The Essay of Tania Billingsley
The Essay of Tania Billingsley is published at TV3 the source of the quote below:
This matter arose out of allegations by Billingsley against a Malaysian diplomat who fled the country under diplomatic immunity.
Regardless of the diplomatic circumstances the possibility of the alleged offender’s return was still being considered as was an application by the police for deportation.
Billingsley a self-confessed activist, weeks out from the election has chosen to use her case as a crusade for her cause. The case will likely never come to court given the trial by media that has taken place.
It is a choice this young lady may come to regret, as her choice is now the subject of legitimate debate as is her essay shown in full below.
Since my assault I feel that people have been assuming that my idea of justice is
to have Rizalman found guilty in a New Zealand court. While it is an important
part of justice being done, my main reason for wanting this is not for my own
sense of satisfaction but to keep other women safe.
I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I have gone through. And if my
idea of justice means ensuring the safety of women and others, then it cannot
stop at the prosecution of this man. Violence does not occur in a vacuum. There
are very real reasons why sexual assault is happening in our country every day.
This is because our society normalises, trivialises and in both obvious and subtle
ways condones rape. This is called rape culture.
We have seen this rape culture reflected in our own government’s response to my
assault. It only became a matter of importance that was properly addressed when
it started to inconvenience those in power. When I saw my assault being reported
in the media it was primarily men given the authority to speak on it, when, apart
from the police, it was women who were doing the incredibly hard job of
supporting me, listening to me and helping me begin to heal.
Rape culture is in the reaction and words of our Prime Minister. John Key recently
questioned David Cunliffe’s sincerity over his comments that preceded a speech
in support of Women’s Refuge. It genuinely makes me wonder if he has watched
any of his responses to what happened to me. I think if he had, he wouldn’t be so
quick to question the sincerity of others – not only this, but his reaction to Mr
Cunliffe’s speech, the ever-present, knee-jerk reaction “not all men”.
It disgusts me as someone in the midst of trying to begin recovering from my own
attack to see that he, as Prime Minister of this country and therefore responsible
for the wellbeing of its people, is yet another person who cannot seem to
understand that things are so bad that survivors of sexual violence and women in
general, for their own safety are forced to view all men as threats.
And when I talk about survivors I’m talking about, at bare minimum, a quarter of
women alone in this country. Your discomfort at hearing the realities of rape
culture is not more important than the struggle of people trying to survive and
recover from the effects of rape culture. Why do we have someone with so little
understanding of the reality of oppression running this country?
Murray McCully – not only has watching and reading his response to my attack
been incredibly hurtful and frustrating, I have also felt embarrassed for him.
Watching a grown man try to talk his way out of responsibility at what is
effectively failure at his own job is a painful thing to see. I can’t believe his
incapability to admit a mistake and try to fix it rather than pointing fingers at
If he and Mr Key are so intent on pinning incompetence on a ministry official and
solving this incompetence with job loss, then I’ll expect to see their resignations
handed in any day. Genuinely I would like Mr McCully to take responsibility and
resign, not just responsibility at the incompetent handling of the diplomatic
immunity aspect, in which it was clear to me that my experience or wishes were
not even a factor to consider, but also responsibility for his insensitive and
embarrassing public reaction, which for me was so painful to hear.
As for the issue of diplomatic immunity, I guess I have a lot to say, but it can
mainly be summed up in the question: How can we have a structure in place that
is continually allowing people to get away with crime? Is it enough to say “that’s
just how it is; there’s nothing we can do?” That was the message that was
conveyed to me as soon as it was found out he had diplomatic immunity and then
was the initial response of Mr Key when this information was made public.
I would like to put a personal challenge to the Government. The fact that sexual
violence is still so rampant in our society is proof in itself that you are not doing
enough. Support the services and change the culture. Ask yourself what kind of
message you are sending your country about how seriously you take sexual
violence when you employ people with histories of sexual assault such as Alan
I know when being challenged like this, it is easy to do a McCully and try to place
blame and responsibility on everyone but yourself. But sexual violence is present
in all parts of our society and therefore needs to be addressed by all parts of the
Government. There have been recent actions towards addressing this but it is not
Only a few days ago Christchurch’s only rape crisis centre was forced to close
down due to lack of funding. This in a city where sexual assault has risen 40
percent since the 2010 earthquake. These services need sustainable, ongoing
support. I experienced personally the everyday outcomes of lack of funding when
finding out that the waiting list for counselling through the service helping me is
two to three months. These services are doing their absolute best to support
survivors with the funding they have but clearly it isn’t enough.
All sorts of people in our country are victims of sexual assault – not only women
but men, people of other marginalised gender identities, children, queer people,
people in our varied ethnic and cultural communities, people with disability. Not
only do we need more funding in general around ending violence, we also need to
acknowledge and support the need for specialist services for all survivors in all
different communities. In what I have been speaking about I do not want to
dismiss these people’s experiences, but I can only speak from my own.
I want an accountability that is not just about legal prosecution. This is effectively
putting an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and statistically in 99 percent of
these cases it is an ambulance that won’t even work. I want an accountability that
is going to stop sexual violence in this country. I wouldn’t wish my experience or
that of other survivors on anybody and if the Government really wants justice to
be done then they need to properly address rape culture in our society and work
on stopping sexual violence, not just reacting to it.
I shouldn’t feel that I need to put my face on television just to get this message
across. People have been saying these things for a long time and yet so much is
still not being addressed because the Government is the one distributing the
funding and they seem to not take seriously the magnitude of the issue of sexual
and domestic violence in our country. This is fairly obvious when they are
committed to putting $80 million towards creating new banknotes just to “stay
ahead”, yet years of work and pressure from those trying to fix these problems
has resulted in only around 10 million eventually being granted. It may sound like
a lot but considering the enormity of the issues and the already lacking funding I
don’t think it is anywhere near enough.
What has happened to me, while horrible, is yet another sexual assault in a
seemingly never-ending stream. How can I look at what has happened to me
without looking at the violence endured by so many people I know? Not one of
these people in my life has ever had any kind of legal justice. They, along with 99
percent of sexual assault survivors, must find their own ways to get closure and to
keep going. I think it’s important to acknowledge the bravery and strength of any
person who has experienced something like this, whether they have managed to
mostly heal and carry on, or whether they are struggling. Any kind of survival
post-assault is courageous.
I would also like to take this space to let Rizalman’s family know that I am thinking
of them and that I hope they are being supported. I can’t even begin to imagine
how hard the last couple of months must have been for them as well.