Prominent Kiwi women share their experiences of assault

by Donna Chisholm / 12 April, 2016

Jan Jordan. Photo/Hagen Hopkins

Jan Jordan, Lizzie Marvelly, Michelle Dickinson, Clare Curran, Michele A’Court and Stacey Morrison tell their stories.

Jan Jordan

Associate Professor, School of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University Wellington

"When I was a young social-science researcher I was abducted by three gang members. Part of my project involved taking photos of people around the Otara Town Centre in South Auckland. Three patched Stormtroopers came along. It was all very amicable and they were hamming it up for the camera. They asked me to give them a lift down to the pub and in that moment I had to make that decision.

“I agreed because I thought not giving them a lift would be stereotyping them negatively because they were Maori and they were gang members. When we got to the pub, two of them leapt out, but the third one had a different agenda. ‘Drive,’ he said. My insides were wobbling. I was scared but trying to tell myself it was prejudicial to judge him. He got me to drive to this deserted beach. We came to a boatshed and he threw me inside and I thought, ‘This isn’t looking good.’ I just kept talking, asking why he was doing this. It was bizarre. He started telling me he had to do it, because that’s what the bros expected. I didn’t want to believe he would rape me. He was framing it around ‘This is what is expected of me’ rather than what he wanted. His weight was squashing me but I kept looking him in the eyes and asking if this was what he really wanted. I was surprised when he loosened his grip. We went back to the car. I thought, ‘That’s cool, I’ve got out of this one.’ But he forced me into the passenger seat and took off back to the pub and picked his mates up. They’d had a few drinks. They started talking about blocking. I was trying to get out of the car. One in the back seat leaned over and opened the front passenger door. They pushed me out and held my head close to the road. ‘You want to get out, bitch? This is out.’ They pulled me back in. I felt myself diminishing as they grew louder and the car kept hurtling. The driver had to slow down on a motorway off-ramp. I had my chance. I threw my bag and camera at the guys in the back seat, opened the door and leapt out. A young couple travelling in a van behind shouted at me to get in. I wasn’t hurt, just grazed. I didn’t call the police. I had done enough liberal-thinking criminology to know it wasn’t going to sort their issues. But I was also scared of the repercussions – I did the classic things, I minimised it and I victim blamed. But minimising and denying is a way of leaving yourself able to keep going without being fear-bound. By the end of that summer, I had left Auckland. I can’t say I was unscathed by it.”

Michelle Dickinson, featured below, and Lizzie Marvelly. Photo/Getty Images

Lizzie Marvelly

Singer and founder of the My Body My Terms campaign

“I’ve certainly felt threatened in some situations and looked for escape routes or things to use as a weapon. About 18 months ago, I was sitting in a bar in a booth with a bunch of people I knew pretty well. One of them I considered a friend started to inappropriately touch me under the table and it became very awkward because I was stuck with no escape route. I was just really lucky someone saw it happen and managed to pull me out of the situation. It really reinforced that a lot of the tools you need are psychological.

“It started to amount to me blaming myself – why did I not say something? I felt really disempowered. It’s fascinating because I am super-empowered in so many other ways. I think a lot of it is politeness. I don’t like to be rude, I don’t like to make a scene and I think that really worked against me and I just kind of froze. Those situations can be so fraught, especially when it’s people you know, because you don’t want to draw ­attention. You’re much more likely to poke a stranger in the eye than to poke a friend in the eye. But this person was basically sexually harassing me, they were totally in the wrong. I should have stood up and said, ‘Hey, cut it out.’”

Michelle Dickinson

Scientist and “Nanogirl”

“There have been situations I wasn’t happy with – men have tried to push themselves against me and be physical against my will, and taking no as yes. They’re like, ‘You’re just playing hard to get’ and I’m saying, ‘No means no.’ But you put a beer in a guy in a bar and they’re bigger than you, it’s intimidating. I don’t think people realise it happens all the time. You’ve only got to stand in a bar in Queen St and guys think it’s okay to come up and touch you or chat you up or touch your arm. All those things are not okay. There’s so much victim blaming, suggesting that women ask for it because they’re dressed in a certain way.

“I think having a strong martial arts background [tae kwon do and jiu-jitsu] has given me the confidence to be pushy and say, ‘No, I don’t want this’, and I reckon I could handle myself. Once men see confidence in a woman who is willing to possibly fight back, there’s a bit of, ‘Ah, I won’t chance this one I’ll pick the next easy target.’ How you hold yourself can make you look like a victim. Put your shoulders up, have a confident stance, don’t be meek and mild, even if you have a meek and mild personality. Hold your head high.”

Claire Curran.

Clare Curran

MP

“I was working in a pub in the Nelson CBD in 1983 and I was walking home after it closed at 11. I had my keys and cigarettes in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. This very big, very dark-haired person loomed in front of me. He never said a word. He grabbed me, stuck one arm behind me and the other up between my legs and started to propel me into the polytech grounds and behind a bush. I could have been paralysed with fear and been unable to speak, but my instinctive reaction was to shout and scream and swear. ‘Get off me! Get away from me! F---off.’ It was basically outrage. I was angry. White-hot angry – ‘How dare you touch me?’ He kept pushing and I must have known that if he got me on the ground I was going to be raped. He let go and took off, I think because I was making so much noise. I ran to the police station. I ran and ran and ran and hurled myself through the door and then the adrenalin must have just drained because I pretty much collapsed on the ground and burst into tears.

“They never got him. I did a self-defence course about four or five years later. I’ve dealt with it but it did freak me out for a long time.”

Michele A’Court.

Michèle A'Court

Comedian and author

“Women make choices all the time about things they don’t do because it might put them at risk and I’m certainly one of those. I don’t travel to international festivals by myself as a stand-up, I’ll go with Jeremy [husband and fellow comedian Jeremy Elwood] or with a group doing a shared show.

“One time I decided, bugger it, I’m going to do it, and two years ago I went to the Adelaide Festival by myself and tried to throw myself into a festival the way Jeremy does. But it doesn’t work. You turn up in a bar and suddenly you’re a woman and they’re a man, not two comedians. It’s just really awkward. The assumption is that you’re available. It’s a long time since I’ve felt any actual threat, but what I do experience is the constant need to keep myself safe, which is a terrible victim-blaming thing.

“[It seems] anything that happens to a woman is her fault, it’s the way we dress, the way we are, how much we drink, our behaviour, our lack of morals …

“We all say to our daughters when they leave the house, ‘Be safe, stay with your friends, give me a call, be home by a certain time.’ We don’t say to our sons, ‘Don’t forget, don’t rape anyone, don’t dangle your testicles over anybody’s face without their consent and take a photo of it and stick it on Facebook. If you feel like you’re going to accidentally put your penis into someone who doesn’t want it, phone me and I’ll come and get you.’ We tell our daughters to be safe, but we’re not telling our young men not to be predators.”

Stacey Morrison

Radio host

“I was in a nightclub ages ago when a guy pinched my bum. I somehow reacted fast enough to grab his arm and twist it. It sounds aggro but it was just a reflex ­reaction. I laughed about it and he laughed about it. It’s a pretty standard thing to happen – I’d be surprised if a lot of women haven’t had that experience. The interesting thing about that is you’re ­portrayed as uptight if you have an issue with it. The expectations [for ­behaviour] are pretty low and a lot of it is our ­drinking culture.

“I’m quite careful about locking the car doors in the car park and I’ve sometimes chosen to pretend I’m going somewhere I’m not so I could check someone wasn’t following me. I don’t listen to music in situations where I should have all my senses on.”

This article was first published in the April 16, 2016 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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