Marika Pratley is a Wellington member of Fightback. She also volunteers for Wellington Rape Crisis, and is a survivor of rape and sexual assault.
This article is based on a speech Marika presented as a survivor at the Stop Rape Now Wellington demonstration on Saturday 16th of November 2013. Note: The original speech was improvised, this is not a transcription.
I would like to acknowledge that the last few weeks have been triggering and overwhelming for many survivors. I myself have had moments where I could not listen to the news and had to take days off work because it was overwhelming. I am thankful to everyone who has been supportive of survivors.
I am a survivor of sexual assault and rape. I experienced sexual assault and rape for the first time when I was a preschooler. More or less my entire life I have had to deal with the consequences of this trauma, as well as learning to engage with rape culture in its various manifestations in New Zealand. These exist both on an institutional level (in the court rooms, media, etc) but also in a social and more general cultural context.
Survivor Support needs to be accessible
As a survivor, I have had to use many counselling services over years to be able to manage my recovery – which is an ongoing process. I am fortunate that I also have a highly supportive family. Having access to both these things is not something all survivors are able to experience. With the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, there have been many times where my mental health has been severely impacted. It has been absolutely essential that I have had access to survivor support services for my recovery to be possible.
One of the first times I had problems accessing care was as a young adult. In 2009 ACC had funding cuts, and new criteria was developed for survivors of sexual abuse/violence, who needed to use ACC to subsidise counselling fees. Even with ‘free services’, therapists still used ACC to subsidise, since ‘free services’ rely on charity, trusts and grants to keep their services going. One of the major reasons I had to go back to counselling is because I was raped and sexually assaulted again as a young adult – not just once, but by 3 different people on 3 different occasions, all within a few months of each other. Not only were these new incidents that I had to ‘survive’, but they simultaneously retraumatised me of my previous experiences as a child, leading to some major complications in the overall trauma I have experienced.
Although I had an ACC claims number for my childhood trauma and files on record, on the first appointment with my new therapist I had to go through an interview process to ‘reactivate’ my claims number. This meant I had to prove that the trauma was still impacting on my wellbeing. The interview felt like an interrogation and was highly retraumatising. My mother who has worked as a psychiatric nurse for over 30 years, and currently holds a PhD in Mental Health Nursing, was with me as a support person and was horrified from a professional perspective. Since this interview process was introduced, many therapists and counsellors have stopped being affiliated with ACC, as it is ethically problematic, professionally questionable and retraumatising for their clients. In a way, it is quite bizarre that Sexual Assault and Rape survivors go through the Accident Compensations Corporation to begin with when sexual violence and rape is not an accident.
Since the ACC changes, services such as Wellington Rape Crisis have also lost major government funding. This is despite the fact that they are an essential service, making care accessible for survivors. To realise how much of a problem sexual violence is in our society all we need to do is look at the statistics – one out of four women, and one out of six men are reported to be survivors of sexual assault and rape. It is concerning that the government does not prioritise the accessibility of survivor services. Sexual violence prevention education also needs to be essential/accessible within all education sectors, from primary school to tertiary education, so that young people can be challenged about their internalised ideas around rape culture, such as slutshaming and other rape mythology which justifies rape, and in some cases means some people are raping without being consciously aware of it. (I.e. having sex with someone without asking or thinking it’s ‘ok’ because they are drunk and wearing a short skirt).
At the moment, I currently juggle 3 casual jobs, and my therapy costs $100 per session. Although I appreciate the long term benefits of the therapy, this financial cost adds further stress, as I struggle to get by each week (despite living in a ‘single’ situation). I I know that me being a survivor with economic barriers to care is not unique and can only imagine what it is like for solo parents, children, and other working class folk or beneficiaries who are survivors, who lack the means to receive adequate support.
The Stigma of Being a Survivor/Rape culture in wider society
Rape culture has enabled a stigma against survivors to develop. Not only are there bullshit rape myths which recirculate, but there is also an overlap with misogyny/’slutshaming’, whorephobia and mental illness stigma. Having to deal with rape jokes, and other narratives which exploit the suffering of survivors for entertainment value, is an example of cultural norms and everyday social interactions denying the needs of survivors. Rape myths are also reproduced in the media, speculating whether a survivor actually got raped or not. The very fact that funding for survivors gets cut, while police continue to incorporate rape mythology such as ‘your skirt was too short’ as a part of common protocol, reinforces ideology at an institutional and material level that survivors are to be devalued. All of these ideological manifestations repeatedly reproduced, are the building blocks of the matrix which enables rape culture to exist. We need to dismantle rape culture and replace these building blocks with ones which empower survivors, and enable their recovery without this stigma attached.