This was a speech by our youth caseworker at our recent #YouthToo event for Youth Week on the 26th of May 2018.
Kia ora everyone, thank you all for being here today! I’ve been working as an advocate and caseworker in the Shakti Youth Unit for the past 6 months. Shakti provides culturally specific services to migrant & refugee women, youth & children experiencing family violence. In the short time I’ve been working in this field, the significant connection between family violence & sexual violence has been extremely prevalent. Young people are vastly represented in sexual violence statistics, yet there is still a huge lack of awareness, education and competent support services in our current system.
The #MeToo movement gave everyone a little bit of hope, because at least people are talking about it, right? But for migrant & refugee women, things are not as simple; there are multiple barriers to disclosing their experience, some of which include language barriers, being isolated from society, and cultural differences. A woman I worked with recently, when she reported her assaults to the police and asked for help, was told that her complaint could not be taken any further because she had been been silent for 3 months and never called the police before, keeping in mind that her husband sponsored her visa and if he revoked this sponsorship, she could face deportation in 48 hours. After dealing with a 3 hour video interview immediately after her assault, having to repeat her story for different officers each time, and constantly ringing them to follow up her case, she was eventually told that they could do nothing for her to feel like she achieved some sense of justice. I could name multiple cases in the short time I’ve been working here where our system punishes and silences migrant women for speaking out about the violence they have experienced, but we could be here all day so I won’t… but I think regardless, it is very clear that we still have a long, long way to go.
In another case, Shakti supported a young woman who was sexually assaulted at the age of 14. She gave birth to her first child at the age of 15, at the hospital, and no one bothered to ask her anything or investigate any further, even though people under 16 by law cannot legally consent to sex.
When she disclosed the assault to her parents, they forced her to marry this man. Now, a lot of people don’t believe people can get away with things like forced marriage in countries like New Zealand, but it happens - Shakti has dealt with over 70 forced marriage youth cases over the past few years. In the 6 months I’ve been, here I’ve encountered 5 women between the ages of 14 and 26 that were being forced to marry. A 21 year old woman I worked with last year had come to our refuge after her parents were forcing her to go overseas to marry a family member that she had never met. The problem with her parents was not that they were “backwards” or “uneducated” as a lot of people might believe - her father had a prominent international job and was very well educated. When she first dialed 111 asking for help, no one believed her because they didn’t think you could be forced to marry as a 21 year old adult, because she "could have just said no." When her complaint was eventually taken, I sat with her and a police officer for 5 hours whilst they made her feel like she was exaggerating the whole situation. She was asked if she had mental health issues, if she was remembering the events correctly, and told that you can’t be forced to do anything if you’re legally an adult. These are the questions that marginalise women, that silence women.
The issue of forced marriage is real, and it’s happening right here, around us. Over the past few months we have been working towards building more awareness around the issue and advocate for change on a legislative level. We also have a pledge against forced marriage online. It is our responsibility as a community to stop and prevent things like this from happening - we need educational institutions, government agencies, religious organisations and leaders to make a strong commitment to ending forced marriage.
Before I finish, I’d just like to say that if you, or someone you know, or someone you have heard of is experiencing any of the things I’ve talked about today, please reach out to us. You can contact us at 0800 SHAKTI. In order for us to reach our ideal place of a world where women and young people can live a life of dignity, free of violence, we need to work together to support each other and work towards a system that actually helps vulnerable people instead of exploiting, punishing and disadvantaging them. Thank you!