HELP’s Executive Director, Kathryn McPhillips, and Dear Em’s Programme Lead, Imogen Stone, gave oral submissions today to the Justice Select Committee.  We are so pleased that this government is continuing to look at the Victims of Sexual Violence (Strengthening Legal Protections) Legislation Bill, which addresses the issues of child victims being challenged about consent, and decisions about name suppression. 

The Bill currently looks to protect children under 12 years from challenges about consent, and increases the sentence for sexually violating a child to be equivalent with that for sexually violating an adult.  We implore the Committee to lift that age to 16, the age which New Zealanders commonly understand to be “the age of consent”. 

The research report “It’s a Lie” to the Chief Victims Advisor shows transcript excerpts of children as young as 6 years old being blamed for the sexual abuse which was done to them – for example, asking why they still went back to the family home where the abuse took place. We would like the age raised, as it is still not okay to put the responsibility for stopping sexual abuse on to a 12-year-old, a 13-year-old, or even a 15-year-old. In its focus on the rights of the adult defendant, I think that we forget that the rights of children should still come first.  

HELP is also asking for changes to the Bill’s proposals for name suppression. Most Australian victim/survivors now have the right to tell their own story, regardless of name suppression. This is helpful for the healing of survivors, families and communities, so we think this is a great idea. It also gets around the risks associated with lifting name suppression, which can lead to people other than the survivor deciding to tell the survivor’s story, based on various court documents which may or may not actually reflect the survivor’s view of events.

So, lets protect children from the worst experiences of the criminal justice system, and allow survivors to heal and to be heard, by removing the constraints currently required to keep others from exploiting their stories.