I am currently in Gisborne, doing visits to schools to speak about writing and to help promote the Dare Foundation's Life Skills programmes I wrote several years back. These programmes are especially designed for youth at risk, though they are just as effective for so-called 'ordinary' kids as well.
Every time I spend time with the Dare 'family' I come away filled with respect and admiration for the wonderful people who work their butts off every day in order to help improve kids' lives - teachers, youth workers, facilitators, co-ordinators, voluntary committee members, and police - to educate them, empower them, and model loving behaviour towards them.
What is patently clear, however, is that, despite the government's crowing over their economic management, out in the real world people are really struggling. Families are in crisis, money is scarce or non-existent, and the people at the coal face (trying to sort this mess) are grossly underfunded and stressed.
Here in Gisborne they are also struggling under the weight of inter-generational mental health issues. The support services are inadequate, and community organisations are forced to spend hours of (often fruitless) energy writing funding applications for a few measly dollars,while the government-backed institutions who should be carrying the load are top-heavy in highly paid managers and clinicians and light on real support.
What these silent heroes would give for just a portion of the millions our government has seen fit to hand out to overseas corporations such as Rio Tinto and Warner Brothers. There might be money moving freely through the hands of John Key's buddies in the stock market, banks and big business ventures but there is a huge shortfall in the provinces and blue-collar suburbs. People are doing it hard, unable to make ends meet and falling back onto the old crutches of alcohol and drugs in order to escape their worries. Do I blame them? No. It's sad and it's frustrating (and harmful) but it's a grind at the bottom of the pile, especially when one is never offered a hand up out of the hole. Yet the blanket response of those who have already feathered their own nests is to play the blame game, damning the victims instead of looking at the disgraceful structural racism, economic disparity and selfish nepotism of those who control the purse strings.
Don't buy into the spin that some kind of miraculous economic recovery is underway, or that this government is helping those in need. They are throwing away the last vestiges of our social democracy and leaving communities to struggle and founder unaided while they hoover up all the resources for themselves (or sell them to the highest overseas bidder.)
It is a salient reminder for each of us to vote for the greater good - putting our own greedy desires aside to support those who have been side-lined and dis-empowered. If we all did this, we would gain far more than we ever had to give up. Crime would be reduced, the health budget would stretch further, our kids would grow up to become civic-minded, positive members of society (who felt valued and listened to.)
So here's a shout out to the heroes at the coal-face - those thousands of good-hearted people who keep on giving, even when they have no resources except their knowledge, love and dedication. And here's a big shut-down to our so-called 'leaders', who have failed in their duty of care.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Two thoughts for the month: (1) the 2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship and (2) the unparalleled place of writing in the arts.
1. It’s now been a couple of months since I found out I am to be the 2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow and I’ve still not really recovered from the shock (and excitement!) Amid the many organisational priorities (dates, flights, accommodation, house sitters, leave applications, winding up the teaching year, starting to learn a little French. . . etc. etc. ) there has been one element that struck me from the start and continues to do so. It has to do with the people who have held this extraordinary residency together for over 40 years.
The fellowship was originally conceived in the late sixties by Celia Manson and Sheilah Winn, who set up the
What has really struck me, since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the Trustees, is the dedication and quiet determination these marvellous people have shown in supporting New Zealand writers. Many are not writers themselves (though some are) – but they all share a passion for Katherine Mansfield, France and writing. They help each year’s Fellow through the hoops of bureaucracy and uncertainty, at the same time nurturing the wonderful sense of excitement that comes with the thought of spending time in the south of France.
They have been kind, patient and remarkably generous. They are the unsung heroes of the Fellowship, and I’d like to thank them for all the years they’ve put into keeping alive this exceptional opportunity. I applaud their open mindedness in choosing a YA writer, and the generosity of the ‘terms’ of the Fellowship, which leaves the writer free to pursue a project at their own pace. They have an innate understanding that the very opportunity to live in another country will feed the writer’s mind for years to come. Thank you, thank you!
2. The other thing that struck me recently was the place of writing in the world of arts. I’d like to
Painting: yes, it can tell a story, and it can move the emotions, no doubt of that. But it does not require total immersion in the imagination to interpret it, as there is a visual clue to the work’s intent. Even if the work is abstract, the colours and the way the medium is manipulated provide some kind of stepping-off point before the imagination takes over. Likewise sculpture and all other ‘material’ arts.
Music is the same. Though the listener can paint whatever picture they like in their minds, the music’s tones, rhythms, movements all work to help prime the imagination according to the composer’s wishes. Add lyrics to that and the imagination can step back even further, having now two strong ‘leads’ about how to frame the story. Add drama (i.e. opera) and we are handed yet more clues.
Plays, films, performance art – all these again provide the audience with added dimensions of the artist’s vision. Our imaginative response is shaped by the actor’s appearance, dress, deportment, style, voice, lines,
Yet it is only writing that provides a pristine imaginative portal from the writer’s imagination to the reader’s. And it is only writing that allows the imagination to do all the colouring in, create all the background music, clothe the characters, give them voice and join the dots. It feeds each reader (or listener) differently, as each individual imagination compiles its references from its ‘owners’ experiences and understandings. And because we have built up the pictures, sounds and references ourselves, we are therefore much more emotionally engaged as well. We have become part of the story, a collaborator just by virtue of our ability to read (and let's not dismiss the amazing ability of our brains to decode letters on a page and transform them into something we can picture, feel, smell, taste, love or hate - another reason for placing writing, and reading by inference, at the top of the imaginative and intellectual tree.) Therefore we are going to feel the joys and pains more deeply because we have invested time and imaginative power into the experience. The stories become part of our story, shaping our future reading as well.
Hey – that’s my theory anyway! What do you think?
Monday, November 11, 2013
After all the furore over the Roast Busters here, a friend of my daughter's wrote this amazing piece to share. Beautifully written and very honest - an important message to put out there in the world. Thank you Marnie for giving me permission to pass it on.
The Good Detective and How He Helped Me Find My Voice
8 November 2013 at 15:55What I am about to write is not something I have openly shared before but I feel that now is the time to do so. As our radio waves, newsfeeds and newspapers spill over with each nauseating Roastbuster development and the media focus turns to criticising the Police response I am afraid of the damage being done. Images have begun circulating social media which portray the NZ Police as pro-rape and apathetic towards victims. I am concerned that this misleading portrayal will reinforce victim’s fears that if they speak up about rape they will be disbelieved and blamed, and that they can expect the Police to be judgemental and uncaring. At this rare moment when the whole country seems to be talking about something that’s usually swept under the carpet, I want to tell my story in the hopes that survivors do not lose all trust in those who have the power to stand beside us when we find our voices.
This story is not meant to convey that laying rape charges is easy, nor that all experiences with the police are as positive. We live in a world full of incorrect ideas about how someone who is being or has been raped should behave, what causes rape and who is responsible for it. Until we address and change these ideas there will always be some people in every profession, Police included, who hold these beliefs.
But before a victim faces speaking to the police they usually first have to face their family and friends, and this is so much harder than it should be.
The first person I told about my rape (in the days following) told me “oooh, you’re naughty.”
I responded with shocked silence and shame.
The second person I told about the rape (two years later) asked me “was it good?”
Again, I fell silent in horror and regretted saying anything.
The 3rd person I told about the rape asked “Is this true?”
This time my silence was broken by the voice of the person coming from the next room who shouted “It’s true! It’s true and he raped me too!”
I dread to think the path my life might have gone down had that brave little voice (who had sworn to herself that she would never speak about what had happened) not rung out in my support, but because she did within a few days I was laying a formal complaint of rape with the Rotorua Police. Who were fucking wonderful.
Laying a complaint was hard but I could not fault the police conduct during the entire process and I have no regrets at all about doing it. Considering I had spent the past four years pushing the rape into the darkest corner of my mind it was not easy to find the words, but the investigating detectives were patient, compassionate, and really listened. From the moment I walked into that station they had my back. For several hours I sat in a small room and told the detectives what happened to me as the conversation was recorded. They asked me questions to clarify some matters, but for the most part I did all the talking. They listened, they respected what I had to say, they were calm and caring. I felt safe and believed the entire time. I could have had a support person there with me but felt strongly (as I do to this day) that I didn’t want somebody I cared about to have the details as something in their mind which would never go away. No part of the interview process was degrading except for the reality of what was being discussed – that degrading element was entirely the fault of my rapist and nobody else’s.
My interview was typed up into a formal statement, which I was given time and space to read over in order to confirm that was the statement I wanted to make and clarify any parts of the statement I felt did not clearly conveyed my experience. It was during one of these follow up meetings that one of the detectives said something which has stayed with me to this day, in a sense it is a sad reflection of the ability of our “Justice System” to effectively prosecute rapes, but still he empowered me.
“Don’t focus on getting a conviction” he said gently, “chances are we probably won’t get one – and that’s not your fault. Unfortunately Juries want to see torn underwear and bruises, and if you can’t show them that they’ll very seldom convict. If you focus on a conviction you will feel you have failed, but you haven’t. This isn’t about getting a conviction, it’s about standing up and saying this happened to me, it was wrong and I will not stay quiet.” I nodded and felt the surge of empowerment that came from having somebody take my side and say those words. This happened to me, and it was wrong, and I will not stay quiet. It meant so much to hear his voice crack saying it, especially coming from a man, and to know that he genuinely cared. It meant something to know that whatever happened now, whatever the outcome of the case – I had already won a battle with my own silence and I had someone on my side.
That Detective was right, we were never going to meet the standard of evidence that juries require to meet their image of what happens during a rape. There were no torn clothes, no doors kicked down, no screams heard by neighbours, it hadn’t happened in an alleyway and I hadn’t clawed his eyes out. When it takes four years to find a voice, the evidence the people want is gone. One of the most stressful things about the trial was that a huge amount of evidence was not admissible because it was considered prejudicial. This ‘prejudicial’ evidence included my adopted brother’s history of violence against women, including charges for other sex offences against teenage girls. It was considered prejudicial that I wanted a lock put on my door when he came to stay with us and eventually convinced my grandmother to pay for this. It was considered prejudicial that he had hurt other girls in my family in the same way. With all the context removed from the situation the jury didn’t stand a chance of coming to the true verdict. When police say “there isn’t enough evidence to proceed” what they mean is – there isn’t enough evidence of the kind that the people want. They know the jury won’t understand why maybe you were too afraid to scream, too frozen to run and they don’t want to put you through the horrors of a trial because they have seen again and again that most rapists don’t get convicted. I think we need to seriously consider widening the scope of evidence that can be included in trials relating to sex crimes, where one person’s word against another is so often what it all boils down to.
Walking into the courtroom to give evidence would have been almost impossible had it not been for the court official whose job it was to lead me into the courtroom and to the stand “just look at my feet and follow where I walk” he whispered “so you don’t have to look up and see him.” By my side was my Victim Support person, a volunteer who was also the lovely wife of my Detective W. This calm, sweet woman was there to sit behind me in court so I was not alone, although by law she was forbidden to say anything to me or touch me if I cried (something else to think about changing) – her job was to make sure I wasn’t standing there alone.
Giving evidence was quite surreal and it all seemed to be over quickly, I gave my statement in the morning and in the afternoon was cross examined – which was a process that more than any other element of our justice system needs to be changed. The way rape complainants are cross examined is revolting and traumatic. I worried that I would make a mistake or forget something important, but once I was up there and talking I realised that I knew what happened better than anyone, because I was there. When being cross examined about being raped you’re being asked a lot of questions about something you are the expert on, better than anyone else because it happened to you. The questions are certainly harsh and offensive, but because I knew in my heart that I was right it was easier than I expected to be strong and assertive. I walked out of that courtroom feeling like I’d been filled with helium. I was floating, smiling and laughing in a way I hadn’t in a long time.
After I gave evidence Detective W. suggested that I head off for a few days, spend some time with family or go to the beach rather than sit through the rest of the trial which would have been very upsetting. Looking back I’m pretty sure this was the best advice I was ever given that I actually followed! While sometimes I am curious about how the trial went I am so glad not to have had to sit there and hear my rapist give evidence, to hear myself being called a liar, and I’m really glad I wasn’t there when the Jury returned their verdict of ‘Not Guilty’.
When I received that phone call I was driving back from the beach (it was legal then!) and as I put the phone down my first thought was to put the accelerator to the floor and take the next power pole at speed, but instead I went home and told my family the outcome. I didn’t cry that day, though others did. Later that afternoon Detective W. came around to my house and we walked around the garden before sitting down to a cup of tea. His genuine disappointment, anger and disbelief at the Jury’s verdict made it feel like while we had lost, we had lost as a team and that I was not alone. The police believing in me mattered more than the Jury’s belief in me – because I knew that it was the people who had all the information were able to come to the correct conclusion. At first I felt anger at the Jury for not believing me, for not being able to read between the lines of the information they were given. Years later, when my rapist confessed what he had done to me I wanted to take out a headline in every paper in the country saying SEE! I WASN’T LYING! I wanted to write to every member of the jury and tell them they got it wrong. In time I came to realise that it wasn’t their fault we lost, they could only make a decision based on the evidence in front of them and so little of the evidence was admissible. The problem was the way sex crime trials are conducted in our country, the laws of evidence and that is what needs to drastically change before Police have any chance of improving outcomes for victims. We also need to change our culture so that people who have been raped feel that they can come forward immediately, or that they receive the right support when they do – thus increasing the likelihood of convictions.
Five years after the trial, while I was working with rape victims in Cambodia I found myself modelling my behaviour based on how Detective W had treated me. I realised that by helping me find my voice he had taught me how to help others, and I decided to write to him to say thanks for the way he and his wife treated me throughout the trial, its build up and aftermath. I told him that not only did he make a difference in my life, but that he showed me how to do the same for others. His response blew me away and is something I hope we will all stop and consider next time we write the police off as uncaring, boys club revenue gatherers.
“Hi Marnie” he said “Of course I remember you. I remember all of the people I deal with, just some of them not as well as others!!!!! Thank you for your lovely email. It’s very gratifying to know that what we do is appreciated. I have passed this email on to [his wife]. She's not quite so active in Victim Support now as she was. We had our own tragedy in 2009 when our 23 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. So we're still trying to come to terms with that ourselves. Now we really both know what it felt like for you [and anyone else who has ever been a victim] and I guess we all have to decide whether we keep on being victims or sort our shit out and get on with things - like you have.”
It breaks my heart that this couple who had dedicated their lives to helping the victims of crime have lost their beloved child to a thoughtless, selfish crime. I will at least do them the justice of being open about how much they helped me.
We need significant cultural change, change to how our justice system deals with sex crimes, and we need to take a good hard look at what we teach young people about sex, gender and bodily integrity. We need to become a society of people who recognises what rape is and know how to respond when it happens. Saying that the police are uncaring is not a solution. Calling the parents of offenders negligent is not a solution. Calling victims sluts is not a solution. These are just ways of making ourselves feel a little better about a sickening reality. I do not have the solution, but I do know that education leads to understanding, understanding leads to respect and that people who respect others do not rape them. Education seems like a pretty good place to start.
This happened to me, it was wrong, and I will not be quiet.
Monday, November 4, 2013
For the last three days the news has been full of the outrage that is ‘Roastbusters’ – the website where young men boast about stupefying young girls then raping them, and posting details online. The fact that the police have known about this for nearly two years is disturbing, to say the least. There’s a big difference between sitting out a covert operation for a crime that isn’t directly hurting anyone, and standing by while vulnerable young women are undergoing a trauma that will last their lifetime.
If it is true that the police cannot act because the law doesn’t allow for it then the law has to change. But also in need of a major overhaul is the police attitude to rape and sexual violence. If they have, as they have stated, contacted the victims and their families, and the girls have not wanted to press charges or go through the prosecution process, the police and the judicial system have to ask themselves why. The brutalising process and the appallingly low conviction rates for rape are common knowledge. It is not surprising that victims (and their parents) are fearful of putting themselves through this additional trauma.
What would be the best way to try and prevent such things in the future? It’s actually quite an easy question to answer. There are excellent programmes developed for young people that address just such issues. Bodysafe, for instance, from Rape Prevention Education, is a world class programme and highly effective. If, as the Prime Minister says, he finds the Roastbusters behaviour "extremely disturbing and disgusting" then all he has to do is fund this programme in all secondary schools around the country – and intermediates as well.
The Dare Foundation, which I have been part of, also offer excellent programmes that would address some of this behaviour – including a ground-breaking new ‘ethical bystander’ programme to empower young people to support each other. Drug and alcohol programmes should also be compulsory programmes in schools – not the old finger waving type, but based on best practice, which advocates for life skills training to encourage better decision making, problem solving and empathy. The problem is, the government have withdrawn so much community and education funding that there is no money to deliver these programmes and no time in the curriculum to teach them. They should be a priority – they are about keeping our young people safe and teaching them health attitudes towards sexual behaviour.
But we also need to look at the general public’s attitudes as well and understand the full extent of the problem. In 2006 I wrote a resource on Violence Against Women, looking at it from a global perspective – the most depressing resource I’ve ever written. Here’s some of the awful truths about sexual violence that came out – and I have no reason to believe this has improved. I’m only going to touch on the issues related to the current case, though the range of ways sexual assault is used to control and hold power over women is myriad and horrifying.
- According to an Australian survey of teenage boys, 1 in 3 thought it was permissible to force a girl to have sex if they thought she had led them on;
- 27% of boys thought it was okay to force a girl to have sex if ‘she got him sexually excited’ – and another 18% were unsure.
- There was a common belief that they could tell when ‘no’ meant ‘yes’ – by tone of voice or body language.
- In an American college study, 30% of male students said they would rape if they were guaranteed to get away with it.
- When the survey language was changed, over 50% said they would ‘force a woman to have sex against her will’ if they were guaranteed of getting away with it.
Let’s be very clear: women don’t cause date rape; date rapists do. It doesn’t matter how much a young woman has drunk or how scant her clothing – it is never her fault if she is sexually assaulted without her informed (sober) consent.
As if that isn’t bad enough, here’s some additional info:
- In 2011  sexual assaults in NZ rose by 15% in one year and doubled in schools. Waikato, Northland and the Bay of Plenty saw the biggest increases, at 26, 33 and 61% respectively. Overall there has been a 45% rise in sex offences since 2004 (while at the same time social service to supports rape victims have been severely cut.)
- 1 in 3 NZ girls and 1 in 6 NZ boys are likely to be sexually abused before the age of 16.
- Young women aged 14-24 are the most rape endangered.
- Over 50% of female teenage rape victims have been raped by a date.
- The average time between sexual assault and visiting a Rape Crisis Centre is over 14 years (for incidents that occurred more than 12 months before.)
- Because of the myths about rape, many people don’t consider date rape as ‘real’ rape.
- Women are 4 times more likely to be raped by an acquaintance than a stranger.
- Police are often reluctant to lay charges of rape against a date acquaintance.
- Juries are unwilling to convict a date rapist.
- Over 91% of Rape Crisis clients from 1993 to 1995 knew their attacker.
It’s also vital to look at where such attitudes come from and how they are perpetrated. I grew up at a time when pornography was in its infancy and pretty damn tame compared to today. When anti-porn campaigners took to the streets I was unimpressed – I thought it breached people’s personal freedoms. . . now I’m not so sure.
The kind of material that is now available at the touch of a button is deeply disturbing – and much mainstream material (i.e. music videos, film and TV) all perpetrate distorted images and ideas around sexual issues. I think things have gone too far. I think it needs a concerted campaign to counter such distortions. So, while I’m not joining the censorship lobby, I’m calling for money to be put into countering it at a national level. This is a crisis among our young people. It’s time we all woke up and demanded that it be addressed.
 From the National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Like many other NZ writers and illustrators, I received some of my first writing contracts from Learning Media, NZ's flagship educational publisher of the School Journal. Now, with a National Government intent on selling off all our state assets, this iconic organisation has been forced to close. It was not through poor performance, as our Deputy Prime Minister Bill English claims, but because they had the heart stripped out of them when the Ministry of Education was forced to tender out for its resources. The collapse of Learning Media falls directly at National's feet.
Market forces should not be considered when the education of our children is involved. High quality, NZ written and produced material is vital for our national identity and for the best possible achievement of our children. This is a national disgrace.
Below is a press statement jointly written by some in the children's writing community. If you, too, feel strongly about this issue, please take the time to lobby your MP and the Minister of Education.
New Zealand children’s writers and illustrators have been concerned all year about proposed changes to the School Journal. Now they have reacted with horror and outrage to the announcement that Learning Media, the government-owned company that publishes the School Journal, is to be closed down, because it is not “financially viable”. They say that this iconic New Zealand enterprise has been made to tender for its own core business and set up to fail.This forced closure means far more than the loss of over 100 jobs at Learning Media itself, many more jobs for contributing artists and writers, and the loss of expertise and in-depth knowledge of the curriculum. In the words of Greg O’Brien (author of A nest of singing birds, written in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of the Journal’s publication): “The contribution of the School Journal to the art and literature of New Zealand has been priceless, profound and ongoing... The School Journal is one of the great educational periodicals to emerge anywhere in the world, ever.”
The School Journal is a New Zealand institution, both culturally and educationally. It provides a way for New Zealand children to see their own lives reflected in print. We live in a world where globalisation of information is increasing. There are real concerns that New Zealand written and illustrated content will be forfeited to overseas providers. Do we really want our children to be deprived of their own New Zealand, Maori and Pasifika stories? Our culture is unique and is one of the key reasons New Zealand punches above its weight in so many fields.
The Journal has also been the springboard for numerous writing and illustrating careers. It has been called “the place where Margaret Mahy began”. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10821871
Other contributors over the years have included many of the country's top artists and writers, such as Rita Angus, Juliet Peter, Dick Frizzell, Russell Clark, Colin McCahon, Joy Cowley, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, James K. Baxter, Fleur Beale, David Hill and many others. The School Journal’s editors took the time to nurture new talent, and we have them to thank for the work of many of today’s top New Zealand children’s writers and illustrators.
We would urge all parents, teachers, librarians and anyone who cares about the education , literacy and future of our children, to write to the Minister of Education and to their local MP and protest this decision.
• Learning Media website: http://www.learningmedia.co.nz/
• More about the School Journal: http://www.learningmedia.co.nz/our-work/portfolio/school-journal
• Learning Media has traditionally had a contract with the Ministry of Education to supply materials to schools, in particular the School Journal, but also learning materials across the whole curriculum, including publications to support Te Reo Maori and Pasifika languages, highly respected science resources like Connected, and online and digital resources for TKI through their digital publishing arm. This contract expired last year and other publishers have been invited to submit bids for series previously published by LM.
• Until recently, the School Journal was made up of four levels aimed at 5 year olds to 12 year olds. Four issues a level...16 journals a year sent to schools (free) in class sets of 30. Each journal would typically include 3 short stories, 3 articles, one play, one craft activity, and 1 or 2 poems, all graded at the reading ability of children in each level and cross indexed according to subject and reading level in a comprehensive index issued every year covering 5 years. Many schools would consider their journal room, holding up to 20 years’ worth of class sets, to be their prime reading resource for teaching reading literacy and keeping NZ in the top 5 for reading literacy in the world over many decades.
Update: (follow link to: Morning report 6 Sept 2013 )
As for the revelation about the huge salaries being paid to the CEO and top managers, this is just another example of how the Government’s corporate model worked against the best interests of Learning Media. The government stood by while they allowed the life-blood of the company be sucked dry by a few individuals, while the hundreds of writers, illustrators, designers, editors and other Learning Media staff have now had their income streams cut off for good.