National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa

1986 –

National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa

1986 –

Theme: Welfare

This essay written by Alexis Harvey and Mary Moon was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993. It was updated by Andrea Black and Anne Else in 2018.

1986 – 1993

Rape Crisis and Related Groups (RCRG) were set up to provide both support services for women and children survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and education and prevention programmes in the community. The work, carried out by trained volunteers, included individual and group counselling; advocacy work within the Court system and in dealings with the police, doctors, Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and the Department of Social Welfare; and immediate crisis support, including a 24-hour phone-line in some areas.

The first groups began forming in the early 1970s, the number increasing rapidly in the early 1980s. They grew out of increasing feminist awareness of the reality of rape and sexual abuse, the need for supportive, safe places for women and children, and the importance and validity of survivors supporting survivors.

Rape Crisis poster

Alexander Turnbull Library, Eph-C-WOMEN-1979-04

A poster advertising a march organised by Wellington Rape Crisis in 1979, demanding that city streets be made safer for women.

In March 1985, Minister of Social Welfare Ann Hercus invited workers in the area of rape and sexual abuse to a meeting to discuss funding. A steering committee of representatives of RCRG and Māori women's groups was then formed, with close links to Pasifika groups. The committee eventually formed two national organisations: Te Kākano o te Whānau in September 1985, and the National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups in June 1986. At a gathering in Wainui (Bay of Plenty), the steering committee held its final meeting and the core group (the co-ordinating body for the national collective) was formed. The occasion was celebrated in ritual, with beach fires in the solstice dawn and a wooden 'seed' carved by the women at the gathering. The seed became a focal point at core group and national meetings, changing over the years as women continued to inscribe their significant symbols.

The constitution stated that 'all women have the right of free choice in areas that affect their social, mental, physical, economic, political, cultural, spiritual and sexual well-being'. [1] The collective aimed to secure this freedom of choice for women through education and radical action.

Much of the initiating and sustaining energy of RCRG came from lesbians. They were a major influence in the writing of the constitution and in the politics, art and culture of the organisation, and remained at the forefront of its work in the 1990s.

In 1987 the organisation consisted of 35 local groups and seven establishing groups, divided into seven regions. The core group comprised a representative from each of the regions, and the national co-ordinators, who were paid, part-time administrators. The number of local groups peaked at 36 in 1989; it had declined to 27 groups, and around 200 members, by 1992. Lack of funding was usually the deciding factor for a struggling group: the collective's 1990–91 annual report noted the huge impact of the economic recession, which had caused increasing competition between community groups to get funding.

Although RCRG was primarily monocultural in its operation, structure and client group, it worked closely with Te Kākano o te Whānau and the Pacific Islands Women’s Project (later Pacific Islands Women’s Health Project  – the third national organisation working in this area). The sharing of resources with these organisations was always an issue for RCRG women. At the 1985 meeting with Hercus, they unsuccessfully proposed that government funding be divided equally between Pākehā and Māori groups. In 1986 RCRG was working towards a three-way split among the national organisations but, as members became more aware of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, the policy on this changed. In 1991 it was decided that the three organisations would form two sectors, Māori and non-Māori. Government funders, however, did not recognise any such agreements, and Pākehā RCRG groups continued to be funded at a much higher level than Māori and Pasifika groups.

In the 1990s, RCRG's workload continued to stretch resources to the limit. The scope of its work expanded as other forms of sexual abuse, such as ritualistic abuse and paedophilia, came to public attention.

By 1991 RCRG saw itself as 'a maturing organisation … setting high standards for ourselves in all areas'. [2] These included revised administrative procedures and guidelines, and new codes of ethics and practice. But the spirit of the organisation remained unchanged: 'Our work is a celebration of the strength of the survivors of rape and sexual abuse and we are proud to walk with them to their healing.' [3]

Alexis Harvey and Mary Moon

1994 – 2018

By 2018 the incidence of sexual violence in Aotearoa New Zealand had become widely acknowledged as a persistent and serious issue. Successive governments had stated that they were committed to tackling both sexual violence and ‘family violence’ (both predominantly involving males abusing females), but the available statistics showed very slow improvement: in 2014, almost 24 percent of women reported experiencing sexual violence at some time in their lives. [4]

In terms of the justice system, despite law changes intended to help victims, rates of reporting, prosecution and conviction remained low, and:

…a phenomenon known as the ‘second rape’ began to be identified by feminists. This reflected the disparagement, disbelief and humiliation often experienced by victims when they sought help or participated in the criminal justice system. [5]

From the 1990s on, a broad range of organisations formed to help victims of sexual violence, undertake preventive initiatives, boost funding, and/or lobby to change harmful or inadequate laws and policies. Some, such as Victim Support, covered a wide range of victims.

In the mid-1990s, Rape Crisis Auckland, which had formed in the 1970s, decided to stop offering face-to-face support and counselling to survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and instead focus its energy on prevention. Changing its name to Rape Prevention Education Whakatu Mauri, it disaffiliated from the National Collective in 2000; but it continued to foster a cooperative working relationship with the Collective, and with Te Ohaaki o Hine – National Network to End Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST). [6]

By 2000 the numbers of functioning Rape Crisis collectives were down to 25, and the decision was made to close the national office in Wellington. By 2018 six functioning collectives remained: Mid-North Women’s Support (Kerikeri), SOS Kaipara, Whangarei Rape Crisis, Wairarapa Rape and Sexual Abuse Collective, West Coast Rape Crisis (Westport), and Rape Crisis Dunedin (which also served as the National Office).

RCRG saw this decline as due to a number of factors. Underlying these were the over-arching shifts resulting from neo-liberal ideologies and new legislative requirements, which ‘further undercut the informal, diverse, and often small-scale nature of women’s welfare organising’.   In New Zealand as elsewhere, most rape crisis services:

… regularised their structures and sought to professionalise their services in efforts to also establish a basis for working with the state and to be funded by the state. Despite this, the underfunding of services continued to be a feature observed in New Zealand and in other nations. [7]

RCRG was determined to retain its collective structure, in the face of pressure to become a conventional board/trust ‘in order to appear more engaging, accountable, manageable and professional’. This made it even more difficult to sustain the necessary levels of funding, given ‘divide and rule competitive funding models’. [8] The 2008 financial crisis and the continuing pressures on women to take on more paid employment further affected both funding and volunteer availability, resulting in a persistent lack of resources.

This inevitably impacted on RCRG’s capacity to do the national work needed to maintain a national body, standardise and moderate training and affiliation processes, or meet the needs of local collectives. Its submission to the inquiry into funding of specialist sexual violence social   services, which ran from 2013–2015, cited the need not only for Increased and sustainable funding for front-line services, but also for: ‘rape prevention education, professional development, supervision, volunteer support, ongoing training and research’ [9]

In addition it emphasised the ‘need to create a stronger relationship between [NCRCRG], our affiliated services, and government’. It referred to its repeated efforts to collaborate with government, and to being ‘disadvantaged by the prevailing misconception that our horizontal governance and management structure (collective), and often radical, feminist approach, predisposes us to incompetent financial administration and responsibilities’ [10]. It also urged the government to ‘recognise the variety of organisational structures in the sector as a strength’. [11]

RCRG’s staunchly feminist philosophy ran counter to policy approaches which consistently downplayed gender power dynamics. By the 2000s, ‘despite a number of policy achievements, the clash with neo-liberalism saw [an originally] gendered approach to many issues of concern to women relegated to matters of “special interest”…’ [12]

Rape Crisis Week poster

National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa Ngā Whiitiki Whanau Ahuru Mowai O Aotearoa.

Rape Awareness Week, held in May each year, was launched in the 1970s. This poster is from 2018.

From 2013 on, with extensive media publicity highlighting cases of what was widely perceived as the abhorrent attitudes and behaviour of local groups of young men towards young women, followed by the rise of the Me Too movement, the significance of what was termed ‘rape culture’ was by 2018 beginning to gain wider and more empathetic public recognition. As a statement about Rape Crisis philosophies explained:

[T]he minimisation of rape, jokes, justifications, victim blaming ... has the effect of silencing victims and creating uncertainty around what counts as rape… the way we normalise male sexual aggression and female passivity…[means] that men hold more power and women can find it difficult to challenge that masculinity, or to say no. [13]

But such open discussion of rape culture also provoked a surge of backlash and defensiveness, exacerbated by social media, against all those continuing to speak up about male violence, including RCRG.

Nevertheless, the remaining affiliated collectives continued to stand by the national constitution and philosophies that had not changed, and were upheld by passionate people:

We continue to be leaders in our feminist approaches to living in a world without rape. We maintain our commitment to Te Tiriti and bicultural practices. We are leaders in our training approaches, including the development of our Gender, Sexuality, Identity workshop by Dunedin Rape Crisis. [14]

Andrea Black and Anne Else

Notes

[1] Constitution of National Collective of RCRG.

[2] Annual report, 1990–91.

[3] Annual report, 1990–91.

[4] Findings from the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey showed that for females, lifetime experience of sexual violence was 28.3%, 24.8% and 23.8% in 2006, 2009, and 2014, respectively. For males it was 7.9%, 5.9% and 5.6%. New Zealand Family Violence Clearing House Data Summary 5, June 2017, p. 4. Available from https://nzfvc.org.nz/data-summaries/adult-sexual-violence

[5] Macdonald, 2017, p. 51.

[6] ] TOAH-NNEST, committed to the principle that respect for Te Tiriti provides the basis of the relationship between Maori and Tauiwi, which calls for tino rangatiratanga, held its first national hui in 2008. By 2018 it included about 40 specialist non-profit organisations providing specialist services for sexual violence intervention and prevention, including the National Collective of Rape Crisis and Related Groups of Aotearoa Ngā Whiitiki Whanau Ahuru Mowai O Aotearoa.

[7] Tennant, Margaret, 2018, ‘Welfare organisations’ in Else, Anne (ed.), Women Together online. 

[8] Andrea Black, personal communication, 2019.

[9] NCRCRG, 2013, p. 1.

[10] NCRCRG, 2013, p. 7.

[11] Macdonald, 2017, p. 134.

[12] Macdonald, 2017, p. 51.

[13] NCRCRG service presentation, ‘Client needs and discussion’, 2018.

[14] Statement by Andrea Black on behalf of NCRCRG, February 2018.

Unpublished sources

Macdonald, Heather, ‘Rape Crisis Services “Standing Alone”: Policy-making as Problem Representation: The Response to Sexual Violence in New Zealand 1983–1989’ [with postscript on the relevance of findings for 2016 and beyond], MA thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2017

NCRCRG Inc. records, 1985–2018, National Office, Rape Crisis Dunedin

NCRCRG Nga Whiitiki Whānau Ahuru Mowai O Aotearoa, Submission to the Social Services Select Committee Inquiry into the funding of specialist sexual violence services, 3 October 2013.

Published sources

McDonald, Elizabeth, ‘From “real rape” to real justice? Reflections on the  efficacy of more than 35 years of feminism, activism and law  reform’, Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, Vol. 45 No. 3, 2014, pp. 487–508

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