Dear Mr Searle,
I read in an article yesterday that while discussing the current Roast Busters controversy, you ‘…refuted a suggestion there was a “culture of disbelief” of sex victims within the police’. Mr Searle, I put it to you that such a culture does in fact exist; it is unfortunately one I have had firsthand contact with. Furthermore, I put it to you that the manner in which complainants are treated is damaging and dismissive, and that your own procedures are not even being followed. Below is an account of my own recent sexual assault, and the experiences I had with the NZ Police as a result of my decision to file a report.
On New Year’s Eve 2010/11, I was sexually assaulted by a close friend. It was a fairly boring Auckland New Year’s; a few house parties were on but everybody seemed listless or ill tempered. This friend and I separated from the larger group we were with and persevered. Surely somewhere there was some good music, or at least a fireworks display! After a halfhearted count down with a bunch of bored Ponsonby 20-somethings, we made an exit and went into said friend’s place of work in search of fun. A workmate offered us speed. Due to having a heart condition I am generally not a proponent, but my friend, a more seasoned user, assured me I would be fine if I took a small amount. Opting to trust his opinion, the workmate then racked up what I suspected was a generous line (maybe two lines worth) and I snorted it. It was after I had taken it all and was starting to feel light headed that my friend casually announced the amount I had taken was akin to five. Panic ensued.
The next bar we went to I was noticeably on edge. Due to a rape-at-party that occurred when I was barely 15, my social anxiety is not good at the best of times, and in this instance it truly took flight. Unexpectedly my friend vanished, my heart was beating far too strongly in my chest and I decided it was time to get a cab home.
You’d think that would have been the end of my night. What instead ensued was my friend insisting on coming over and being let in, despite my saying I no longer wanted his company and needed to sleep. What ensued was him knowingly triggering me by forcing a discussion of my prior rape. What ensued was him telling me that I’d feel better if I had a hug, despite me crying, asking him repeatedly to leave and telling him not to touch me. What ensued was me trying to go to bed and usher him out the door, but him following me into my room instead. What ensued was my tachycardia playing up, my vision blurring, dizziness increasing and breathing becoming difficult. What ensued was my not being able to fend him off as I panicked and tried to gain control over my pulse. What ensued then, was sexual assault.
Somehow, in spite of the tachycardia and the on set panic attack, I managed to scream ‘fuck off’ one last time. I remember him saying something angrily, but then withdrawing. After that I remember nothing because I blacked out.
Dawn came, and with it renewed panic at him still being in my room. I employed a ruse to get him out as quickly as possible, locked the door behind him, and lay shivering alone for what felt like hours. I did all the things you are ‘not supposed to do’. I showered. I washed my sheets.
My room did not feel safe, but I didn’t know where else to go. I got shaky; I briefly considered killing myself; I decided against it because ‘I’d be damned if I was going to Iet it ruin my life this time’. This time. Sometime within the next 48 hours I managed to pick up the phone and call my parents. My father came round after work and I told him what had happened, feeling a sense of relief at not having to keep it in any longer. We discussed my asking my counselor at Auckland Sexual Abuse Help where to from here.
Mr Searle, I am giving you these details so as you can begin to understand how difficult and stressful it was for me to then go ahead with the following.
My counselor gave me a direct contact at the Rape Unit at Auckland Central Police Station. I had the option to go with a support person, but I decided to go it alone. Given the time of year, the officer in question was on holiday and my call went through to voicemail. Having psyched myself up for the ordeal of reporting I couldn’t deal with a wait, so I walked into the station and walked up to the front desk.
I took a deep breath.
‘I need to report a sexual assault’, was, I think, what I said. Various ears pricked up and started twitching behind the desk. The officer I spoke to was female, which put me at ease, and she quietly took me aside. I told my story.
To this day I remain thankful she was the first officer I spoke to because though she remained professional, her response indicated she both understood and believed me. Unfortunately, her rank was such that I then had to repeat myself to a male officer in a room to one side. ‘Give us the details again’, he said. ‘I’ll need to write them down’. I was also informed that I would need to come back a second time to give my statement on camera. He listened, but seemed distracted. I felt there was a strong focus on my drug usage. I got panicky as I had to detail exactly what had happened. In spite of all this, I left that first visit shaky but exhilarated. I had filed a report! I had actually done it! Now it was in the hands of professionals.
Before my next visit, nerves really set in. This time I would be dealing with the specialist team, I told myself. It was confronting, but it would be ok. Nonetheless, making a statement on camera was a very formal procedure and I was worried that by telling the story for the third time I was going to accidentally leave something out.
I showed up for my appointment, only to be shown to the same room and asked to give another informal account of what had happened. I was confused as to why no camera was present and as to why we were going round in circles. ‘Well’, the officer announced, ‘seeing as this was not a penetrative rape, the unit here aren’t required to deal with your case and we’re referring you to your local station’. I wasn’t sure whether what I was feeling was rage or tears, but I exited the police station the minute I was able to and took a long walk with the loudest, angriest music I had on my iPod turned to high volume. I couldn’t believe I was going to be forced to tell my story again.
Making an appointment with the local constable involved giving a skeleton outline before even setting foot in the station. On the day in question I drove over and arrived early. For a good 15 minutes I sat in the car, petrified, and tried to calm myself by observing the public walking by. Somewhere there was the hum of a lawnmower. The brake and hiss of buses on a nearby arterial route filtered in and out of my consciousness. Locking the doors, I walked towards the immense entrance and a minute or two later a constable led me through to an upstairs room.
I went through all the details again, this time specifying that my desired outcome was a restraining order. The law states, it transpired, that someone has to hurt you on at least TWO separate occasions before a restraining order can be issued. One sexual assault is not enough. ‘My superior may be willing to grant you a protection order though’, I was told. ‘This means that the alleged assailant cannot step onto your property or the property of your place of work’. All our shared haunts, local bars, cafes, stores, were still of course fair game. Knowing that I was leaving to live in Melbourne about 6 weeks later, I made the snap decision that I would go for it. ‘There’s one proviso’, he said. ‘We’ll need you to sign your written statement and also sign this document saying that as result of this decision you surrender the right to prosecute or take any further action against the accused’.
I was dumbfounded, but I knew I didn’t want to take it to court and that I needed to ensure my safety until my departure.
At an appointment a few days later, my counselor was speechless as I imparted the goings on of the previous few days. A call to the Auckland special rape unit confirmed that police at that station had not followed procedure, that I SHOULD have spoken to the specialists themselves and that under no circumstances should I have had to repeat myself that many times or sign what I signed. The officer I had initially been referred to, now back from holiday, extended an apology to me and said I was welcome to detail my experiences in a complaint if I so desired. By this stage I’d lost count of how many times I had had to explain what’d happened.
Panic won the final round. I never sent the letter.
Before I flew to Melbourne and escaped the situation, however, I had a phone call from the officer at Avondale Police Station and a visit at my place of work to let me know the protection order had been served. ‘Well’, he said, ‘I’ve issued the order. But, errr, are you sure there wasn’t perhaps a misunderstanding or, well, a misinterpretation? He [the assailant] looked really shocked and really hurt’. I asserted, though stumbling over my words, that there certainly had not been a mistake, thanked him for his time and bundled him towards the door as quickly as possible. My keyboard became a punching bag for the remainder of the afternoon, but, I told myself, ‘at least it is done and I am getting the fuck out of here’.
Mr Searle, the lack of sensitivity and procedure I was shown by the NZ Police in reporting my sexual assault continues to upset me nearly three years later. It is unfathomable to me, how the NZ Police could repeatedly put people through this, let alone girls at the tender ages of 13 through 15. Had I summoned the courage, age 15, to report the incredibly damaging and public rape I underwent then, I dread to think how these kinds of responses would have affected me. As a queer female, I dread to think how survivors of queered rape may have their charges dismissed because of limited understandings of queer sex and legal definitions of intercourse. I ask, as someone who has been a complainant, that you and your superiors take a long, hard look at how the police force is equipped to deal with these matters. Your system has failed me, Mr Searle. It has failed many others. Please don’t let it fail these girls too.