyone who identifies as female. Their skills and physical space are designed solely for women and children, recognising that women are overwhelmingly and disproportionately affected by sexual violence. However, Wellington Rape Crisis works to refer male survivors of sexual violence to services that cater for them, and provides assistance to male support people of women who have experienced sexual violence.

4 responses to “This is no country for women

  1. tallulahspankhead August 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

    I don’t have anything to add to your brilliant post, Coley. Except this:

    As someone who has had cause to use WRC’s services in the past 12 months, please, if you can afford to, donate. They do amazing, necessary, heart-breaking work. And the idea of someone needing them, on the day they’re closed, well, that scares the crap out of me, frankly.

    • Emma August 14, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      And the idea of someone needing them, on the day they’re closed, well, that scares the crap out of me, frankly.

      This, me too. Because I’ve also needed a crisis service this year, and when you need them you need them _now_. And yes, it is beyond appalling that services like this aren’t simply fully government funded.

  2. Pingback: The Fifty Second Down Under Feminists Carnival | Lip Magazine

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